Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Pink in the Sky

This piece can be found on Huffington Post today. 

Also, a big welcome to all the friends who made their way here from the New York Times, the emails full of kind words I've received from all of you have been incredibly humbling to say the least. I have a very full and happy heart, thank you!

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"Did the pink in the sky happen yet, mommy?" Did it happen yet, he asks it like the washing of color over the vastness of air was holding out for him. The pink just brimming over the top crust of morning grey sky, holding, holding, holding back, and waiting for him before erupting. Is Ronnie here yet, the sky asks, I've waited as long as I can.

He is talking about the sunrise and he is 5. My oldest of three boys. I have to tell him, "Yes, dear," as I look out of the large picture window in the back of our house, "the sun already came up today." He shrugs it off and becomes lost in the couch cushion and a computer game.

I move a little more slowly after that, because sometimes the way my children see the world numbs the crispy corners of my anxious adult life. I have never asked anyone if the pink in the sky has happened yet, and now I wonder why.

The morning is a cold one. Single-digit cold. I have to drag all three boys to school to drop Ronnie off at kindergarten and all of our exposed skin begs us not to. Ronnie won't let me drop him off in the carpool lane, the minivan mayhem I call it in my head; he wants me to walk him to the front door. At school I pile the little guys into the double stroller and forge ahead, pushing it like a semi. My nostrils sting and threaten to freeze shut. Ronnie gallops along beside me, trying to keep up, while his coat flaps angrily behind him. Tomorrow I will remember to zip him up, I chastise myself. I get him all the way to the corner of his monstrous school and the vicious cold and cries from the younger boys become too much.

"It's cold, buddy," I say, "just give me a hug and I'll watch you walk to the door." His face folds into a crinkled map of despair; his eyes look moist, but I'm not sure if it's from the cold. "Just go, I'll watch you," and I wrap him in a warm hug, tousle his hair and give him an absentminded push forward. Just go.

He takes a few strides, but I can see the uncertainty in his gait. He struggles back to me, his eyes now pink and filled to the rim with tears. Brimming over. He's holding, holding, holding back. He squeezes me hard as I give him one last confident heave forward and he tries it again. A mom in a minivan rolls down her window next to me and shouts over two yappy puppies in the passenger seat, "He came back to you for a hug -- that is so sweet!" I shout back to her with my hand clutching my heart and explain how I just want to be able to drop him off in the mornings and how cold I am... but I start to babble.

He's wilting into the sidewalk by now, kids whizzing past him because the bell has already rung. So we cut a path through the icy wind together, little brother wails and all, all the way to the front door of the school. I can feel a furrowedness in my forehead as I wipe away his lukewarm tears with the underside of my thumbs and I ache for his aching. "I packed you a great lunch today," I hug him hard, "have an awesome day!" He trots into school and I retreat with the stroller, the wind at our back now.
I think that all of motherhood is like that. A delicate dance in bitterness, the wind at your back, the wind at your front, knowing when to push. It's catching all of the brimming when it's teeming over. It's wiping lukewarm tears. Sometimes shivering. It's cutting a path together, a furrowed forehead, and "Just go, I'll watch you." A lot of the time it's hugging hard and trying again tomorrow.
And sometimes motherhood is just babbling with your hand clutching your heart.

A delicate, delicate dance.

That evening with Ronnie back at home, lost again in that same couch cushion with that same computer game, I gasp a little and get his attention. "Look, baby, there's that pink in the sky." The pink in the sky is happening, but this time through the front windows. It's sinking. The sun is holding, holding, holding until the time is just the right one and then bleeding through a small fissure of something plain and boring, filling it with goodness. It's brimming up with this brilliance, and, just as that plain boring fissure of horizon is about to gobble up the last of our day, the sun flares freely with its sunset. The pinks and mellow oranges, the hues of our entire day wrapped up, erupting everywhere.

The pink in the sky is happening.

Ronnie "oohs" a little, his baby brother reaches up and grabs his toes and they both giggle. I go back to making supper.

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We'll dance again tomorrow. Sometimes with the pink in the sky at our fronts, sometimes with it at our backs. And the same goes for the wind. It's a delicate, delicate dance, this mothering. A delicate dance.
 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Plum Thickets

I've been fascinated by the bushes in our backyard recently. I feel an undeniably strong fervor for nature when there is a pane of glass separating us. From the dining room I pan the yard and and get lost in the fluttering life rustling our bushes.


Tom calls the bushes "plum thickets," and while I'm sure that must be a real term, it rolls of the tongue the same way as "good ol' boy" or "jeet yet?" and since I'm really just a city girl loving nature through the window I don't feel authentic saying plum thickets. 

Our bushes in the backyard are bustling with wildlife, sometimes I can coax them up onto the deck with stray seeds, but like me, they enjoy keeping their distance.


It's a slow transition to spring. Little steps forward with lots of steps back. But the birds seem comfortable roosting in the backyard, and that gives us hope. The boys keep asking me when summer is coming. Sometimes I answer "a few weeks.." or "a month or so.." instead of repeating "I don't know" to yet another question. But what I really should tell them is to slow down, one thing at a time, boys. Spring needs some savoring first.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Spring!

Spring is arriving. Ignore the fact that the western portion of our state got dumped with 7 inches of snow today, here it is 50 degrees, and 50 degrees screams spring is arriving.


We've had a few days mixed into the last few weeks when the sun is blazing a beautiful 70 degrees down on us, and I tell ya, there's nothing like throwing open the windows and breathing in that warmth, right into your lungs, right into your soul.

The first day that it happens always feels like a miracle. Like the skies part and the magic of spring pours out and we scream "spring is here!"

Then as more days are sunny, longer, and warmer we calm ourselves a little. "Spring is here!" becomes a sigh of relief "spring is here." Soon it becomes our normal, all around us, oh---spring is here.


Along those same lines, Scooter has started walking. Those first lumbering steps didn't come as a surprise, he's been aching to race after his brothers since the moment he first breathed air. Still that leap in my heart when he rises for the first time, a little top heavy and unsteady, and lumbers across the living room floor like a tipsy miniature Bigfoot...there's nothing like it.


The first time he did it we squealed "SCOOTER IS WALKING!" It was no more than a few days and he was toddling around, 4 and 5 steps at a time, with his own agenda, his own free will, and we sighed in delight, "Scooter...he's walking." Now it's nothing to turn around in the kitchen and see him strolling behind me with whatever contraband he's stolen from the cupboards clenched in his grimy fists. Still with the lurching of a tilt-a-whirl but a balance he has almost mastered. Just like that, it's become our normal, Scooter is walking.

With spring and walking, growing boys we are emerging from the frigidness of winter with hopefully as much curiosity as Teebs in this photo:


 But just in case we jinx it, we're still whispering a little...(shhh, spring is here...)

 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Changes of Motherhood

This piece of mine was featured on the Huffington Post last week. It's a piece I really, really love and I'm honored that so many people read it.

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Motherhood changes you, they say. You'll never be the same.

It's true. I took my baby to the doctor for his 9-month checkup. Scottie is truly our baby, the youngest of three boys, forever the baby as much as it will make him cringe in future years. "Check his ribs," I urge the doctor, "one of them feels funny." The doctor nods and glides his hands over the top of smooth baby plump, feeling for the unevenness that keeps me up at night.

"One of them sticks out."
"I can feel that," he says, "but it's quite normal."
"They're not symmetrical..." I push him a little harder for an answer and he turns to face me.
"You know, a lot of things in our bodies are not symmetrical. A nose, a face, ribs... rarely are our bodies perfect. The rib will continue to change as he grows; it shouldn't cause any problems."

I smile and relax back into my chair, smoothing the hair on my 3-year-old's head as the pediatrician continues the exam. Scottie's doctor was also my own as a child; he's been easing my worries for 27 years now. Sometimes I feel like we're talking as friends.

As he checks reflexes and shines light into nostrils, he continues, "Ribs are actually more flexible than you think." He could have just dropped the subject but instead chooses to casually chat with me about ribs: "They will bend and move as they grow. A lot of mothers even notice that their own ribs will change shape on the side they use to carry their babies."

Now I'm really smiling. "I had no idea!" I gush, probably a little too overzealously, at this fact. I'm a lefty and I want to immediately stroke my left side searching for sunken ribs but I stop myself and instead keep smiling. Motherhood changes you. 

I forget about ribs for a while. Somewhere between the diaper changing, meal burning, mail getting, vacuuming, school pick up, where are my mittens, phone blinking, please can you... I need some... why is the... my tummy hurts..., ribs slipped by silently to the quiet spots of my mind. The later spots. The oh yeah I remember that spots.

Until a few days later I was getting in the shower, quickly weighing myself before jumping under the warm water, steam already filling the corners of the mirror in the bathroom. I pinch a little at my skin, tracing the stretch marks, sucking in just to remember what could have been if this belly hadn't grown to entomb the growing bodies of three bumbling boys. And as I suck in I notice my ribs, like Scottie's, not quite symmetrical. Then on the left side, my baby carrying side, without much effort at all I can feel the subtle but sudden indentation of bone. A perfect casting of baby thighs, wrapped tightly, lovingly, around mama's middle. It takes my breath away.

Motherhood changes you in so many ways. My sleep cycles are permanently damaged. The stretch marks are irreversible. Even the way I think, always about others before myself, is a mark that motherhood silently brushes over its canvas in permanent pigment. I am the canvas, at the mercy of motherhood. Humbly pouring myself into these little souls, knowing the toll it takes on tired, already sagging skin, but also knowing the honor of being called into this role. I know the joy of loving through bent-up ribs, with pent-up love that bursts through the cracks in the spaces in the bones that these babies bent up inside of me. And it is beautiful.

My husband used to say "I can fix anything but a broken heart," just to make me swoon when we were dating. He was being honest, though. We bring him busted toys and aggravating appliances and he returns them mended. But I can't bring him my ribs. I won't. It would be too painful to imagine them perfect again.

These babies are growing. One already in school, toting home homework and spelling lists to study. Another lounges lazily in bed on a cold afternoon, leisurely snacking and watching a favorite show and looking so much like his daddy it makes my heart gasp. There's only one boy left who claims my ribcage as his own. It's his stomping ground, literally. When I scoop him up off the floor or out of his crib his fat excited legs squeeze tight around me as his feet stomp the air, so quickly, in enthusiastic bursts. My ribs are maybe even still molding a little with each happy stamp.

Motherhood changes you. Painfully, and beautifully, it changes you. I could be a smoother version of myself, less sleep-deprived, better dressed; my list of worries could begin and end only with me. But I'm at the mercy of motherhood, and I'd rather love through these bent rib bones.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Little Victories These Last Few Weeks

This morning the boys were loud in their usual way. I talked over their loudness with instructions get your backpack, brush your teeth, close the door. So much loudness and so many instructions that I almost missed this:


We were nearing that threshold between "We are on time!" and "Go! We're late!" And I was ready to push us all out of the door but in that second before I squealed out a "let's go, get in the truck!" I stopped for just a millisecond and imagined this scene in this living room twenty years from now. The floor would be spotless, my coffee would be warm, I would be sitting, actually sitting, the toys would have been sold at garage sales years ago, there would be no romping, no footed pajamas, no three little boys ignoring their mother so they could play trucks for just one more minute.

So I said nothing. I sipped my luke warm coffee that always seems to get more bitter the colder it gets, put on my coat, gloves, and scarf, and the boys romped with trucks for just one more minute. We made it to school on time, unrushed, and everyone was happy.

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So much has been going on these last few weeks. I've been freelancing a little bit. Which means people pay me actual money to write. And that is astounding. I'm still doing photography. I also had an essay accepted in the New York Time's Modern Love column. And that is beyond astounding. I submitted the piece back in November and anxiously jumped at each email in my inbox for a few weeks. I knew there was literally a 1% chance of getting accepted, but I also knew that the editor, Daniel Jones, made it a point to respond to each submission even if the answer was no. Even the thought of getting a rejection was exciting. Somebody was going to read my piece and personally type an email back to me with a delicate but direct "no thank you." But after more than two months passed and still nothing I sulked a little, sour that it wasn't even good enough for a thanks but no thanks.

Then out of nowhere a ping on my phone, an email from Daniel, a simple "this is really nice, is it still available?" And now we are scheduled to start editing together in March.

I've tried to grasp any kind of perspective as to what this means for my writing career. I know over a million people read the column each week. I know past columnists boast book deals. I know people like Katie Couric are among the weekly fans. But I'm still waffling, uncertain, somewhere between this changes everything and this is amazing but it could pass by very, very quietly. Either way, I'm excited.

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Even though the past few weeks have been busy, these little victories keep filling up our days in the best ways. We've had (some) days with enough heat to play outside with carefully built snowmen peering in the background.


The boys absolutely eat up the outside days. Mud and all. One day after I had to pull Teebs out of a pit of mud that seemingly had a mind of its own I thought for a minute, shrugged, and said "This is what I should have expected...but didn't." I think there's a lot of truth in the sentence.


Bub lost his first tooth and has two other barely hanging on teeth that he's clinging on to with an inspiring five year old determination.


And this kid continues to be my shadow, my biggest fan, and my permanent hip appendage. Like peas and carrots we are.


And with a smile like that what more could I ask for?


The next few days are clearly not going to be outside days, but I keep whispering the same mantra I've had faith in for weeks now; "just one more week..." Just one more week of winter, we can do this. And one of these weeks, I'm going to be right. We kept the mud mess inside this week. No boots, just fingers.


Teebs' little fingers that were elated to roam around in some wet clay while his face was clearly thinking.


That thinking face reeks of deep thoughts. I can only imagine.


He said he was making a picture of me. He gave me a forehead and a ponytail. Perfection.

We're in the power through mindset now. One more week, power through, spring is coming. And with spring is fresh spring air bursting through open windows, green everywhere, green everything, and sun, sun, sun. So much to look forward to this spring. So much newness, so much opportunity.

Come on spring...

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sunrise, Sunset

On Monday I got a voicemail in the morning, it was one of the kindergarten moms inviting Bub over to play. He was excited and giddy and that afternoon I drove him over and the only nervous question he asked was "do you think they have a dog...?"

In the driveway I thought for a second about my options; it's freezing, do I unstrap all of these kids and go up to the door, do I send Bub up and wave from the driveway like a mom thankful to dump her kid off for the afternoon, do I leave the little monkeys and take Bub up to the door and hope I don't get invited inside and have to say "oh, but I left my kids in the driveway..."

So I unstrapped all of the kids. We all climb up a mountain of steps to get to their front door in a whirlwind of cold air and I awkwardly fumbled to squeeze this hipped baby into the house while trying to pull a three year old hand reluctantly into the entryway and keep any fingers from getting smashed as the door closed behind us. And as the door did close behind us and we all stood there, windblown and kind of in shambles, I looked up into the eyes of this mom and I could have been imagining it but I think I almost saw "all of those options and this is what you decided?" Because then it was a split second and Bub ran off with his friends and I was left standing on the doormat having to turn around to do it all over again; open the door, clutch the baby on my hip, pull the three year old hand, don't let the hats blow away, watch your step, don't smash your fingers, hurry it's cold, no--really--hurry it's cold, pick up a dropped mitten, get everybody into the truck, and by the time I buckle all of the carseats and finally relax behind the steering wheel I have to check my own fingers for frostbite.

And I sigh. Like me, this mom has 3 boys. But while my oldest is a kindergartner, her youngest is a kindergartner. She's out of the trenches. I know that her life isn't any easier than mine. I got a tiny, teeny, sliver, tip of the iceberg sample of what bigger kid problems look like when Bub started kindergarten. I know that their problems and challenges grow just as quickly as they do. But sometimes I'd just like my day's biggest obstacle to not involve someone else's bottom or bowl movements. I'd like to only dress myself. I'd like someone to say "I want a snack" and be able to say "ok, go make one" and then see them do that. I'd like to drop one of the boys off at a friend's house without feeling like I just climbed Mount Everest with a baby on my hip. But if I give up these little problems of little kids then what kind of problems does that leave me with...a failed test? a failed class? hanging out with bad friends? I'd like to think the problems of having big kids are as trivial as the mountains of stinky socks I know I'll be stumbling over for years to come...but I know it's so much more than that. And if I think too hard about it I get really thankful that I wipe bottoms all day.

I think I've given this so much thought because Bub has a loose tooth. Seriously. He has a loose tooth. I can see in his eyes that he's excited but a little untrusting of the whole situation. And while Bub's front teeth are wobbling in his mouth, his gums ready to surrender and give them up, Scooter keeps sprouting more teeth than I can even keep track of. So I end up with this crazy display of gum giving, gum sprouting, circle of life awesomeness right before my eyes. Gum giving. Gum sprouting. Sunrise. Sunset. I remember the exact moment I saw that bit of tooth bust through Bub's gums, and now here it is ready to release itself. The circle of life.

I guess the point is that I should be thankful for all of the stages. The Mount Everest hip baby stages, bottom wiping stages, teeth growing teeth falling stages, stray sock stages, and whatever stages may and will come. Each boy has their own delicate blend of challenging and inspiring phases, and it's always going to be that way. Someday I'll wipe my last baby bottom, but today this grinning, gummy, teethy smile makes it all worth it: