Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Blank Pages

January 1 dawns on us all as another new year. The opportunity to start fresh, to mend those not so healthy/productive/soul-filling ways. We clink the glasses, we sip the bubbly, we smooch our sweethearts and find ourselves filled with the excitement and possibility of a new year.

Then the holiday shimmer wears off. The empty champagne bottle clangs into the recycle bin. The Christmas tree sits brittle by the road with the other yard waste pick up bags. The presents are unpacked and played with, yet still have not found homes on the shelves or in the closet. The kids are getting on each other's nerves. The holiday outfits are at the dry cleaner. The alarm clock is set again after days of non-use. The gyms are crowded. The grocery store's baking aisle no longer beckons (as loudly). The resolutions bending, if not already broken.

This year, I made no promises to myself. I made no expectations of the new year. We hiked New Year's Eve day by the Chattahoochee and enjoyed discovering new trails as a family. We stayed up late and played games and watched movies. The seven year old made it to midnight. I felt myself seduced by a new year's new hopes, fell asleep happy and woke up ready to tackle 2014.

Then, I experienced another a-fib episode while bending over to pick up a toy on the floor. For 40 minutes, I felt my heart beat erratically as if it was trying to escape my rib cage. I cried. I breathed deeply. I apologized incessantly for my defectiveness. And I vowed not to care about the "new" year. Not that it isn't important or exciting or thrilling to make new promises, set goals and enthusiastically go about reaching them. I'm a big believer in all those things. But I wanted more regular. More normal. More steady, dependable heart beats. More moments.

Yes. I'd like a bigger home. Yes. I'd like to live closer to our families. Yes. I'd like the day-to-day drudgery to be easier. Yes. I'd like to write more. Yes. I'd like to travel more. Yes. I'd like all of those things. But what do I have? A husband who doesn't just worry about whether I'm happy, but whether I'm fulfilled. Two beautiful, smart, hilarious, frustrating, snuggle bug boys who still fit on my lap and nestle under my chin and hug me with all their growing, bony angles. A home that is warm, mine and filling with more and more memories each day. A job that is challenging and flexible. Dreams that still whisper and tempt me in all the best possible ways.

I don't need to be seduced by what could be better when things are actually pretty damn good.

So similar to the blank pages I hope to fill with words of color and emotion when I write, I am treating this new year as just days filled with blank pages. Some may be written with new events and new people. Others may be familiar as nursery rhymes or as boring as grocery lists. But every day will be filled by me. By me and my moments. By the moments that make up our life. A life that is beautiful and messy and constantly evolving.

This year, I resolve nothing but the blank page. I can't wait to see what story our lives have written on it this time next year. The best part? The story will only continue.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Priceless Gem

"What is it that binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well or the bell or the stone walls. Or the crisp October nights or the memory of dogwoods blooming."

Charles Kuralt offered his own answer to this question during his speech at the UNC Bicentennial in 1993.

That day, I was a fresh-faced, idealistic high school senior, anxious about my future, unsure of what the next step would be and where I would choose to take it. Sitting in Kenan Stadium that day, although I had grown up nestled in the Piedmont of the old North State, I became a Tar Heel. That speech had something to do with it. As did President Clinton's. As did the enormity of the situation. But what truly sealed the deal for me that fall afternoon was the boundless, electrifying oneness of the crowd. The pride, the camaraderie, the feeling that we were all connected by this one, finite, beautiful place.

Near and far, alumni of UNC Chapel Hill all seem to carry a torch for this place. Sure, it's college where many of us finally come into our own, discover ourselves, find a home, a friend, a love. But still. It's so much more. I've seen it in a few other faces for a very small set of other schools. It's rare. But it exists outside of Chapel Hill. When you see it, you know.

I'm not sure if it's the brick walks, the Old Well, the stone walls, the chiming of the tower, the football stadium nestled in the pines or the dome settled in the valley below South Campus, the academics, the banners in the rafters, the accolades, the faculty, the blue cups, the chicken biscuits after the blue cups or some sprinkling of them all. But I have a feeling a lot of it for many of us has to do with what happened today.

Today, Coach Dean Smith received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. My Facebook feed has been blowing up with articles and pictures and congratulatory messages posted by my UNC-alumni friends. I started to wonder why we cared so much? Why did this honor pull so many of me and my Carolina blue brethren in? And the answer was not that we're a basketball school and therefore fanatics about all that is Carolina basketball, although I'm sure that may be true for one or two.

What I think it really is is that same mysterious thread, that little lifeline that pulls us back to dogwoods blooming on Gimghoul and azaleas blazing around the Old Well. The same whisper that urges us to yell "PRICELESS GEM" with all our might during the alma mater.

Dean Smith exemplified a life lived with integrity. A life that was concerned more with doing what was right, not necessarily winning ball games. Although the secret is that by doing what was right, his teams ended up wining ball games. A lot of them. And his players ended up graduating college. A whole helluva lot of them.

Dean Smith was the coach who instilled the thank the passer point, the idea being that you acknowledge who helped you achieve the score. You see it as the players run backwards back down the court after a big play, fingers extended, pointing at the passer.

And that, my Carolina friends, is what I think binds us to this place. Sure, Charles' argument that it is the University of the People is a great point. But...

Without Carolina I wouldn't have achieved what I have today. Without Carolina I wouldn't have the friends I have today. Without Carolina I may not have the family I have today.

Thank you Coach Smith, for living your life by such exemplary standards. Thank you for your contributions to the court, the college and the community. Thank you for reminding me through your award today that I have neglected to thank the passer for a long, long time.

So today, Chapel Hill, I'm pointing at you. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Inspiration

This fall has tested my mettle.

I'm spending more days in the office. Not just more days, but really every minute that both boys are occupied at school is a moment that I'm in the office. Although that's great for getting work done, it's put pressure on how to accomplish school volunteering opportunities, running errands in a timely manner and exercising (remember that yoga high I was on? Haven't been to a class since this summer). Add to that increasing school responsibilities for my 7 year old (book reports in the first grade?), being co-president of our neighborhood ladies club and attempting to keep the house relatively functional and I have often felt at my wit's end this fall.

It was already weighing on me emotionally and then the stomach flu found three out of four of us. Not just any stomach flu, but the one that laid the adults up in bed for 48 hours and took a week before we felt a semblance of normal again. That put us all behind the proverbial 8-ball and amped my panic meter to 11.

With the holidays approaching, I've been freaking out a bit. And by a bit, I mean a lot. I'm fussing at the hubby about needing support but unsure what really to ask for. I'm short with the kids. I'm frustrated that I can barely get done what I HAVE to get done not to mention feeling the things I WANT to get done slip through my fingers - exercise, write, read a magazine without thinking about the laundry I should be doing since the boys are out of clean underwear.

Then, I went to book club. Ah, book club. Books are my salvation. No matter how busy I am, I always have time to read. Before bed, in car pool, while eating breakfast. I sneak it in whenever I can. If I'm not reading a book, I feel unmoored. So of course I wasn't going to miss my monthly book club. Particularly because the author was coming to join our group to discuss the book.

First off, I loved the book. I highly recommend it. I'm not just saying that because the author happens to be a very sweet woman, although she is, or because I am always fascinated by Poe's stories, although I am. It's just a compelling read with complex characters that are navigating the constantly shifting tectonics of the day, its social morays and their own moral compasses.

I'm off track - see what books do to me? - because what I mean to say is that this author, this woman, this mother of three spoke wise words to me that have kindled an awakening fire: Keep writing.

Yes, I know. Every book on writing, every author in a tip article, every English teacher ever always says to the aspiring writer: Just keep writing.

What was different this time is the context -- that this woman who has been in my shoes, who put aside her personal work for her children's early days and eventually came out the other side to live her dream of being a writer said to me that each step is another step closer.

So I may not be able to work on that novel huddled away in a folder on my desk top as often as I'd like or write here on this blog as much as I used to or even journal more than once every few months. But the fact that I do any of those things at all at any interval is keeping me on the right path.

I find myself inspired by that reassurance. I find my characters voices whispering to me again, very faintly, but there. It may take me years, I may be insanely frustrated that it isn't happening at the snap of my fingers, but only I can make it happen at all. And every step is a step forward.

(It didn't hurt that this lovely woman flattered me by saying she liked my writing. A little ego-stroking can be inspiring, too, and who am I to waste that?)

As the holidays bear down, as the task list grows longer, as I remember I still need to track down my flu shot, I am going to take a deep breath, take a realistic look at how I spend my days and do a better job of working in the wants. Even if it's just a 15 minute yoga session with my handy app or a game of tag with the kids to squeeze in some exercise my body; even if it's a snippet in a journal during car pool or a commitment to check in with my characters while the hubby has the kids in the bath to exercise my creativity, I am going to accept the challenge that my inspiration is taunting me with.

What challenges do you need to accept?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Making Magic

There are things we do as parents for our children that they will never fully appreciate simply because, to them, they just happen. Things like clothes, food, a treat in their lunch box. One day, they may grasp the fact that there are a number of people in this world who don't have that type of security, but I'm happy to let them save that lesson for later.

Then there are things we do as parents that we hope will be memories that end up looking like cautionary tales. The special trips we plan that somehow get marred by a too long car ride or bad weather or an ill-timed fever.

Then there are days like today. The spontaneous, fabulous, magic days that you have to stop and say thank you to the universe for because they are just that perfect.

Today was the last regular season game for the Braves. Our last chance to catch a game this season as a family. We tried to go to a game a few weekends ago, but our plan was thwarted by a very feverish three year old. But our oldest kept bringing it up, asking to go to another game. With the weather perfect, a Sunday with nothing but chores on the agenda and tickets still available, we decided to go.

And it was a blast. We danced in our seats. We did the wave. There were Cracker Jack and Dippin' Dots and beer (for those of us of-age). There was sunshine and scoring lessons and home runs. There was laughter and silliness and smiles galore.

Then, as the Braves left the field with a 12-5 win, we traipsed our way around and around and around until we found the end of the line to run the bases (a Sunday post-game tradition for kids attending the game). After nearly an hour of winding our way back around the line, then out onto the warning track of Turner Field, our kids lined up to take their turn around the base line.

The thousands of stands enveloping the green grass, the crunch of the track, the dome of the blue sky. There is magic and romance and timelessness standing on a baseball field.

Our boys ran those bases with abandon. Most of the kids forgot to tag home plate and instead headed for the exit just short of it. The 7 year old, however, jumped on that plate with gusto and a grin a mile wide on his face. The little guy slid. He actually slid towards home. Feet first, not belly, but still. That kid has style!

Watching them, so small on a field so vast, being kids, seeing their joy, I couldn't help but get teary. I'm still smiling about it hours later.

The seven year old announced that running the bases was a dream come true.

Funny, because after being with them today and watching the magic happen, one of my dreams came true, too.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Adjustments

We have nearly two full months of this school year under our belts around here and it's safe to say we're getting our sea legs. The morning routine is running relatively smoothly, the car pools are worked out for after school karate, the volunteer slots are in the calendar, the pantry and fridge are full of the additional snacks needed to get through a long school day, my work schedule is finally a reliable schedule again and things are puttering along in a safely predictable manner. 

And yet, I wouldn't be writing if there wasn't something unusual happening. 

When I got pregnant, my mom idol (another mom of two boys who seems to have her world together with just the right combination of discipline and laissez-faire-ness whose house seems to always be clean and her boys well behaved and generous) congratulated me with the promise of more time because two kids, "they will play together!" 

I have a sister. I understood the concept of sibling play. I honestly didn't get why this was such a revelation or gift. 

Until now. 

This summer, the boys definitely caught on to having each other as play mates. Their three year age difference an issue, but less so this year than last. They can both hold their own in suggesting pretend games, they are getting better at using sentences rather than fists to persuade the other to their preferred mode of play and their interests are evolving in a way that allows them to come together over a common ninja problem rather than Darth Vader battling the Island of Sodor with tears as the result of a track destroyed by the force.

But the long days of summer were sometimes too long or too much together time or spent shuttling one kid to camp and the other to a play date and fitting in pool time. Not to mention the rain. The all consuming, unending, soul crushing rain that has defined the Summer of 2013 in Atlanta. 

So I was moderately surprised to realize that my afternoons are relatively breezy after school. The 7 year old gets off the bus, watches a show (we've found it's the best way to allow him to peacefully decompress from a busy day and loud bus ride), completes his homework and then he and his brother play. Together. Until dinner. 

Sure, I have to break up the occasional disagreement or moderate a "he won't do it my way" standoff, but all in all, my afternoons are suddenly free of hard core, involved play responsibilities. Part of me is thrilled to not have to play Candy Land 30 times an afternoon, but the other part of me is sad to know they don't need me as much anymore. The silver lining, other than the Candy Land thing, is that they now have each other. They build tracks and race cars and create scenarios and chase and ride bikes and scooters on the sidewalk in front of the house and make a holy mess of their room, the playroom, the living room. 

So I am adjusting to having time in the afternoon to read a magazine article, make a bed or sneak in some work. 

But I am relishing those days when a little voice calls from the play room, "Mom, will you play Legos with me?" 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A New Appreciation

I was the neighborhood babysitter when I was in middle and high school. I loved it. I had several families in our small little hood that I sat for regularly - the C's had me over every Wednesday after school to watch their two little ones while the mom was taking classes at a local university, the Cr's who had me over every Tuesday night so they could attend a couple's church group, and the G's with two very rambunctious boys who used me regularly for much-needed nights out and during the summers for what I can now only imagine were afternoons that the mom simply wanted some peace and quiet.

The G's house always made me nervous. It was always so immaculate when I arrived, morning, noon or night. You could see the vacuum lines in the carpet, everything was always put in its place, the counters clutter free and the bathrooms sparkled. I was always terrified the boys would destroy it while I was there, convinced they must be neater when I wasn't around and that my inability to maintain such a high bar of cleanliness would be reflected in my take home pay.

Before their parents would come home, I'd make sure every Lincoln log and car were safely stowed, the counters wiped down again (even if all I'd done was dish out some Goldfish), I was known to even vacuum occasionally to ensure a spotless home upon their return.

I somehow made the assumption that they must have just lived in a constant state of clean and I was in awe.

Now, as the mom of two boys, I often think of the Gs. I see their bouncing youngest son in my own never-sit-still-unless-I'm-sleeping younger one. I hear the know-it-all remarks from their oldest in mine when he feels compelled to correct my mistake(s). And I especially think of their mother on days like today - where I spent the better part of the afternoon hiding clutter, putting away toys, wiping down bathrooms and vacuuming in advance of the babysitter we have coming tonight.

There is no way that woman lived in a nirvana state of cleanliness. Not with the level of activity her boys could muster. I see now that she was probably like me - a gal raised to clean up a bit for company, who wants the world to think she's got it together and doesn't want to air her dirty laundry (quite literally) for the outside world to see.

I know I shouldn't care. I know my home is well taken care of, although far from eat off the floor clean. I know my boys are typically (fairly) well behaved for our sitters, but I still worry that these girls will come into my home and judge my mothering on the state of my refrigerator organization or a layer of dust on the DVD player or the papers exploding off the desk in want of signatures, file folders and a trash can.

All I can do is remind myself of my moments with the G family. Sure, I remember their clean house, but I also remember consoling a distraught toddler through a bit of separation anxiety. I remember giggles after building and, of course, destroying many a block tower. I remember two tow headed boys that, although they did in fact try my patience with a streak of Dennis the Menace mischief, were funny and fun to be around.

I hope that these various girls we have that watch our boys take away similar memories of my boys. Moments of fun, silliness and sweetness.

No matter what they think of the state of our kitchen floors, which are filthy, by the way.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Another School Year, Another School Shooting

Every morning, we rush our little guy out the door with pleading voices to brush your teeth, grab your back pack, get dressed, don't miss the bus. We breathe a sigh of relief after he boards the bus for another day of learning in the first grade, confident we've provided him with a healthy breakfast, a hug and kiss, a treat tucked away in the lunch box.

Then, one day, I get in the car to breaking news. Another school shooting. This one just 10 short miles down the road. Confusion about who fired shots. A suspect in custody. An AK-47.

During kindergarten last year, my son would excitedly tell me about what drill they had that day - fire drills being the favorite, as they were during my school tenure, since he got to go outside during the drill. Fire and tornado drills I could relate to. I'd crouched in many a cinder block hallway with a my hands over my head myself and was pleased that his teacher was imparting these drills in a way that made them not scary, but still very important.

Then one day he told me about soft lockdown drill. After investigating, I realized my little guy practices  five drills multiple times each year: Fire, tornado, soft lockdown, hard lockdown and evacuation.

My heart broke.

Yes, I'm pleased that the school has a plan and that they are practicing it with my child. They would be negligent not to, in this day and age, and I want to know that my child will be safe when I send him into their care.

But so much of me is saddened to know he has to do this, that this nonchalant recognition of the different between a hard and soft lockdown will simply be a part of my child's school experience. That one day, he may be faced with having to speak up about something scary he sees in his school. That potentially he would huddle in the corner on the brightly colored mat by the bookcase with the lights off and the doors locked and the teacher whispering she loves him while pops explode in the hallway.

Right now, soft and hard lockdowns are just practice for him and understanding why they happen are outside his current reality. I hope they stay that way.

But someone else making their way into a school with a weapon of mass or self-destruction scares the shit out of me.

When did our schools become the battleground?