Friday, September 6, 2013

One Grain of Sand

With Mia and Lauren at school all day, Landon is soaking up some extra-special one-on-one with moi. This basically means that he's crawling up my legs while I pretend to be a good housekeeper.
It also means that I leave the laundry to multiply more often than not. Because I don't know how I'm supposed to see this:

...and not feel an urgent, pressing need to be a part of that moment. And invite my camera along as a distinguished guest.

My baby, slathering kisses on his baby, and rolling around like a puppy in a field of clover, tongue lolling, feet kicking...
is far too precious to ignore. And if we have to be without our big girls for 7 long hours each day...

it only makes sense that we should console each other with roughly 5 hours of some serious, heart melting, belly rumbling, hug sneaking (nap inducing) playfulness.
In the meantime, if he continues to question the absence of those sweet and sassy sisters a dozen times per day, I think you'll understand why it's become so necessary that I shower him with adoration.

Because it will only be one grain of sand falling down the hourglass before he's off to school himself. I don't dare blink.

There's far too much to see.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

And Then I Cried

Lauren was the baby who held on tight.

Mia, she was different. She balked against the wrap of my fingers, trying to break free until I finally had to spell it out for her: you will hold my hand, at least while we cross the street. There was probably a scowl involved when she gave in. Or halfway gave in. She merely held out one finger and allowed me to use it like a leash. That's Mia, though: she deigns to allow my hugs and my hand-holding and my sap. She loves in a hundred different, beautiful ways, and holding tight to mama is not one of them.

But my Lauren holds on. When I tried to grab a finger or two while she cruised across the floor on chubby bare feet, she opened my hand and buried her palm in mine. When she walked into preschool, her fingers were as starfish, suctioned to the stable floor of my hand. When we cross the street, there is one place she wants to be: wrapped up in mama's hand.

I don't think it's always about security. I think it's also about belonging and comfort. It's where she lands when she reaches out for balance. It's where she summons the bravery to move ahead. It's home, I guess.

So now she's summoned all the bravery five-and-a-half years can offer, and the dimpled fists are hiding behind graceful fingers.

But on the way into Kindergarten, she held on extra tight. She squeezed out a secret-coded I love you! and tried to smile. She sat down at her table and looked at the world.

And then....

She simply let go.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

This is Your Brain on Kindergarten

I don't exactly have the correct metaphor for right now. Something about having been taxiing down a runway for all these years, and suddenly feeling my heart in my throat with that first lurch against gravity as we go wheels-up. But that implies a speeding rush. Landscape blurring past. A little bit of nausea. All true, and yet...not a perfect summation.

Something involving painting myself into a corner, living in single moments without realizing that the wall behind me is about stop my wandering gait. But that feels like the wall is wholly undesirable; on the other side lies a dungeon. A pit. A Trunchbull. I know for certain that this is not the case.

Closer still: something about picking berries off a bush, plunking each bit of sweetness down on top of the pile, never realizing the bush was growing bare. I've picked all the best berries already, haven't I? The slow days and long nights and halting innocence all thins out towards the top, leaving, what? Bare branches? Thorny vines? Sunburnt leaves?

But that's not right, either. It can't be.

Surely we're just moving further into the field, finding a new sort of fruit. A low-lying shrub, maybe. Or a heavy-laden tree. A stubborn patch of brambles around a bend (occasionally). A fragrant glade on the other side (hopefully).

Because tomorrow isn't the ending of something, I tell myself with a giant helping of cliché, so much as it is another beginning.

This is what Lauren + Kindergarten does to my psyche.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Five Things + Six Photos

I've been tagged by the dear-hearted Alita Jewel.  So.  Let's do this!

5 Things I have a passion for...

1. Reading.  Although I'm not sure it's a passion so much as it is an addiction.  You know all those pithy comments about folks being unable to cope without coffee?  That's me, but I mainline stories instead of caffeine.  I neeeeed to read.  I neeeeed it.  Reading is good for your soul. 

2. Natural Childbirth.  I think if I had more time, I'd study to become a doula, because I'm so in awe of women's bodies and all that they can accomplish with a bit of encouragement and education. We think we aren't strong enough to bear children without chemicals and micro-management and disastrous imaginations. But we are! You are! We've lost the community of women who used to surround us during childbirth when we gave control to the doctors and hospitals, thinking it was better this way. Sometimes, it is. But MOST of the time, we're better off not being fiddled with. Believe it.

3. Breastfeeding. If you know me at all, you know this. I will talk your ear off about the perfection of breasts and all they can do. I will accidentally invade your personal space if you come to me with questions or needing help. I will try really hard not to judge your decision not to breastfeed, but I might cry about it later. I will cheer you on. I will physically adjust your latch. Maybe I will be a lactation consultant when I grow up...

4. Peace. It's a hard-line of idealism running through me. It's a current under my skin when I'm about to lose my stuff with my kids. It's a hope. It's kind of a desperation within me. I crave peace.

5. Rose-colored glasses. I am one-hundred percent committed to the idea that if I try very hard to see the best at all times, the best will come through. Life is kind of ugly sometimes, you know? But with these handy, rosy tints clouding my judgment, I can pick out the beauty and focus on it until the rest fades into obscurity. 

5 Things I would like to do before I die...

1. Travel to every country in Europe. Really, most of this list could be filled with travel dreams, but Europe especially holds my fancy. And Asia. Oh, and South America. 

2. And I would like to do all of that while flying first class. Please. Even just once would be nice. 

3. Write a novel, and have it published. 

4. I would like to find a way to kick my self-centeredness to the curb.  I want to give of myself and my time and my money, without worry about my own comfort.

5.  This particular list is really hard for me to nail down.  I don't have exciting, adventurous aspirations.  I don't want to skydive or climb a gnarly mountain or go white water rafting.  I don't want to accomplish big, noteworthy things or become an expert or a success.  I mostly just want to be content where I am.  (Except for in business class.  You CAN'T be content there.  You just can't.)

5 Things I say a lot...

1. "This is not a disaster."  I say it to myself, and I say it to my girls.  This is not a disaster.

2. "Shhh...I'm crushing candy..."  I say it to my husband when he wants my attention after the kids are finally down for the night.  I'm ashamed that I enjoy this game so much. 

3. "Is that how YOU would want to be treated?"

4. "You are in control of your own actions."

5. "I love you."  This spills out at the oddest times.  Like when Justin sneaks a pouch of applesauce from the kids' snack stash.  Or when Lauren burps on me.  Or when Mia is scowling over an unsatisfactory meal.  Or when Landon pees on me.  I do love it.  All of it.  (And when I need a minute away from all of it, I go crush some candy.)

5 (good) Books I have read lately...

1. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. Whew -- my rose-colored glasses could not stand up to the conditions in this world. What a terrifying place Cambodia was during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Frightening. Such a captivating, gorgeous novel, though. 

2. Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. This was one of my impulse Kindle purchases because it cost only two dollars or something. I buy cheap. And this book was worth ten times it's price. It absolutely gave me chills and I wept and fell in love and was inflamed with the passion of regret and fear and hope and love. I have a soft spot for Greek and Roman mythology, and this book is packed with some really amazing characters from those myths. If you don't care to read about a loving relationship between two men, you might steer clear, but if it makes you feel better their relationship is not graphic. This is a beautiful story. 

3. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. I've been recommended this old 'classic' several times, and I wasn't disappointed. Maybe a little depressed by some (okay, a TON of) sadness in the story, but the writing was so compelling and lovely that I couldn't put it down. 

4. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Wow. This book In my old age, I'm starting to realize how much I actually enjoy fantasy and even a little bit of science fiction. I read this one several weeks ago and I still think about it often. 

5. Strange Fits of Passion by Anita Shreve. I've adored Shreve's writing for over a decade now, but I have to take her books slowly and with large breaks in between novels. Her words and characters burrow so deeply that I become overwhelmed with emotion. So I go read some nonsense for a month or a season or three years. And then I can come back to her fresh and ready to be flayed open again. 

5 Favorite Movies...

1. Persuasion. It is the BBC version, with Rupert Penry-Jones, and it is exquisite.

2. Dirty Dancing. For-evah.

3. Clueless. It makes me feel nostalgic and content.

4. Shawshank Redemption. Because I feel a little bit idiotic with so few really good movies on this list, and I love Morgan Freeman even if it's a cliché to say so.

5. Gone With the Wind. Although the book is much better. 

5 Places I would like to travel to...
Whoops.  I already talked about this.  Whatever :)

1. Ireland. Because I feel drawn there.  Pulled by the weight of my freckles, perhaps.

2. Brazil

3. China.  Chinese culture feels so ancient and mysterious to me.  Shrouded in mist and nestled in mountains.  Spread across deserts and plains and swamps.  There's just so much and I want to see some of it.

4. Northwestern and Northeastern North America.  I've never seen northern beaches, and I'm drawn to the idea of Maine, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia.

5. The great cities of Europe: Rome, Paris, London, Prague, Munich...where else?  Where have you been that you would recommend to a would-be traveler?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Blue Blesses

It's an apple-shaped pillow, faux-velvet red.  Lauren pulls it from a box of still-packed linens, toppling a pile of blankets.  The garage is half filled with these packed boxes, and almost one year after moving in, I'm still looking at them skeptically; if I haven't needed them yet, I don't plan on needing them at all.

"Mama, what is this?"  She turns it over and hugs it close.  A dusty smell poofs from its center. 

"That's GG's graduation pillow," I say.  "Do you remember GG?"

"Mmmhmm."  She nods and walks into the house, swinging the apple pillow by its loop of yarn. 

Incongruously, it most resembles a Christmas ornament, but enormous.  It used to hang from a nail in my Grandma's study/library/sitting room, proudly displayed for all to see.  Not that we needed the reminder.  We cheered when she walked across the stage in a blue cap and gown, smiling for all the world to admire.  A great-grandmother accomplishing a forgotten goal sixty-five years later: a G.E.D.

"Why did she have a grad-a-dation pillow?  Why did she give it to you?  Because she was about to be dead?"

It always stings to hear death spoken of so matter-of-factly by little ones.  I cringe, but admit the truth: kids see it straight-forward.  Without understanding all the strings of emotion braided around the edges of the words.

"I think she just wanted me to remember.  And do you know -- she probably wanted you to remember too.  She loved you so much!"

"You should have given her a picture of me when I was all grown up.  Before she died, I mean, you should have given her a picture of me."

I smile.  "But you were just a baby!  Even I didn't know what you would look like when you got older.  You know what, though--" I'm treading softly now.  This is a conversation I'm always awkward with.  It's not heavy, exactly, just too broad to fit comfortably in my grasp. 

"I believe that GG is watching us from heaven.  Paying attention to us and loving us even when we can't see her."  There, I breathe.  No pressure, just thinking out loud.

Lauren squeezes the pillow in her lap.  She's sat down on the floor in my bathroom, where I'm laying towels in the cupboard.  She thinks for a minute, and clears her throat. 

"And whenever we get hurt or scared or something bad is happening to us, GG is in heaven -- she's kind of like...blessing us?"

My baby girl's eyes are huge and blue, young reproductions of the bright eyes my grandma, herself, had.  They stare at me with questions, but when I try to answer, I find myself looking deeper into her, looking for answers there.  Swimming in impossibilities and dreams and things I won't know until I'm old and soft.  Until I'm in the arms of my Lord.  There's a bit of an angel there, in those indigo eyes. 

"Yes, that's it exactly," I whisper.  "She's still blessing us, even now."

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Snapshot: Complimentary

Mia is an invalid, sinking into the sofa with the weight of a smoldering log.  Her neck is mottled red, hot and dry.  She clutches a bottle of cold water in one hand, blankie in another.  With glassy eyes, half-shuttered, she watches across the room at her sister, dancing. 

The wall of western windows is a bridge, spilling sunlight as it gallops into the room.  Lauren's toes grace the puddles of light for quick-step seconds before she's twirled into another quadrant -- a shadow.  Her arms make perfect arcs and swoops.  A rainbow in motion, a fluid parabola.  Now that her hair falls to the middle of her shoulder blades, it makes curtains that open and close as she swings, allowing glimpses of the backstage action.  A forgotten smile.  A raised brow.  A deep breath.

Into the light and out again, Lauren dances. 

Mia clears her throat.  "Lauren," she says.  Her voice is thin and transparent, with no fullness behind it.  It sounds like it could be heard even in a vacuum, it is so without shape or force.  It falls from her lips rather than flies, slow and melting.

We all stop -- Lauren pauses, hands akimbo; I turn, ears cocked; Justin sits very still.

"Lauren," she says, "you're a beautiful dancer."

The dancer looks at her toes, hiding a radiant smile behind her curtains.  Then she throws her head back, beaming, and takes flight once more. 

The sun has fallen just low enough to fill the entire floor with light.  There is not a spot of darkness for miles. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Creating a Family Narrative

It had been a fabulous Mother’s Day, but not one I would have initially planned as my perfect day.  My kitchen was a disaster: dishes and pans and wine glasses littered our counter tops.  Toys were spread over the coffee table like art-imitating-life-gone-messy.  Outside, we lounged, exhausted, in porch chairs around the patio table.  The smaller cousins raced around the back yard, screaming and tossing bright balls in the air. 
Snuggled in her daddy’s lap, though, was my oldest girl.  As the adults talked and laughed, she watched our faces, and I knew what would happen next.  It’s the same almost every time we have visitors.
“Can we tell stories?”
And so it began.  Uncle Eric launched into an embarrassing tale complete with sound effects and voice-overs.  Aunt Emily made us roar with laughter and shake our heads in sympathy.  Nana recounted a childhood fiasco that had us giggling and tearing up.  We told family stories – and what we remembered of extended family stories – until sunset, with my seven-year-old listening and laughing and staring into the middle-distance, contemplating all she’d heard. 
Though our stories that night were lighthearted and silly, they were also universal.  As families, as cultural beings, we tell our stories, often passing them down through generations, teaching and guiding our little ones with shared history.  Sometimes, the stories are about a hardship that someone we know and love has overcome; sometimes they’re about failure, loss, or trial.  We remember details of hilarity and heartbreak, sweetness and success.  It all comes out in the retelling, and through it, our histories have meaning.
I read an article a few months back in The New York Times, titled, TheStories That Bind Us.  The author, Bruce Feiler (who has also written a book about the subject: The Secrets of Happy Families) had been researching the secrets behind what makes families and other organizations function better. From board rooms to dinner tables to military bases, Feiler searched for the common bridges that made groups work well together.  He found resilience, camaraderie, strong bonds, and a shared sense of teamwork among groups that practiced, of all things, lots and lots of storytelling. 
It turns out that kids (as well as employees, soldiers, and companies) tend to gain a whole passel of benefits from something as simple as having what Feiler calls a Family Narrative.  When children have heard (and heard, and heard again) the stories of oscillating hardship and success, disaster and recovery, they inherit a sense that their own lives aren’t about to be ruined by one misstep or embarrassment or failure.  They learn that we’re all a part of the whole, and that we’ll have troubles for sure.  But we’ll also have stories to tell about the wonderful moments mixed in among the difficulties.  Life is a mosaic of dark and light, and when we share the story of our great-grandparents’ wars or immigrations or recessions, we share the truth: we’ll survive.
The sharing of stories isn’t just something we do after a family meal, it’s a way to connect and communicate without lecturing.  It’s a way to build our kids into strong, resilient, happy human beings who look around them and see possibility rather than defeat. 
So tell your stories.  Create your family narrative.  Recount your histories, both good and bad, so that your children will know.  And in the telling, they’ll gain much more than a bit of entertainment.  They’ll be instilled with a personal history that can bolster them into adulthood.

[Originally published in The Joplin Globe]