I’m still here

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I’m still here, yes, despite what I imagine feels like a lot of silence.

Blog posting: Clearly a discipline I have to still work on. Sigh. Along, clearly, with the laundry.

In the meantime, though I haven’t been consistent on this medium (and apologies about that! If you want more of my writing, I suggest you follow me here and here, to ahem, hear from me more often) I have been writing.

Lately, I’m flexing all sorts of different writing muscles – speech writing (I’ve written four, and working on several more for fall,) children’s stories (many still in draft form, but with a goal of sending them off in winter, and one piece with Highlights, eagerly awaiting an answer) and still writing my heart: non-fiction writing, which happens to focus on parenthood/motherhood and a life among children.

And that last category, the non-fiction parenthood/motherhood stories–I’ve received an acceptance from one of my favorite websites on one of my pieces. Hooray!

So, just a note that I am still here. Just writing, mostly, but not so much talking about it. Just writing. And laundry.

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On purpose

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Some days I wonder my purpose, my reason for being here. (Not those dark thoughts; I’m talking about those other thoughts I take out for a spin on the constant merry-go-round of my mind.) I find it mostly happens mostly when I’m doing something menial like dishes or laundry and wondering about grand lives and people and the big things they’ve done in life.

My purpose was so clear when I was working full-time, out of the house: earn money, maybe enjoy yourself a little, keep the family alive.

Which of course meant more chaos than I believe I can handle: late-night grocery runs or weekend grocery runs during nap time, emailing and calling all the people–schools, plumbers, exterminators, husband, my writing group friends and committee co-chairs. I frequently remember -not sure if this was the turning point for me or not- 11p nightly, finally starting up the washer and going to bed. Knowing when I got up around 5a, I would move it into to the dryer while rubbing my eyes, grateful for coffee and the quiet. Looking back, perhaps I could have been a bit more organized. Looking back though you see sometimes a lot more of what you could see in front of you at the moment.

I wonder about those days sometimes. Did those days, busy and full of things constantly, have more purpose than these days?

I had a sense of purpose working, and I have one here, in this new role too. Though it’s much milder and more easily manipulated — one day, purpose is getting the house clean; the next, it’s returning all those forms signed to school and making sure that everyone gets out the door on time and dressed. Which seems simple and well, a lowly thing until one doesn’t want to get dressed and the other is having a breakdown about what to bring and the other is in the bathroom and I’m still working on trying to take deep breaths and be patient. Some days, the purpose, the end goal of being on time is about all I can handle.

But that’s not my sole purpose; to make sure everyone leaves the house on time with shoes on. That’s not the only reason I’m here I know. But of course, I question this deeply on the days this and other minor things go badly. On those days I also question a great deal of other things too, like how can we read and write but not know where we left our shoes?

I don’t remember where I read it, but it was a blog post somewhere on the kinds of purposes (yes, many) that women have. The theory was that there are many purposes, both big and small, and most running parallel to each other. For example – mother and doctor. You can be both; both are probably Big P purposes. Mostly, purpose–with a small p is mainly your roles (mom, parent, aunt, etc–though, those are no small things!) and your big P purpose is your life calling–what you were meant to do; what you were put here to do.

I’ve been mulling that one over for a while.

And then I wonder if my opinion of what I feel about my purpose even matters.

But our work matters very much so more than the opinion of what we think of that work itself.

But the work–the act of doing it, and the act of putting it out there in the world, most of the time matters so much more than we think it does. Whether that be your Big P like motherhood and writing, or your little P like being a good aunt and planting a garden.

But we base it upon how we personally feel about it, as opposed to maybe, perhaps what God is doing with it. Which is far greater. And stranger. And lovelier than we can imagine.

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Part of Esther 4:14 comes to mind:

“…Perhaps this is the moment for which you have been created.”

So much potential in those words.

And truth in those words. Knowing all the while, that is full to the brim of moments to feel this. To wonder if this, in fact, is the moment we’ve been created for.

Tightrope

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She hands me a flower, still, at almost seven, plucked straight from the garden that isn’t ours.

I smile as I receive it; conflicted about how I feel – is six too old to still be doing this? Haven’t I harped on her enough about what is and isn’t ours? I wonder. Wow, that’s so kind and sweet; I think remembering that just this morning we were making grumpy faces at each other and exchanging frustrated words on the way to school.

This is seemingly how it is with our relationship–a bunch of emotions all running together, gooey and sticky, and completely blurred lines like when you use too much water for watercolors. It all runs together and all you see are impressions, moments of bold color and pale pinks dripping down the page when all you had hoped for was to paint inside the lines, nicely.

I wonder if it’s like this for all mother-daughter duos.

My son, on the other hand, is still relatively sweet, uncomplicated. He likes what he likes and that’s jumping in puddles, fish, and tickles. Any of those things at any time are okay.

Stormy clouds lurking ahead aren’t gathering under the surface like I see in my daughter and in myself. I see them at once in his voice, actions; meaning clear. He hands me flowers too, but he is little. He is clueless as to what flower belongs to him as I haven’t gotten him out of the impulse move of seeing a flower and immediately picking it. Just like his nose.

Is she old enough, is she too old, is the constant question I bat around numerous times these days like a cat with a mouse toy. Too young still for movies with high drama or is it being still for long periods of time, I wonder. But definitely too old for the naivety of flowers from someone else’s yard, I know now, firm in that opinion. But too young, I determine for all things bikini and the Justice clothing line.

But too old for rocking or comforting night time routines? While I don’t question myself on what she’s too young for as that’s relatively easy for me to detect, what she’s told old for is a different ball of wax entirely. It’s a tight wire rope I frequently fall off of, wanting to not hold her back from growing up, while not forcing her to grow up because the world around her will soon hold so much weight. It so heavy already.

If anyone asks me what’s so hard about the school-aged years, that’s it. The push-pull of letting go but staying close, being shifted from the seat of CEO of All Things You Should Know. Going from the vocal CEO with opinions and the know-how of how to do things, like tying shoes, to becoming the coach, watchful and intent but getting out of the huddle (and out of the way) through the game that is life is the most challenging I’m finding.

The watching and waiting, but not always in the game.

These are the tightropes that are being constructed in this phase of parenthood. And I’m not a tightrope walker. But I’m certainly learning.

Staying within season

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My January so far is cold and quiet.

After the blazing end of the year to the tune of a seventy-five degree Christmas (husband sweating and aching for shorts while all the girls in the family still dressed up in flannels to pretend it was a snowy Christmas) well, it feels good to have a bit of winter now.

The fiery, flaming finale spectacle of a month that can only be Christmas feels fun and festive in that special way only the ending of something can bring. Come November and December, everything is over the top: food, fun, family, gifts and noise (good, happy noise.) To me, it feels so very much like a final flameout, a Last Supper-type scenario, with the moments and scenes building into a loud crescendo.

And usually my energy matches – the familiar valleys and peaks of the holiday season – can you wrap another present? Bake another cake? Do another Christmas craft and/or activity?! It’s always such a spectacular energy and all-out blitz blowout on so many levels: spiritual, financial, well-being (what’s one more biscuit? I happily say to myself while opening wide) and energy.

And then January comes.

And the stark, cold, quiet January that returns each year, every year, still stuns me into surprise. 

Mostly, it’s a letdown.

I get all sorts of moody usually in January, wondering what’s wrong with me, or why everything seems so gray, so dry, so boring.

And then in an instant, when the buds begin to bloom in late February and every store is smothered in drippy pink and red hearts decor I suddenly remember too late– that’s what January was supposed to be: Dry, cold, wet, quiet. A repose from the noise (albeit happy, wonderful noise) that is December.

In the past, I hated January. Who had time for quiet? This is the New Year, people, I would think, getting my hustle turned up a higher notch into (slightly insane) overdrive. My goals seemed to scream at me: Time to get moving! Accomplish something!

I’m finding this year that January, this drizzly sort of muted month that has a low number of events and energy for me personally, is exactly where I need to be.

I have goals and I have actually done a fair share of planning, but mostly: it’s a month for quiet and reflection. And I’m going to take it. Very soon my schedule won’t be like this – in combination with my family’s schedule, it will shortly be full.

So this year, I’m finally realizing it’s okay to slow down. Finally.

January – the month whose working is forced rest. After all, frozen ground soon gives way to defrosting. Soon defrosting gives way to warmth. Which leads to growth, spring.

Perhaps now I’m realizing what I’ve needed all along: a little hibernation, a little pitstop before the year starts heating up, growing. I’m learning to slow. And be content in waiting for the signs of new energy (and green shoots) to rise in due time.

Why I write

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This listing of the headlines from around the world (found on CNN, don’t judge) is the reason I write.

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To be fair, Friday wasn’t a particular day that I picked out to read the news; I just do it occasionally to be somewhat in the know, as most days I prefer to keep to my little life and my head down since most of the news is just so shocking. I cannot keep constantly crying into the dinner I’m making. Not only is it not good for my soul – it throws off the salt balance in my dishes, particularly the soups.

Despite the fact that most of the news I see makes me sad, I’m writing this one because I’m mad. I’m beyond the sadness and now just angry, just an angry person who has moved beyond grieving about what’s happening in the world into a person who is wanting to know not only how I can help, what I can do. A wishing and praying hard sort of angry; not the other kind that’s fueled by vengeance and pain.

It’s the flavor of anger that creeps up my neck whenever I feel injustice or sorrow that I knowingly cannot control, but blindly believe I can.

These are the days that I am more demanding than usual to help my kids “work together” for peace; for non-conflict. These are the days there are more questions in their eyes than I have answers to as why this day, why this time in their lives they HAVE to make peace.

I imagine also, that this particular parenting trait of mine will be discussed in the days to come in their adult lives as to why their mom was so adamant about making things calm; conflict-free. But at this point, I feel like demanding everyone get along with each other under our tiny roof is a step in the right direction; a direct rebellion, the opposite of what is currently happening outside the walls of our home.

I cannot change war, but I can teach peace.

And I’m hoping that by teaching that, my family experiences peace deeply and will strive for that in their adult lives too. Fingers crossed and prayers said of course, as one only knows what bits and pieces kids take from their home and out into the world as a guidepost.

But as much as I’d like to gloat and sing my praises about training my group to work for peace, I have to also admit–I’m angry because I want to know what my role in all this bad news has been. Ignoring, I believe, is a role. And it’s one I’ve played for a long while. If all is okay in my world, why worry? I’ve thought before. No, don’t think of Aleppo, Liz. You can’t be stressed out all the time. If I can’t control what’s going on out there, why can’t I be comfortable here? Might as well enjoy my comfy couch.

And ignoring (like I tend to do for fear of crushing my soul) is my M.O.; my mode of protecting myself from the pain that knowing brings.

But maybe it’s time to let my cocoon of comfort go. Maybe it’s time to feel the pain. Have the eggshell of my heart crushed over and over again. To learn to be more compassionate than self-protecting. Compassionate enough to listen to the news, people’s stories, to bear witness to the atrocities of our world through what people have had to endure.

Because I don’t know if I can bear witness to a culture that reports the news that is hard to hear, like Haiti’s rape crisis, while interweaving the news that most applies to me: like what to do after a Netflix binge.

May I have eyes to see and ears to hear. Beyond what makes me feel safe.

The long haul

 

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After about twelve years, everything begins to show seams.

The wedding dishes, the ones you painstakingly selected together and thought about your daily lives together (although all things considered, he just sort of went along with because, well, it’s dishes) begin to show signs of wear and tear. Add in a couple of chips and slight cracks to make it authentic and keep you on the edge daily, wondering if the plate will hold through the next meal.

Someone’s back will go out or there will be a minor health scare or you’ll get a dog or a house or have some kids (or all of these things) which will be grand, really great in a whole myriad of ways but also will exhaust you and put you at each other’s neck sometimes about things seemingly innocuous as pee pads and pacifier use and weighing your spouse’s wall color opinion vs your own and trying to determine what color to actually paint the bedroom.

Little fights threaten at the edge of the perimeter, sometimes out of nowhere, like campfire grounds that if not tended, will turn into a forest fire. The Forest Fire, you think to yourself, that could possibly end your marriage. Instead, you try and deal with the small but feisty ones together, you and your spouse a ramshackle team of volunteer firefighters at best. Though you’re arguing, you’re a team with the same desire to not let this small fire involving the electric bill and what to bring for Thanksgiving dinner at which family’s house ignite your whole world.

The pet you had previous to marriage might die. The things you came into the marriage with that were more personal than useful, like pink cocktail glasses, might have been given away or sold in a series of garage sales. Or in strange events that you’re not sure how you became suckered into, become part of your child’s flim-flam set up of odd, unrelated things you don’t know what to do with that somehow, but they cannot part with now. These previous life things, these sweet innocent knickknacks that remind you of who you were but have outgrown, your child adores and sees the beauty in long after you’ve moved on. You’ll still hold onto to a couple of small things from your single life before the spouse/house/pets/kids but most will go. You’ve merged, changed. Merged and joined life with another person which may or may not include cocktail hours and a love of cute quote decor.

The clothes and persona don’t fit anymore, you’ll find one day while trying on an outfit for an especially important event. You’re not a new person, not a different person, but one that has stayed the course and seen some things–and felt a lot of things, both good and bad, that you’ve never thought you could feel about another person. And since your mind and heart has changed so – your wardrobe begins to slightly change alongside. And sometimes, the sizes are larger than you expected and yet you are still stunned–the perfect size 6 you were is not what has kept them here; while it originally attracted, it’s not what has made them stay. While sometimes you long for that body, that lifestyle involving all your own choices and decisions instead of hotly debated group decisions over where to vacation, wonders never cease that you are able to tuck in at night next to the one you love, size 6 or not. And you marvel how the feeling is the same but different somehow, weightier, deeper than you had ever imagined. And this contentment and happiness looks a lot more like peace and small decisions about what to get mad about and less like the widely advertised image of happiness of running through sunflowers in the early spring, smiling to the edges of your face.

The furniture begins to sag. If you have an animal of any kind (including those lovely magical ones we call children) there may be some stains – biological stains, unsightly ones, and ones that only a mother can smile and fume over at the same time that are marker stains. Try as you might, every cleaning product and process you’ve heard of and asked around about, they will not come out. You will welcome guests into a home full of love, laughter, but high imperfection including worn tiles, walls with scratches, kid art adorning the fridge and marker or some other “free artistic expression” on some piece of furniture/wall/curtain that happened the moment you turned around to turn on the stove. You will encourage guests that they are welcome here, just don’t mind the bleach spot on the carpet where there was a science experiment very quickly gone awry. Some laugh knowingly having been there; others will try to hide their slightly appalled faces while silently making a tally of just how many things in their house will need to be scotchguarded and/or replaced should they have children.

The age will show–all of it. Your face, your body, your mind. You willfully talk to your face that the joy you have in life is (hopefully) what people see first, not the wrinkles, the exhaustion, the 3 a.m. debate you had with your oldest child about how best to settle down and go back to bed.

The way you have thought of things has shifted; you now know the essential things about life, like proper car care and other practical things that you as a self-made woman would have figured out on her own but short cutting that process is okay, sometimes, you think quietly to yourself. You are so glad some days when you can’t find the keys or the last thought you thought or what that last item you needed to remember from the grocery store, that there is someone lovely, sturdy and practical to help fill in the gaps of an absent-minded, impulsive, emotional true self you’ve realized you were all along, but spent so many years hiding because who could love that?

Staying in is much more appealing than it used to be. Sometimes it’s the back, or some other irksome body part acting up or causing concern; sometimes it’s just too much loudness out there, but most of the times it’s because you have the very best person next to you. The one you love and trust and have lived life with, that you want to hear their opinion, their thoughts. You’re so close to them you needn’t go far at all, most days.

Signs of life.

Signs of the long haul.

Signs of keeping it together, even when the world wants to rip it apart.

The Evening Ride

Note: This is a slight detour into a fiction experiment. Yes, fiction. Sometimes I write fiction. Sometimes. 

A lot of the times I write non-fiction, but I try new things and fail every once and a while, just to remember I’m human and still have enough padding (literal and figurative) to fall upon.

Sometimes this results in a mini-fail that leads to a revelation; sometimes it’s a spectacular one that leads to the thought “I’m never doing that again. Ever.”

Hoping it’s not the latter on this one, but some sort of sweet spot of learning but being also able to fall off the balance beam without any major injuries sort of learning experiment.

We’ll see. I guess it will all come out in the wash, right?

Meanwhile–putting my money where my mouth is (and yes, on the internet!) as I frequently tell others to just try, be bold–well, here are I am too. For better or worse.

Enjoy-

 

The Evening Ride

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Mrs. Bryant, never referred to by her first name in some fifty-odd years, flies over the speed bumps like her hair’s on fire. She succumbs to nothing like always. Her butter, unlike the ordinary rest of us, does not contain toast crumbs and she is always early to church.

Angie clocks Mrs. Bryant this evening going eighty-five on 98, the divided two-lane highway that leads out of town. The speed limit has been sixty-five for over twenty years.

Della, who has four children, a husband, a mortgage and a van, smokes non-filters slowly in the early evening on her drive to Babe’s Ice Cream Shack in Little Spring. By day, she’s a tour de force that makes all her children eat ALL the vegetables on their plates despite of (or because of, it’s rumored) their groans. She has the laundry crisply folded and put away by the time she pushes her ’55 red convertible down the driveway, careful not to wake her littlest – a three-year-old – before she hits the road. Beautiful Cole is either none the wiser that Della always has to “visit a friend” in the hospital every Thursday night, or like most men, he is but prudent enough not to say a thing as to his wife’s whereabouts.

Bob idles along as he always does, four miles under the speed limit in a truck with bad shocks and rust.

Sam spends his evenings taking Pecan on long walks under the weeping willows and cypress trees near the park. When Sam’s wife is in that no talking sort of inhospitable mad mood, Angie notices him much later passed out on the porch swing, gently swaying. One mocha hand rests on his chest and the other dangles grazing Pecan’s fur, who rests under the swing. Evidently, both locked out for the remainder of the evening.

Tina, Gerdie’s granddaughter, drives in consecutive right turns all night and smacks gum.

Jack, whose wife believes he might have early Alzheimers, gets out on full moons and tries for the city limits to worlds and delights beyond Haven. Most of the others believe he’s part wolf; just sort of odd and restless. Even though his wife has yet to accept as much about him after fifty years.

Stacy from Thousand Oaks Drive and the principal at the local high school speeds all the time and makes no bones about it.

Dana, the skinniest, oldest white lady in town, scuttles off to Hal’s Chicken Drive-Thru at dusk. She eats a whole bucket of fried chicken while looking out to the sunset over 98, right about the time the old gaslight lamp sputters on, highlighting her activities for the whole town to see.

Janey waits for Rick to come home from Blue’s again tonight. Angie sighs as she bites into a melty Twix that she pulled out from the console. I can only control disorder, she thinks to herself, and even then, not so much. If only I could put the world in the order in which it rightly belongs.

Angie remembers Janey at 17, showing off her corsage to Angie, begging for her to take a sniff of the small pale pink roses she received from Rick. She recalls the same sheer delight on Janey’s face when her first child was born.

From the opposite corner of the street, she watches the porch in her rear-view mirror for the tell-tale glow as Janey pulls out a cigarette and the embers highlight her worried face and chipped red nail polish. Angie makes a right turn as she turns off Arching Oak with a sigh, wishing for a better life for her friend.

But Angie knows. Angie has always known.