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He transforms in this costume. It is something hilarious and slightly strange and amazing to behold. He has a dance all choreographed and he slinks down the hallway on all fours. He moves in close -- too close -- and doesn't ever say a word.
That's how I knew the costume was perfect for him. Lots of people will be Avengers and Mario Brothers -- that's what I told him. And he thought about it for weeks and chose to suit up in a way that really suits him.
He wore the costume many times before today. One Saturday, he was in and out of it six or seven times. He is uninhibited. He is inspired. He is in love with himself in all that spooky Spandex.
This morning, he couldn't keep still while I tucked all of his skater-punk hair into the mask and Velcro-ed it shut. He fidgeted while I tied his sneakers and tucked his pants way down in the skinny legs of it all.
"I can't wait to see how kids react when they see me!" He said this as he waved at people passing by in cars as we drove to school.
But when we got to the playground and the kids stopped and stared, he moved in closer to me. His gelatin moves stiffened and he tucked under my arm as a pair of Mario Brothers pointed and said he was too spooky.
My alien-boy got shy. And maybe a little embarrased. I tried to pull him out of it, but he waved off my attempts. When the bell rang, he waved off his friends as well as they tried to touch his wig and tug at his finger tips. It didn't go the way he envisioned.
It wasn't the kind of encounter he planned. I hope when I go back to pick him up, he sees it all differently. I hope he's warmed up to the weirdness of his costume and the fabulousness of the opportunity to be mysterious and funny and a little creepy all at once. I hope he's found his way back home in his costume.
We will go to a party and then trick-or-treating with too many kids on a street too crowded with parents and wagons and strollers and chaos. Then his dad will arrive, surely dressed to match, and I will snap a thousand more photos of us all. It will be cold and too soon we will be ready to call it a night, no matter how much candy is in the bucket and how much more the other kids are up for.
I will whisper to him that he is so him. And that even swathed from top to toe in alien green, I see the boy he is and I see who he is becoming and I see the part that connects it all and will stay true, year after year, get-up after get-up, change after change.
It has been too long since I've been here. I don't like that feeling, the itchiness that comes when I have so much going on in my life that I can't get my body and brain to settle long enough to give Sassafrass the love she deserves. Instead, I write posts in my head. I take pictures as prompts. I set cell-phone reminders and carve out spots on my calendar.
And then there's one more email to answer, a few little things to finish first. There's a phone call or series of texts. Or I feel depleted, distracted or just direly in need of a dose of Real Housewives.
It's not always bad -- sometimes the life-stuffs happening are good and gooby and happy and in-loveish. And I want to be there, in it, swirling around and enjoying it rather than disciplining myself to sit back down in front of a screen.
But even when I know all of this and rationalize this and remind myself of this, I still feel the itch that needs to be soothed. Eventually, it gets irritating or remind-y enough that I get back here. So here I am.
And here is why I have been all of these things over the last couple of weeks.
1. I have been in mediation. Perhaps those of us who are divorced need to believe that finalization papers really are the end. But the truth is that, for many of us, court continues on. I've been in two long, exhausting, emotional mediation sessions and am also in the midst of another court hearing process on a separate issue. It's a lot -- of money, time and keeping myself organized, tempered and true to what I believe is best for my boy. I want to share more about this when it feels a bit less consuming. (In the meantime, what would you like to read? How I make it through mediation? The best bits of advice I received? Or just the dirt?)
2. I have been writing. A lot. I've also been editing and content strategizing and filming videos and appearing on live news segments. It's thrilling to be so close to that exactly-where-I-want-to-be place with my work. And I cannot wait to share the details with you.
3. I have been in the midst of some pretty heavy parenting stuff. Everyone's safe and OK. But Lil E and I have been making a pretty tremendous transistion. Nothing radical, mostly a shift of the heart and community. I've needed to funnel a lot of tenderness toward him in the last month because some little moments have changed us quite a bit. More on that soon, too (I promise).
4. Oh, yeah. The Not Boyfriend's minutes away. I've been delighting in the tiny changes -- stopping by for breakfast, seeing him every Wednesday evening, having a partner to go to Steppenwolf plays with me, an Ikea trip together, spontaneous (sort of) after-school meet-ups with the kiddo. And we are still adjusting to the change and the schedules and trying to make it all work smoothly.
5. I've been reading. Because of all the heavy-duty shit happening, I've been unfolding the dog-eared pages of my favorite Pema Chodron book and going over and over the lovely wisdom in Welcome to Your Crisis. I've also been making my way slowly -- as I can steal bits of time in the tub and during Tae Kwon Do class -- through Kyran Pittman's Planting Dandelions. Kyran, who is hilarious and wears fishnet stockings and thusly making her perfect for me in those regards alone, writes this like a good friend who reveals more and more as you make your way through the book. There's a building honesty and trust as the chapters go on. And it's comforted me and made me feel like this friend, who I know only from a conference and many Twitter LOLzing, is closer.
6. I have been getting Sassafrass ready to go to college. Well, technically since she's six now, I guess that'd be closer to kindergarten or first grade (so smart!). But actually, the relaunch I am planning with a talented designer really will make Sassafrass look like a real overachiever. I am so damn excited. And yes, you know what that means -- more details later.
See? I made it. All the way down to end of one post. And now I am quite sure it will be hard for me to close up the laptop until tomorrow. But I will because I have already outlined all the conversations and confessions and revelations we will be having in the days ahead.
See you then. I promise.
Man is moved just like the ice floe sailing here and there out in the current. His thoughts are driven by a flowing force when he feels joy, when he feels fear, when he feels sorrow.
Thoughts can wash over him like a flood, making his breath come in gasps and his heart throb. Something like an abatement in the weather will keep him thawed up.
And then it will happen that we, who think we are small, will feel still smaller.
And we will fear to use words. When the words we want to use shoot up of themselves - we get a new song.
—Orpingalik, Inuit poet and shaman
via Parabola Magazine [one of my favorite Facebook likes]
Tags: inspiring quotes for mothers, inuit poet, parabola magazine, quotes for single moms, quotes for women, someone else's words wednesdays
I was looking through pictures the Not Boyfriend and I snapped at my friend Lulu's wedding in Portland last month, overtaken time and again at just how beautiful she is -- and especially was in those moments.
That was my first thought, gasping again at her smile, when I saw this one of Lulu and her groom coming down the aisle after their vows.
But it only took a split second for me to see this...
See it there, marked by sunshine on the side of the reception hall?
I have no idea how that sweet shape made its way through her radiance, how it landed where it did in that one moment we all were watching this happy couple. What I hope is that it is a sign of all that is ahead of her.
I've been to a lot of weddings in the years since I have been divorced, and at most of them, I've been seated with my parents or other single friends. That has been nice. Still, I sipped on champagne and stayed rooted in my banquet chair during the bouquet toss, quietly hoping for a plus-one, looking ahead and squinting to see events when I could dance with my own love.
This was the third wedding I went to with the Not Boyfriend as my date. During one wedding, we threw rose petals as the bride and groom relived one moment from their courthouse nuptials the week before. At another, we took crazy photo booth pictures with Lil E. At this wedding, we felt like a family.
Lil E ran outside in the dark, playing catch on a hilly sideyard. The Not Boyfriend and I swayed to a song or two when an iPhone playlist after the bluegrass quartet packed up and went home. I wished the wedding could go on so we could dance to a few more slow songs, maybe share another glass of champagne, stand outside in the pitch black to give E just five more minutes to play free.
Maybe it wasn't much different than those weddings when I longed to not be alone, if only in that I was looking ahead for more than what I had in that one turn in time. I saw the heart then. It just seemed so far ahead.
Or maybe it was completely different. I found the love. I just want more time to pull it close, pressing it to my own beating heart.
Lulu didn't see that heart-shaped light. Since she's been busy with a honeymoon and the post-wedding scramble to get back to everyday life, I haven't had the chance to point it out to her.
Bride or single lady sitting at the table alone, we don't always see that promise and glow just beyond our reach, do we? But look, it's there. If you look, hard enough and for long enough, you will see it there.
The truck finally arrived, days late and in the rain, with the Not Boyfriend's belongings. When I got there, he was furiously unpacking and breaking down boxes, loading up the recycling bin and dealing with the movers.
There is a lot to do. And because moving is never about the contents of the boxes, there are all those contents of the heart and past and future to find a place for, too.
To ease it all, we've been joking about what will be the wagon-wheel coffee table of this big move. And although I've tried to be sensitive about his stuff and he's been protective about his stuff, we did get honest the other night, laying in bed and discussing where furniture from his mom and that he had made and that he loves will be configured in his new apartment.
"Can I be blunt?" I asked. I was apprehensive. "Ditch the loveseat. I do not like that loveseat."
He laughed. "I like you blunt," he said.
I was relieved. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Maybe that was a spot of sanctuary for him. Even though I was not fond of folding myself into the small space, perhaps he was.
We moved on from there. But today, after Lil E and I helped unpack a few boxes and headed home to do homework and get him ready for his dad's house, after we left the new place filled up with bubble-wrap and blanket-covered furniture, we crossed the courtyard to our car. And there it was, left on the curb, where it will surely be snatched up by someone with a pickup truck in less than an hour.
Already rolled out with no further discussion.
There will be wagon wheels to contend with, put up with, discard and negotiate, I am quite sure. This just wasn't one of them.
Need I clarify that my friend with the car Martha Stewart would be sated to be chauffered in is not a mother?
I am sure there is a mother or three out there who has somehow managed to hide her station wagon from kids with sticky hands and leakiy diapers and 47 of the smallest Lego pieces ever shoved in teensy pockets. Or a mother who has interns to vacuum all that junk off of the seats every day. Or some Real Housewife, maybe. But I do not know these mothers. And I am not one of them.
I have good intentions. I splurge on the $13 handwash that includes lots of scrubbing down and Windexing off and other detailing I can't seem to make myself do. Still, I end up with makeup somehow smeared on the steering wheel, piles of empty water bottles rattling around and tiny parking meter slips wedged in everywhere. And seriously? Who can ever get those rugs clean? I need the car wash gents to handle that for me, and I relish the four hours it lasts.
I have taken some steps this year to make my car a saner, cleared-out space. After all, I spend enough time in there and it is a small enough space that I am not totally overwhelmed to tackle it and re-tackle it (unlike my basement).
Chances are, you will still be able to find a snack's-worth of half-granola bars and Ritz crackers in my car. But you will actually have a place to sit, tuck your purse and rest your to-go cup of coffee. It's not pristine but it doesn't look like we've been living in it for a month on our way to the landfill, either. Here's what I do (and re-do and re-do) to clean the kid- (and mom-) clutter from my car:
1. A hook for my bag. This may seem like a ridiculous purchase from my favorite, overpriced store, but it is, in fact, a car-cleaning saving grace. I decided to stop complaining there was no good place in my car to put my purse and make a place for one with this hook from Container Store ($6.99). By hanging my bag (and sometimes, jacket or scarf), I move most of the clutter from the passenger seat. None of it slides and spills all over the floor if I stop suddenly.
2. A stash of fancy trash bags. I got rid of the little pile of kleenexes and receipts and banana peels that stuck around the car (or my purse) too long by collecting all the small shopping bags under my sink and putting them in the pocket of driver's side door. Here's the key for me: I only use the smaller bags, and prefer the fancy kind I was saving for some...oh, I don't know what could constitute a GOOD-bag worthy event, but I am sure they exist. Double bonus, this cleans out all those bags I've been saving since '97. I hook the bag around the gear shift, making a proper rubbish receptacle at hand at all times. When it is full, I drive down the alley and drop it in a trash bin. Done.
3. Bins. I learned this tip from a mom I babysat for years ago. She kept an emergency bin within kid-reach. Forget first aid, this mamafied bin was full of baby-sized water bottles, energy bars and other snacks. Any time a kid whined in the carpool line or was DYYYYYYYYIIIIING of thirst, BAM! Problem solved. I keep a small bin of snacks and refillable water bottles, and another with a full box Kleenex, cough drops, ibuprofen and sunscreen. If I'm giving a ride to girlfriends or stacking the backseat with small children in carseats, I toss the bins in the way-back to get out of the way easily.
4. Hook for my keys. I have a keyless sort of car. The key merely needs to be present and detectable by the fairies in the dashboard, not in the ignition. This presents a problem of where to put the keys. It sounds like a silly issue, but when they get wedged in between the seats or slide around on the floor, I worry I will lose them altogether. I could drop my keys in the cupholder, but then I wouldn't have room for my coffee-IV and Camelbak of two-day-old water. If I plop them in my lap, they inevitably get caught under my skirt. PROBLEMS, PEOPLE! MAJOR FIRST-WORLD PROBLEMS! To solve the key issue, I bought a clear, adhesive hook ($3.99)from the home store and stuck it near the steering wheel. I hang my keys there -- no fuss, no lost keys, nothing unwanted up my skirt.
5. Pay someone else to do the cleaning at least once a month. That could be a kid who is desperate for allowance dollars. Or it could be an industrious Junior Achiever who lives next door. Or it could be the nice crew at one of the seventeen hand-carwash garages in your neighborhood. If you're doling out a lot more than you are used to for this service, get a punchcard or bribe the kids with all the stale granola bars in the emergency bin they can eat. That should do it. And yes, do put all the supplies in a plastic bin.
If all else fails, turn up the music a bit louder, wear sunglasses so that any drivers in the lane next to you won't recognize you amidst the piles of recycling if they peer in the car. And then, if you must, unfriend the people with prisitine cars.
What are your best car-clutter clearing tips?
It's the last week! Can you believe it? Back to You is a month-long project designed by Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom and me to help moms remember to take care of ourselves during the busy back-to-school season. We will have great tips, giveaways, challenges and accessible activities to help you feel healthier, happier, gorgeous and even more fabulous.
Tags: long distance relationships, not boyfriend, sassafrass, should we move in together, single dating help, single parent relationships
I really suck at giveaways. I have such good intentions and I get all excited and then it takes me a year-and-a-half to coordinate very complicated logistics like buying a big old padded envelope and typing on my laptop. Apologies. I am totally going to get Oprah on myself to follow through better. Or maybe set ten to twelve calendar alerts to get my ass in gear.
ORRRRR....maybe pushing back announcing the giveaway to those of you I encouraged to claim a quiet space in your home was all just a rouse to see if you were breathing through the anticipatory weeks in that quiet space. Did it work?! Let's go with that one.
On with it:
[Click to read who the winner is]
The sun was streaming down today and the skies were a clear, bright blue. Two weeks ago, I would have looked out my window to see the light fall across the sidewalk and automatically reached for a sundress and my favorite wedge sandals. But today, the light looked different and I knew what the weather was telling me -- put away the summer clothes, pull out the boots, stop avoiding, it's autumn.
I love fall. It's just the transition from deliriously hot weather peppered with air conditioning to cool, then colder weather steamed up by the furnace that I don't love. While cozy tights and cardigans are staples of my winter wardrobe, I greet them apprehensively, showing my bare toes and arms as long as I possibly can into September and even October.
But this year? This year I want to strip the sadness out of the change in season. I am sure there is a spiritual and emotional metaphor for resisting change until the last minute. I will ponder that in a few months when I am two-feet deep in shoveled snow. For now, I'd like to focus on how to make the woolly, nubby, layered clothing I'm quickly needing into a wardrobe I am happy to line my closet with, into blissful ways to dress my body. When it comes to fall clothing, I will fake the happy until I make the happy.
In celebration of cooler days, here is sunshine in the form of affordable accessories. Soothe your budget, style and seasonal irritation with these pretty little ways to transition you and the clothes you already have in storage.
Infinity scarf in Honeygold (by BabersOnEtsy, $25)
I was hesitant to swathe myself in maize, thinking that it might wash out my already super-fair skin or make me look like I'm just this side of a hangover. But I put it on and realized that it made all the other colors in my wardrobe -- lots of charcoal grays, some deep blues, navy -- look richer. I bought a cardigan in this shade and can't stop throwing it over those summer dresses and maxi skirts I'm hanging on to, and I know it will make the time between now and blizzardy mayhem easier for me to autumn-ize the corduroy pencil skirts and fancy tanks alike. But if you are just looking for an accessory fix, this infinity scarf is a perfect fit -- not too warm or weighty (made of jersey knit) but still lovely-hued and happy. I like the buttons here and I'd throw it on over a fitted blazer, knit dress or with a lightweight long-sleeved tee and jeans. No other jewelry is really necessary.
Suede cut-out belt (Merona at Target, $19.99)
I may have somewhere in the range of 14-23 belts in a basket on my dresser right now. I love colorful, patterned, crazy-loo textured belts that are either super-skinny (classy!) or really wide (so boho!). I wear them over my favorite cashmere sweater dress so people don't realize I have it on five days in a row. I wrap them around cardigans (I know! enough with the cardigans!) to switch up my look, at the waist of skirts, to cinch in anything boxy and to pull together any outfit that looks...well, kind of untucked. I wear a belt every time I put on jeans and have mastered the art of fancy knots (thanks to Susan). I love the sumptuous, swoony color and feel of this belt and would yank it in tight with a dress or hang it at my hips with slim pants and tailored top. The cut-outs will give interest and texture to any outfit you dread or is just dreadfully boring.
Bubble necklace (by Imperfectly Perfect for $14.99)
If you're bold enough to go honeygold, get really rebellious and try on some chartreuse for fall. This bubble necklace will be like tiny flecks of unnatural light glowing around your aboslutely-natural complexion. No? It will at least add an unexpected pop of color to whatever you're wearing. After coveting the J Crew version of this necklace, I nabbed two of these for a fraction of the cost. I wore the red with every nautical thing in my closet and the turquoise with everything else. Now I'm adding the chartreuse to spice up my cardies and boat-necks and sweater dresses in blues and pinks. If you can't handle near-neon, opt for one of the ten still-lovely other colors (the green! and navy! and even black!). I promise you will wear it every day until it's time to switch out closets again.
Bejeweled statement ring (rhinestone dome ring at Forever 21, $5.80)
Did you fall in love with the brightly colored jeans and color-blocked tops for summer? Don't let that love of crayon-y clothes fade just because the weather's changing. Add a bit of brightness to your autumn and winter outfits with a big old funky ring. Don't worry about the "jewels" looking fake or the design being ostentaceous. Choose a color or design that yells at you to SMILE! And BE HAPPY, DAMMIT! Then do that while you are gripping the steering wheel for dear life while you're ten minutes late getting the kids to ice-skating practice, while you are carefully putting together non-candy Halloween goodie bags for the class, or (God love you) while you are glugging the booze into hot apple cider. Forever21 is the place to stock up on almost-too-gawdy accessories. And since they are usually only about $6 each, you can toss them when you get tired of it or you realize your finger has gone from slightly green to falling off.
Sexy little envelope clutch (by Kirna Zabete for Target, $29.99)
If I am going to pull out my leather jacket, I may as well pretend I'm making a backstage costume change, right? Rocker-up your cool-weather coats and jackets with a clutch full of attitude. I brought my Target cart to a complete halt when I saw this lipstick-red faux patent clutch with the big "mwah" lips clasp made out of some kind of also-faux rhinestones. I always carry a clutch when I go out to dinner with the Not Boyfriend or meet a lady-friend for a cocktail. But I am also not afraid to bag the giant wallet, zillions of receipts, coupon organizer and emergency concealer in my regular purse and throw my phone, ID and a debit card into a clutch like this when I head over to after-school pick-up. If you have to shiver on the playground, why not have some sassy, shiny lips smiling up from your grasp while you do?
Magenta ombre tights (by xslik, $40)
I make a big ritual out of taking my boots to the cobbler and getting them all prepped and primped and perky for the winter months. I am not ready for that ritual. I repeat: Boots will wait another week...or month. For now, I am taking the first step of pulling out the lightweight tights (cable knits would be a bit much for me right now) that remind me of popsicles and windowbox flowers and the obnoxious Lady Gaga lipstick I wore to every event I attended this summer. For that, aren't these ombre tights a delicious choice? The magenta is stunning and the green is to-die. This might be a bit of an investment at $40, but if your gams are happy, I bet your brain will be, too.
What accessories help you stay happy during the cold-weather closet switch? Are there any fabulous finds we're missing?
Back to You is a month-long project designed by Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom and me to help moms remember to take care of ourselves during the busy back-to-school season. We will have great tips, giveaways, challenges and accessible activities to help you feel healthier, happier, gorgeous and even more fabulous.
A day-and-a-half into the Not Boyfriend's cross-country move, a day after E's birthday and only two days after the strike was settled enough to open school doors for teachers and kids in Chicago Public Schools, we took off. It felt abrupt, abandoning two school days to travel when school was just getting going again and sloughing off the schedule both Lil E and me were missing. But it was all for a greater purpose, one that makes it OK to press pause on Everyday Math and 35 minutes on the Stairmaster and a deadline on hold.
LuLu, one of my very best friends, was marrying her love in a park in Portland. And we were going to be there to watch her walk down the aisle. (Remember Lu from this fierceness and this deliciousness?)
And so today when he put up a orange-hued photo of The Painted Ladies he took earlier this week, I saw something more than a goodbye to San Francisco. He was shifting.
I’ve felt it for weeks, the sadness of saying farewell to the city he’s made his home for a decade and where he came to care for his mom, the anticipation of the movers and boxes and just getting through the long haul across the country, the softness to see my smile in talking about having him here.
But there it all was in one picture of one of his favorite spots in his city, and in the one line that accompanied it: À bien tôt San Francisco. I will miss thee.
It’s very him of the Not Boyfriend to say farewell that way. Our earliest text were peppered with French and Spanish and he still loves to throw a Japanese or Italian phrase over my phone as I head through security and an airport or before he tucks in for the night.
It’s not just his books and custom-made coffee table and precision-sharpened chef’s knives moving seven states, I thought, staring at the intentional graininess of the row of Victorian houses and handful of typed words below it. His whole heart is in transition.
The day got busy in each of our states. He supervised a crew of movers, wrapped up business where he was, and I tended to my boy’s birthday arrangements.
In a pause, I checked my email, and waiting there was an alert that the Not Boyfriend had made another update on Facebook, this time tagging me in his post.
I clicked over. There was a picture taken in downtown Chicago on New Year’s Eve day. It was cold and bright and we were standing in front of the Bean with many other people looking into the smooth steel reflection of the city in the final hours of the year.
We’d just passed a man as he threw his hands in the air and yelled out, “SHE SAID YES!” to a small crowd of strangers while a giddy, embarrassed woman with wavy brown hair laughed and clutched her pink cheeks with oversized mittens.
There were crowds of teenagers and people speaking other languages, families taking photos of themselves and the magnificent skyline.
And there we were, the Not Boyfriend behind the camera and me, making a kissy face in my own self-consciousness of standing before him, and still so far away. He was a matter of feet in the distance when he snapped that photo, but outside the grasp he’d had of my hand most of the day, it felt like miles.
Underneath this photo, he wrote, “Off to my hometown Chicago. Turning the page... — with Jessica Ashley.”
Those letters, in that configuration, with that photo, in that moment, filled all the space left between us.
Moments before, I’d posted a photo of the three of us -- he and Lil E and me framed by more clear, crisp blue skies and the majesty of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was his city in this picture and this time, we were huddled together. But there we were, all making kissy faces at the camera.
This move is a big deal, a wide-open beating of three very vulnerable hearts. I get the sacrifice he’s making, I honor the pain of releasing all he’s built and experienced there. And I am so grateful the next chapter gets to be with me.
I wanted to be more available as he packed up his own car full of camping equipment and headed out on the highway and the planned the route to the many stops he’ll be making in the days ahead. Instead, I was running from Target to school pick-up to Party City to my parents’ house to make the day big and wonderful for the other love in my life.
We went about our business and busyness, little texts and check-ins as we could. But the distance already felt closed. I sat in traffic, swiped my debit card, recycled wrapping paper, did dishes. But what was happening across state borders made me feel like the lines were already drawn in.
Lil E’s birthday. Our new beginning. Maybe it all had to happen on one big moving day. Things change. We shift. And my heart keeps growing, filling up and growing more.
More on the move:
My boy is eight years old today. Same clear blue skies, same sumptuous autumn light. I blinked and the newborn got teeth, lost teeth, stretched, spoke, got gangly, learned to read, developed a healthy appreciation for sarcasm, the spotlight, Legos, Mr. Bill, Black Eyed Peas, hats, macaroni penguins, planets, jump-front kicks and America’s Funniest Home Videos.
The deep seeds of extraordinary compassion, silliness, curiosity and spirituality broke through the surface with curling leaves and tiny blooms.
He learned to read, draw in perspective, make grilled cheese, unlock doors, do multiplication and Sudoku and play Battleship.
He grew out his hair, shunned blue jeans, tore through chapter books, told jokes on stage in front of his whole school, wrote many pages of stories. He refused to ride his bike but glides blissfully down the block on his scooter. He’s mastered an impression of his toddler cousin getting angry at the dog for eating the eye off of his favorite stuffed animal. He will never hesitate to weave body function references and potty talk into conversation. He seizes all opportunities to get every single detail about topics that do not involve him at all.
He’s an ardent flosser, seat buckler, recycler, pursuer of justice, lover of peace, student of Ghandi and MLK and Jackie Robinson and Transformers. He’s earned dollar-coins and a giant commemorative Obama coin from the tooth fairy and three crisp bills for helping my mom babysit.
I knew there was a big world inside that 7-pound 2-ounce wavy-haired newborn boy with the absorbing brown eyes and rosebud lips and delicate fingers. I knew there was so much ahead.
I just didn’t know then that the details -- the “Mommy! I love that blue dress on you!” and “Mommy! What do you call cheese that’s not yours?” and “Mommy, look at this that I made!” and “Mommy, I can’t decide whether to be a Lego artist or rapper in an a capella group or scientist when I grow up!” and “Mommy, what does it mean when people say ‘soulmate’?” and “Mommy! Can I ride around the corner and back all by myself?” and “Mommy! Who is cooler - Indiana Jones or the Transformers?” -- would make my world come into such clear focus.
There is much more ahead, in this year and the many that follow. He will do big things, in whatever way big is to him. I look ahead and see that I will sit in an audience applauding him, stand by his side as he becomes a husband or father, cry and cheer and thank God as his life shifts in unpredictable, hard, challenging and amazing ways.
But when the big stuff unfolds, I hope I am still holding on to these details, to the questions and moments and little pieces of time that are not measured in milestones or money or resumes.
My wish for him is that he will find many ways to feel the way he looks breezing down the street on his scooter today -- completely happy, a little in awe, feeling big and independent and brimming with bravery and anticipation about what is around the corner.
Oh, eight. Gap-smiled and singing Katy Perry and writing sticky notes with research questions on the planets and gliding, gliding, gliding away and back -- eight is looking like a crazy, great place to be.
Flip back the scrapbook:
Next week, the Not Boyfriend begin his drive across the country. After he camps in a few state parks, fills up the gas tank a bunch of times and slowly winds his way through the Badlands, some steep passes, long stretches of cornfields and rush-hour traffic, he will end up in my city. Once the moving truck arrives, my city will become his home, too.
In the nearly three years we’ve been dating, we’ve spent a handful of weeks together. Most of our quality time has been packed into 48-hour visits, Skype calls and texts. The number of hours we’ve held hands, lingered over dinner, been each other’s plus-one, hiked and laughed and lazed around in bed has been rivaled by the number of hours we’ve spent on airplanes, waiting through flight delays and in security lines. Cab drivers and TSA agents have been on our relationship scene more than many of our friends and family members.
Next week, that will all change. This week, we are both a bundle of nerves and excitement. We talk a lot about being open to what this last bit of transportation will bring along with it. How will we be, dating in the same city? How will we handle seeing each other almost every day? How much space do each of us really need?
And, of course: How much money will we save?
See the tally on Sassafrass Says So. IT IS A WHOPPER.
Sounds like a parenting fairy tale, right? Now before you get all judgy about "no wonder your marriage ended" and whatnot, know that I was exahausted and overwhelmed and desperately in need of a professional organizer, but I was also happy. My newborn months were a blurry haze just like yours, except I felt relieved to be so tired I couldn't see the piles of unpaid bills and dirty laundry.
The ahhh-moment in my life was a Mommy & Me Yoga class. Another was a new motherhood support group at the same studio. I met mothers who I connected with -- from an Ayruvedic practitioner to user research specialist -- and we met on mats, rubbed our babies' bellies until they were happy, stretched our weary arms and legs, and talked about how to bring that same peace home.
I opted for meditation. Or at least to try meditation. For five minutes at a time, I took apart the layers of baby schedule, grocery lists and other stresses from my brain. I closed out the crying, the television, the blaring TV, the sound of something sizzling into a thick burnt spot on a pan in the kitchen. I waved off my irresistable and demanding baby. I stepped away from the husband I saw far too little. I didn't answer the phone.
I'd like to tell you that it worked and was heavenly. But it didn't. At first. I couldn't last thirty seconds in my first few meditation attempts because I felt like the walls (and baby monitor buzzing and cardboard boxes from when we moved three years earlier) were closing in on me rather than feeling like my mind was expanding. There was no open, solitary space in my brain because my whole home and life was jam-packed with stuff.
I got frustrated. But I didn't give up. Instead, I centered on where I felt most centered. And that place was the bathroom.
It was tiny in there. Part of the tile was peach, the other part pale blue. The paint on the walls was scratching off to reveal 1970s wallpaper with large ugly-yellow mums. The sink cabinet was deteriorating. The fan clanked. The light was too dim. It could have been the most depressing spot in the place, but to me it was an escape. I'd made it cheery with a fancy shower curtain, organized and reorganized shelves of baskets of make-up and toiletries. I'd already decided it would be a sunny spot no matter how much renovation it needed.
So I took my meditation to the bathroom, and specifically, sat myself right down in the tub. No water, no bubbles, no lavendar salt scrub or candles. Just me in the cold, hard porcelain, meditating.
It worked. Five minutes became ten. Then fifteen. I think I got to twenty once and that was plenty. The regular practice of meditating didn't last more than a few months, but the retreat into my tub did. Sometimes, I added water. Other times, I just took a time out to read People magazine or breathe through my son's wailing while I was sleep training him.
A few years later, when I was telling one of my best friends the excrutiating story of why I was suddenly leaving my husband, I took the call into the tub. It became more than a place I could crawl when I needed time to think. Or stop thinking. It became a safe spot in a house whose clutter became chaos. When I moved into a new place with my son, I felt a lovely kismet when I saw the phenomenal whirlpool tub, just waiting patiently for me to crawl in wearing jeans, boots and a giant sweater.
I don't think a mother has to teeter on the line of hoarder or be a horrible housekeeper or even leave her husband in order to find a woobie in her own home. In fact, I think having a retreat can keep a mother from being or doing all those things.
Most of us don't have the privilege of getting a weekly massage or adding on a mom-cave or cleaning out a guest bedroom to turn it into a Zen retreat. But that's the glory of the unfilled bathtub -- it proves our quiet hideaways can be unexpected and kind of uncomfortable.
My Back to You challenge this week is to claim your own quiet space in your home.
Don't go knocking down walls. Don't buy anything. Remember anything worthy of a DIY reality show won't count. And running to the bar around the corner is considered cheating.
Find a space that soothes you, where you can lock away, close out or ignore the rest of the world, or at least bodies with whom you share genetic makeup. Find a place to sit. Stay there for at least five minutes. Then set your cell phone alarm or a calendar reminder and go back tomorrow.
Go ahead and steal the bathtub idea. Or sit on your washer in the laundry room, hide behind the bikes in the garage, snuggle up in the glider, crawl into a corner of the pantry. If you have a comfy bed where you won't be bothered or a sun porch where there is silence, for the love of all of us in small apartments, go there!
I won't be monitoring you. I won't judge you. If the space doesn't work twice, switch it up! If you need a cushion, get one! If you have to yell and slam a door to get that five minutes, so be it! You just have to commit to five minutes. No excuses.
Five minutes (at least) to yourself. To read. To attempt to paint your nails in some impossible Pinterest motif. To read a trashy magazine. Tuck a book of affirmations or love letters near the space so you can read a few pages each visit. Listen to music that soothes your soul.
Although I recommend leaving your phone on the other side of the chaos, I know it would make me twitchy and un-do all the meditative good of the escape. So if you do bring it with you, use it for good, not evil. Visit a quote site, download some kind of nature sounds app, blast the white noise, play with the Zippo lighter until you've forgotten that someone's science project is due in twelve hours.
OH! And one more reward: A giveaway.
Because I believe in stealing away to small, unepected spaces and how it can seed peace, sanity and centeredness for moms in just a few minutes a day, I want to give one of you a little gift of encouragement.
As a token of "keep crawling in your tub/closet/under the desk, girlfriend" encouragement, I will send you a box of favorite drugstore bath stuffs chosen by Meagan and me just for you. It won't be too fancy, just to show that good moments can come from simple and inexpensive inspiration, but it will feel good. I promise.
I have purchased these lovely items myself as a way to connect -- lady to lady, mama to mama, waterless bather to waterless bather.
Memorize this post and recite it to a friend. I kid. Leave a comment telling us which space you've claimed in your home and why. I'll randomly choose a winner on Friday and send a box of bath goodies to you. Sound good?
Back to You is a month-long project designed by Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom and me to help moms remember to take care of ourselves during the busy back-to-school season. We will have great tips, giveaways, challenges and accessible activities to help you feel healthier, happier, gorgeous and even more fabulous.
More Back to You goodness:
For the first time in a quarter-century, Chicago Public Schools teachers are walking the picket line, striking over an unfair contract and devaluing procedures and expectations ushered in with this year's extended day program. I am watching the politics, press and negotiations carefully. I am not only a parent of a child in CPS, I graduated from the school system and am the daughter of CPS teacher.
I made a conscious choice to send my child to Chicago Public Schools because I believe that, despite there being many broken joints in the system, there are gifted and committed teachers, principals, support services and programming there as well. I feel called to help make the system better by contributing to my son's school and community with my time, talents, dollars and care. It is not all nostalgic and pretty. There are broken stairs to step over. There are gaping holes in the budget to work around. There are some inadequate teachers and there is too much violence, poor nutrition and cuts in enriching classes.
Those fissures do not detract from what happens in the classroom. Last year, I watched my son, then in first grade, reeling with excitement about researching the macaroni penguin as a part of a wider-class Antartica project. It was one moment of thousands that fired synapsis in his developing brain, grew his heart, sparked his curiosity, pulled him into new friendships and working relationships with other kids in the class. He's a kid who loves to learn. But that? That project, that inspiration, that guidance to invest in the written word, the group dynamic, science, and the earth? That was all his teacher.
I cannot participate in a conversation where teachers like this one are demonized. I cannot support a city or board who thinks it is OK to ask workers like her to extend their hours while stripping away professional development, time for staff meetings and parent conferences and lesson planning, and promised pay increases, all while adding more kids to their roster and standardized test scores as an evaluative tool. I cannot ask teachers to do what they do every day in the classroom for my child and others and ignore the terms of the proposed contract, just as I would never advise a friend to abstain from negotiating pay, workload, job responsibilities and professional development.
I want my son to be in second grade today. I want him to be settling in to independent reading time, to be running the track in PE, to be sketching shapes in perspective in art, to be doing character studies in drama, to be learning lyrics and tapping out rhythms in music, to be starting a new research project that will light him up as much as the macaroni penguins did last year. I want him to be with his friends. I want him to be sitting at his desk. I want him to be learning from his teachers.
I have spoken to his teachers, and I know they want the same thing. They are called, too. And they want to be in the classroom teaching our kids.
But I support pressing pause on that for the greater good of fair working conditions and expectations for the teachers. What serves them, serves my son. And your kids. And our community. And us.
Until this is all worked out, and I hope that is soon, my boy will be learning from a different teacher -- my mom. Instead of grammar school, he will be in Grandma School (he thinks this is hilarious). Some days, he will be in Mommy Camp. There will be liberal recess but there will also be assignments. One of them is to talk about why protesting and strikes are a privilege of freedom. Another is to walk alongside teachers on the picket line and to honk for them as we drive by schools where they are gathered.
My signs are held high. I don't expect all of the parents on the playground or friends or readers to agree with me. That's OK. But we have to have the conversation about what we each hold. We have to write out our own signs and we have to sit in this discomfort on the other side of locked school doors because standing up for ourselves is a more important life lesson than what my own child would be learning in math this week.
Especially since this contract and this treatment of teachers is a fraction of what it needs to be.
One last thing; Here's what I posted on Facebook on the first day of the strike. Not everyone who commented agreed with me. But this is how I am centering and where I am beginning.
Strikes are hard. They are hard for the kids. They are hard for parents. And they are hard for teachers. Many teachers are parents, too, compounding the crisis. And that's what this is -- a crisis.
I am thinking of Christmases my parents had to tell us we wouldn't have much and years the budget was very tight because my mom was on strike with CPS. It was stressful. And necessary.
I am also thinking of the freedom to protest. The importance of standing up to those in power who are unjust in how they treat their employees. The lesson of how labor does work and can work in this country.
I also loved these links:
An open letter to Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Jean-Claude Brizard: "No one goes into teaching for the money."
Tags: chicago teachers strike 2012, cps parents react, dear rahm emmanuel, strike alternatives for parents, strike update, what i want to say about the strike
It is a day when the sky is bright blue, majestic and expands far beyond our grasp, into the universe where we are the smallest specks of dust inside a pocket of vastness. And still, so much on this planet, in this country revolves around this day.
I do remember clearly how it felt to see the chaos unfold. I can conjure up the swell of hopelessness and pride and fear and questioning just by thinking about the images of buildings falling into a silencing cloud of ash. I still feel the pain in my friends' voices as they honor people they loved who were lost that day, and I still cry when I read or see a story about a grieving family, a remaining mystery, and even the moments of hope that have risen up from all the dust and steel and bones.
All these years later, I know I want to do justice to all that happened that day. I want to explain it well, with heart and tears and compassion and clarity, to my son. I want to add my prayers to the collective. I want to look out on my own skyline with continued awe and gratitude. I want to hold on to what it felt like to be alive and an American that day, and I want to pass that along to my child's children so they can grasp why it was a turning point. I want to be sure to pause, to look back, even as we are walking forward.
Reflect with me:
Inside a tornado at the Exploratorium in San Francisco.
The light upon his face, the expression as he gazed up, and the swirling steam reminded me of this meditation by Rodney Yee, the yogi whose videos we loved when we were standing in the eye of our own storm.
Another grandmother has birthed her own grandchild, this time in Maine. It’s happened plenty of times before (and before and before) and the science isn’t that new (or at least shiny) anymore. Still, it’s a topic we need to discuss just because of the inevitable reaction to the concept of this kind of conception. Science has tangled up the generations in these cases, which is fascinating, a wonder, and also (let’s be honest), kind of strange.
Good? Bad? Gasp? Glee? Inspiration to have THAT TALK with your own mom? Whatever your response, I imagine you have a response.
My parents have amazing grandparenting skills. My dad gets down on the floor to play Lego, has a permanent open spot next to him in his chair for Lil E's tiny hiney, and steps in when my boy needs some man-time at the driving range or gardening or watching "Holmes on Homes" reruns. My mom makes math games fun, is the only adult I know who truly loves Play-Doh and pays my kid generously to clean out her car.
Together, they've taken on the great grandparent responsibility of teaching E their generation's humor. The Three Stooges gives me the heeby-jeebies, but Lil E and my mom laughed for hours over the slapstick antics from the movies and old shows they found online. He knows bits from old-timey comedians and parody songs thanks to my folks. My dad spent what seemed like forever explaining why the "Who's on first" routine is a classic even though it elicited only a courtesy laugh from my kid.
And then there's Mr. Bill. Since Lil E could repeat (was that nine months? a year? it seems like always), he's been squealing, "Ohhhhnoooo, ohhhhnoooo" in fatalistic Mr. Bill fashion.
At some point, there was a Gumby-viewing. Discussion of claymation. Blind laughter at Mr. Bill even though none of that stuck with my boy. None of it, that is, except for the "ohhhhhnooooo."
Fast forward to San Francisco, last week (which is also a rewind of sorts, but you know when I mean by the where I'm referencing). Somehow the squeals emerged, which prompted a YouTube search of Mr. Bill videos. Lil E was captivated and laughed well beyond courtesy. He watched video after video, then detailed them all for us over and over again as we drove from tourist attraction to museum to cable car stop in SF.
He didn't just know about the Mr. Bill bit now, he got it.
He got it so much that I had to insist -- loudly, firmly -- that he give the "ohhhhnooooo" voice a break for a few hours each day. Even after that, I could hear him whispering it into his sleeping back in the next room. My kid was stuck on an old SNL skit and it was quickly moving into Church Lady-level irritation for me.
There wasn't time for it to quiet. Lil E was still ramping up on the squashed claymation character sound effects when we wandered into an Ace Hardware on a walk. We'd been shopping without buying anything all day and Lil E's cash was calling out to Star Wars sets and glow sticks and really anything he didn't already have in his possession. He just wanted to buy something.
We stood in the toy aisle, considering the options for the vacation spending money he earned from doing chores for my mom, talking about whether he could get a better deal at Target and why a fake microphone would not make staying with the Not Boyfriend so much better. We were ready to head out when I turned and glanced up -- for no particular reason -- toward the baby toys.
There, above my eyeline was Mr. Bill.
In full, action figure, clay-looking rubberized form, there he was, squealing Lil E's name.
Of course, we had to buy him. There wasn't an option. And Lil E had to open the package even before the receipt was ready. It was like the moment had been formed years ago, in my parents' living room, on their television, some late Saturday night decades before my tiny jokester was even imagined.
Lil E schemed about how to surprise the Not Boyfriend with the new Mr. Bill, choosing to trap the figure in a Ziploc bag just like one of the original skits. And on cue, the Not Boyfriend came through the door, eyed the suffocating toy and chuckled to Lil E's comic approval.
The "ohhhhnooooo"s have not ever ended. They quieted a bit when I made Lil E remove Mr. Bill from under his pillow at bedtime, but the figure whined from the backseat of the car for days.
Mr. Bill sits proudly now on Lil E's dresser, standing out among a tiny Statue of Liberty, a Golden Gate bridge statue, a New York play taxi, a plastic laughing Buddha, Mardi Gras beads and many more tokens of my son's fancy.
He wears a few silly bands around his neck, which I am quite sure are asfixiatingly tight (or should be), worn like a badge of acceptance into this loose-toothed generation.
If the rubber bracelets aren't enough to usher the rubber-clay Mr. Bill into a 3.0 world, Lil E says he's going to borrow my iPhone to make his own Lil E videos. I can imagine my kid, fully belly-laughing as he produces his own strange second-grader Mr. Bill death-ventures, and it makes me happy to see him carrying on the classics. It also makes me happy there's a mute button for editing in iMovie that's more reliable than the volume button on the kid comic.
What kind-of-strange, kind-of-hilarious past-generation stuff is your kid into these days?