Category: taking notes (page 1 of 22)

River Rocks

I want to write a thousand or two words on this. I want to say everything about it and say it beautifully, the way the images are in my mind. But if I try to do that, I’ll never write anything and it will be just another thought that was laid to rest in the graveyard of good ideas. (My section of that particular plot has grown quite a bit this year. Sigh.)

Sometimes things happen. Sometimes they are little things, and sometimes not so little. And sometimes those little things make big changes in your life. Sometimes things you think will change everything actually change very little.

A few weeks ago, I listened to Terri Gross’s Fresh Air episode memorializing Tom Magliozzi, who with his brother Ray, did Car Talk on NPR for a long time. The brothers got started on Car Talk (or more accurately, on fixing cars) after Tom had a near miss with a semi-truck. He wasn’t even hit, but it was close and it shook him deeply. He quit his job, started living on unemployment, and was rethinking his life when Ray came in to help him figure things out. It was from that event—the near-miss—that they started their garage, which led to their radio show, which led to much advice and laughter and philosophizing—and a legacy worth celebrating.

It is hard to believe that they weren’t born into that life. They seemed like such naturals. But they did, in fact, have very different lives planned.

And then a rock tumbled into the river and turned it a completely different way.

The way that it turned was not direct. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t as if the rock fell in, blocked the way, and they looked around and said, “Oh, you’re right, we should be heading that way.” It was a slow process. It was gradually feeling things out and seeing what worked and what didn’t—where the good ground was and where they needed to adapt a bit more.

That adaptation led to uncharted territory that was, I’m sure, both beautiful and strange.

There have been times in my life when I have waited with eager anticipation to find out how my life would adapt to rocks and logs and that I have seen coming into my path. And there have been times when the ground I thought was solid was suddenly washed away, changing the course and the shape of my life abruptly and unexpectedly. I’ve been caught off-guard by how easily I, and others, adjust to what initially seemed to be life-altering events. And I’ve been equally surprised by how little things can force major changes.

I’ve wondered where and when those rocks will fall, that ground will erode, the logs will catch and hold and even looked ahead to see if I can see them coming. But I’ve rarely pondered the beauty they leave in their wake: the raging rapids, the slow and sinuous stream, the still ponds—serene and secretive, or the rolling falls dropping in powerful plumes, showering and spraying and misting, mystic and mysterious.

But even with that anticipation, and even trusting that those obstacles will lead to unimaginably beautiful places, the process of adaptation is uncomfortable, uncertain, undeniably distressing. Carving new ground is hard. Finding solid footing is fraught with potential failure. It can be disheartening and dizzying to feel things out, seek a new way, wade and wind and bounce against boulders.

Then again, beating the boulders, finding a way, moving and adapting and following through—that is where the beauty is made. That is where lives are changed and loves are claimed and new ground is discovered and legacies are built and shared.

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I know October ended, like, almost two weeks ago, but let’s be honest: October! I’m still recovering.

Birthdays! Halloween! School stuff! But we survived. We survived!

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And having survived, I am now moving slowly, seeing the world with new eyes, experiencing life with heightened sensation.

Or trying to, anyway.

At night, I lie with each of the kids before they go to sleep.

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Little Miss wants me to sing “Let It Go.” She’s starting to sing along with me and it is, perhaps, the cutest thing ever. I know I’ve never said anything like that in regard to my children, so you’ll take that very seriously.

Squish’s request is “On My Own.” From Les Mis. I don’t know it very well, but he doesn’t care. He helps me out and we patch together a passable version.

And Manchild takes me through one of his imagination games. “Pokemon Fun” or something. The past few nights we’ve made our way across the country from North Carolina to Hawaii, employing the powers of various wild animals. We dove into the lava flow in a special ship. We created a special filter and saved all the monk seals. Tonight, we flew in a special Pokeball all the way to ancient Egypt. I was a scarab beetle. I flew on the outside.

After school, we stay and play on the playground if the weather is good. At dinner, I read to them while they finish their food. And during the day, when Little Miss and I are out for a run or running errands, we’ll stop and watch the ducks at the pond or swing on the swings.

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I’m new to this. It feels a little weird. I’m not used to sitting still or sitting back. It’s a bit disorienting to not have a list of a million things to do before the end of the day. But then again. Weird is good. Disorienting is . . . reorienting. And slow is a welcome change of pace.

Right Here Waiting

I didn’t know when I started the month of sisterhood that my own sister would be leaving New York at the end of it. (Actually, she flies out tomorrow, but close enough.)
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Abby has been a life saver and a safety valve for us for the past 4 years. It’s been a blessing to know she’s only a hour away—that she can come watch our kids, that she’ll be here for birthdays, and even there to sit by on late night flights back home to Utah.

She was there twenty minutes after Little Miss was born to take the boys off our hands for the day. And then showed up regularly thereafter, through the phases and stages where Little Miss was first indifferent toward her, then terrified of her, and finally to the stage we’re in now, where we’ll hear, out of the blue, “I love Abby, too.”

Over the past month, since she told me it would be her last month as a New Yorker, I’ve wondered how we would survive without her. Who could we call on to watch our kids for free while we stayed out late? Who would our kids jump up and down and get all excited about when they heard the buzzer buzz? Who would be our constant, our connection to our families?

And certainly she could see that of all her nieces and nephews, the ones right here in New York were the best. I mean, obviously. Why would she ever want to leave?
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But of course it’s not about me. It’s not about my family. And it would be very selfish to trot out my kids and ask her how she could possibly leave those sweet little faces, as much as I wanted to. So I kept my mouth shut and thought instead about the wonderful things that await her on the other side of the country. Palm trees. Warm weather. Beaches for days. Another sister, complete with little family who could probably also use a free babysitter on occasion.

Oh, right. And a new job. New people. New opportunities. New friends. A chance to change the scene and see what she can do.

So tonight we said goodbye. We said good luck. We cried, we hugged, and then we reminded each other that we are still family and we’ll see each other in July.

Unless you change your mind, Abby. We’ll take you back anytime.

Sisters Tell Stories

You know that the best part of any girls’ night is the loads and loads of stories that come spilling out of everyone’s mouths. One minute you’ll be laughing so hard you can’t breathe and then suddenly you’ll be crying for real as you make an emotional 180.

As much as I love hanging out with friends, cracking jokes and musing about nothing, it’s really in the storytelling that friends become sisters.
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Last night I listened as two wonderful sisters-from-church talked about their experience with divorce — shared their stories of heartache, loneliness, redemption, fulfillment. I knew these women before, had talked with them, had a sense of their strength and depth. But hearing their stories colored in the lines.

They talked about how much hearing other women’s stories helped them through their own difficulties. We have sisters all over the place, we just don’t know it until we hear their stories, or tell them ours.

“Story of my life!” and “I love that story!” one of my sisters-in-law always says.

Stories are our lives, and I hope that we love the stories we live, whether they are happy or sad, tearful or fearful. And I hope, too, that we share them with our sisters to strengthen and support them — to help them color in the lines of their own lives, of their own stories.

Sisters in Beauty

I get a little bit annoyed sometimes at how focused we are on beauty. I mean, can’t we go a little deeper than that? Can’t we get beyond appearances to the meat of who people actually are? But then again, I am as much a sucker as anybody for someone telling me I’m pretty or that they like what I’m wearing or that my hair looks nice.

As much as I hate to admit it, it matters. It really does.

And I got to see why yesterday when I went to Dove’s Self-Esteem Weekend kick-off. I listened to teenage girls from the Girl Scouts, from Girls Inc. and from The Boys and Girls Club talk about beauty and confidence and how they can influence each other to feel good about themselves. Dove’s focus this year is on your beauty legacy — how others feel about themselves because of you.

I know that I have a lot of responsibility for my kids (and for my daughter especially), but one of the things that stood out to me was the sisterhood of the whole endeavor. “Confident people encourage others” was one of the takeaways of the event. Once you get to a place where you are happy with yourself — with who you are and what you can do — you are not threatened by others. You can bring out the best in them because you recognize the best in you.

Too often girls (and women) are so catty because they feel like if anybody is pretty or smart or talented, it means they are less pretty or smart or talented. (Guilty as charged!) And we bring each other down when we could be moving up and beyond the basics and actually getting stuff done.

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And that, I suppose, is as good a reason as any to focus on beauty. Because maybe if we master it in ourselves, we can help our sisters find it in themselves. And then maybe we can relax a little bit and see what we really have to offer.

My Cup Runneth Over

20140912-232146-84106104.jpgEverything is a song these days. And we’re singing it out. Whether it’s “Can You Hear the People Sing” from Les Mis or the cheer the boys came up with to celebrate the occasion of finding a license plate from one of their favorite states (Ohio!), we’re belting it out and it makes my heart sing right along with them. Even after hours. Sometimes, after we’ve put the kids to bed, we hear what sounds like Manchild singing the triumphant national anthem of a distant country. Where did he learn that? Oh, right. It’s the national anthem of Paraparaparaparafeetland, a strange and funny country which Micah has been telling the boys about at random times over the past few months. Each addition to the story leaves Manchild red in the face and nearly doubled over with laughter. Micah knows just what buttons to push to get that kid rolling in the aisles — or singing in the top bunk. Neither of which are bad places to be.

But if we’re not singing, we’re talking. Mostly Little Miss, who seems determined to get this speaking thing down. She follows along when I read stories to her, saying what I say, testing out the words. Micah and I can’t help but say what she says right back at her. Her little voice is irresistible and begs to be heard again and again — even if our efforts are a poor imitation. It’s especially amusing to hear her talk about Pokemon or Shaun the Sheep — two of her brother’s favorite things. Sure, they fight and argue and wrestle and drive me nuts, but they are also really happy to be together and share things with each other.
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With school starting, however, Little Miss is a bit on the outs. Sometimes she cries when the boys leave in the morning without her. But she and I have been spending more time together and that’s a treat. We’re learning the ABCs, matching mama animals to their babies, and chanting, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” (well, she chants, I man the controls) as we ride the bike to pick the boys up after school. And at pickup she isn’t afraid to lay her claim: last week she practically chased Squish’s class down and invited herself to be part of it. Squish held her hand as the class walked down the ramp to the meeting spot. Heart bursting

The start of school also means more running. The kids and I managed to get out about once a week during the summer: Little Miss and Squish rode along in the stroller, Manchild pedaled his own bike. We stopped at playgrounds and took water breaks. It was hot and hard and slow and not frequent enough for me. But it worked for the summer, and now it’s just me and Little Miss, cruising around almost as much as I please. We can get more miles in and do it faster and I’m starting to feel like running is part of my life again after a 3-month lull.

And here’s one last thing to share before I wish you a happy weekend: I loved this story by Peter Sagal about what to do if you’re going through hell. Give it a listen. I think there’s something to it. ;)

Collecting My Kids, Collecting Myself

Just the other day I was riding the kids around on the bike. All day long. Picking up shoes and socks for soccer practice after school. Rushing Squish across the bridge to get to kindergarten on time. Pedaling all three back to Brooklyn in the blazing heat — and wondering why some random guy decided he needed to pick on me and call me a “f#*%ing whore” several times. Apparently having kids on my bike was extremely offensive to him.

It was lonely work. I was so focused on getting to our first day of soccer on time that I didn’t hear a single thing the kids said the whole trip. Well, right up until Squish wondered why we were in the park instead of at home and I just about died because hadn’t I already told them half a dozen times that we were on our way to soccer practice?! And then after soccer we were back on the bike, slugging through the heat and up yet another hill.

I had thought that the loneliest years of motherhood were the early ones, the ones in which you spend all day waiting for a baby who can’t speak to wake up so you can go outside and make sure the world is still spinning. It felt very lonely for me, anyway. I imagined that once the kids got older, learned to speak, and were more mobile I’d have plenty of company.

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But I was wrong. Or maybe I’m doing it wrong? I’ve just noticed so many times lately that I’m on the outs, not able to join in the fun. Micah and the kids will be watching a show, playing a game, relaxing. And I’m making dinner, catching up on e-mails, rushing around, hovering on the outskirts — not really there.

It’s tricky though. I mean, we do need to eat. Chores need to be done. When I see a little block of time in which nobody is going to climb into my lap and steal my pen or co-opt my phone or keyboard, I have a hard time not taking advantage of it. I’m almost always planning events, checking schedules, putting the stars in alignment — and then moving on to the next thing while the plans go off without me. There’s not a moment to lose, after all, when I’m managing everybody else’s life as well as my own. It’s hard not to feel detached and unconnected at times like that. Like Mom is always around, but she’s never really there.

A few weeks ago I read a great book, Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The authors talk about why it’s important to build a strong relationship with your kids — so that you are the person they are attaching to and trying to be like — and how to do it. One of the simplest things to do is to “collect” your kids after you have been apart, like when they wake up or get home from school or even when they’ve been angry with you and you’ve been emotionally distanced. I’ve been working on it: giving my kids hugs, looking in their faces, getting them to smile or interact with me for just a second.

Another time to “collect” is when you are pulling them away from something else. Moving them from reading to dinner, from tv to homework. Instead of calling from the other room to tell them dinner is ready, you go and sit next to them, figure out what is going on, engage them in what they are doing before telling them it’s time to do something else. I’ve been working on that, too, and I’ve noticed a difference in how responsive they are when I come to them first, before asking them to come with me.

As I’ve taken those few moments to “collect” the kids — to sit down with them and watch the show while sitting next to them, rather than from behind them while I make dinner, or to get them to smile first thing in the morning — I have felt a difference in how smoothly these transitions go, and how responsive they are when I ask them to do something.

But as important as these little “collections” are to keep them attached to me, I think they may be even more important for me to be attached to them. When I sit down and watch the show for a minute, when I step into their world instead of acting so much like the puppet master — distant, alone, unable to see things from their perspective — I’m not so lonely any more. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on all the fun, or that I have to be the responsible one while everybody else gets to play. I’m part of the team again, out on the field, seeing what they see and enjoying it.

Last week, as we finally pulled up to our building after riding around the brutally humid streets of New York, I was in that lonely, separate place. We hadn’t even discussed the mean man who had cussed me out on the bridge and I wondered if the kids had noticed. What I really wanted, if I was going to feel so lonely, was to actually be alone. To read a book, to do what I wanted to do without having to take care of everybody — or anybody — else. But then I saw the ice cream truck and thought that if there was ever a time to chase him down and make memories, now was it. I signaled the driver and he pulled over. Three cherry dipped cones, please, and then we sat on the steps — together — and licked and dripped and followed Micah’s progress on my phone as he rode home from work.

I didn’t sit back and watch them. I didn’t retreat a few steps up to observe. I was on their level, engaged in what was happening, excited about what they were excited about. I even licked their cones when they were about to drip so no calories were wasted.

It worked. I wasn’t lonely any more, and I didn’t want to be alone. I was with my people. I’d collected them. Or maybe they’d collected me.

Unapologetic Delight — On an Airplane

Manchild, on the plane back to Brooklyn, sat laughing loudly, spontaneously, and completely unselfconsciously at the movies playing from the seat-back screen in front of him — oblivious to those sitting around us who might not care to be interrupted by his full, untempered delight.

I sat next to him, glancing around occasionally, holding tears back, willing myself not to feel or make a fuss over the movie playing from the seat-back screen in front of me. It’s just a movie, just a story, I told myself.

Yet even while I struggled to remain stoic, my heart swelled to see him so overflowing with joy. I love to see that fullness of emotion in anyone else — to know and see and feel that they are touched, delighted, pierced, moved. I feel closer, safer, knowing that they are not afraid of being open and alive and vulnerable.

When my movie ends, I turn to watch Manchild instead. He is chewing his arm, biting his fingers, jumping, wiggling, giggling along with the show. He is fully immersed. I can’t help but reach out and touch him, smile, and enjoy his enjoyment.

When we hit some rough air, he looks out the airplane window, curious but unalarmed. He wants to see the plane going through the clouds. I, on the other hand, look away, look in, try to ignore the pitching of my stomach along with the pitching of the plane. Again, I admire his fearlessness. Or is it ignorance? Youth? Inexperience? Perhaps a cleaner, more direct view of the world? Should I be envious?

But as I watch, I wonder why I guard myself so heavily, why I fight so hard to not be seen. Wouldn’t it be nice to be more open, so that people, when they see my emotions written all over my face, connect and see a real person — not just another stoic, expressionless face?

How would it be to immerse myself so fully and unapologetically in life’s emotions and experiences? To feel like a child: unhurt, unscarred, unblemished, unrepentant, undisguised, perfectly amused and amazed. Full to overflowing so that other passengers on the flight can’t help but turn and look — and smile or scowl as their own hearts dictate.

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My Cup Runneth Over

The magic is in the noticing, I read recently. Having enough is in being with what you have. Happiness comes from being happy, not in what happens to you. So this is me, filling my cup with whatever joy and happiness and love I can find.

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Last week, when all this craziness over my essay about Manchild being able to stay home alone for short periods of time was just beginning and I was having a hard time seeing past the nose on my face, my friend Amy grabbed me by the hand and took me shopping so at least I’d have something to wear when I was on Good Morning America.

Amy — who has three kids of her own,  who just moved to a new apartment, who is hoping to go back to school and finish her education, and who tirelessly finds opportunities to share her talents and solve problems with everyone she meets. I am humbled and blessed to know her and to call her my friend.

She’s been a mentor and inspiration to me since we met nearly 7 years ago. And I hope with all my heart that she gets to go back to school, finish her education, and share her talents with even more people. (Check out her video here, help her out if you can!)

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And then there was Sharra, who first invited us over for cake and ice cream on Monday night, putting an end to my “case of the Mondays” and then reminded me that Tuesday is a great day to get up early and go for a run.

She’s right. There are few things better than slipping out the door before the kids are awake and running in the sun before it gets too hot. Sharing it with a friend is one of those things.

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Yesterday we went to the carousel at Prospect Park. It’s free for kids on Thursdays this month, so we rode it twice. Squish was adamant that he didn’t want a horse that went up and down. Little Miss waved at her adoring fans (me) for half the ride. And Manchild kept an eye on his sister as he rode the horse next to her. It was the first time all week that I’d been there, where my kids were, seeing and enjoying and loving.

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This morning, Little Miss drew all over herself with marker. Arms, face, feet. She took a cheese stick from fridge without asking and ate it ostentatiously in front of me. She spilled a newly-opened quart of maple syrup on the floor. She climbed on Manchild’s bed and tried to raid his treat box. She took 63 photos and videos with my phone. And then she asked to be put down for a nap. I can’t help but feel lucky that she’s mine — even after everything she’s done to me. Maybe because of everything she’s done to me.

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It’s been a hard week. I can’t pretend it hasn’t been. But I also can’t pretend that there’s a lot to be happy about and a lot to be grateful for. My cup runneth over.

A Quiet Place to Sit and Think

You know those times when you have so much going on, so many things in your head and your heart and your life that you just really don’t know what to do with it all and you just kind of close the door so that people don’t have to see/hear/witness you thinking and talking in circles about nothing at all?

That’s where I’m at.

It’s the funnel that is all blocked off because everything is trying to get through at once. In the past few months we went on our first international, child-free vacation. (You can read what I wrote for Babble about it here.)

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We moved five blocks from where we were and re-discovered, similar to getting married, that the real work in moving starts after the big day. (So far we’ve created a kitchen peninsula, mounted a small entertainment center on the wall, and begun the third “big project”: a shelving unit that will allow us to unpack half a dozen boxes full of books. Don’t even ask me about the “little projects.”)

Manchild finished first grade and we are learning what “summer vacation” means — without actually going on any vacations. (It’s harder than I expected, people. “Summer Break,” my eye. What I’m feeling is “Summer-Break-Me-in-Pieces-Trying-to-Balance-Fun-and-Rest-and-Work.”)

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Little Miss turned 2 and has been growing into a chatty little trouble-maker whom we can’t get enough of.

And there have been many little mental and emotional upheavals that have left me craving time to just sit and think. Both running and writing have fallen farther down the priority list than they have been in years, and although they are still happening, there are no clear goals or a sense of urgency for now.battlebunny

Because for now, we are getting our house in order. We are cruising through some things and charging through others. We are shaking things up so that when it all settles, it will — we hope — settle in an orderly, peaceful manner.

And with all that going on, mostly what I want to do is sit and absorb, and think, and feel.

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