The changing of the guard

Almost a year ago our dog Coco took her last car ride with me. It was brutal and heartbreaking and time to do the right thing and I thought I would never get over it. I never got over her. I can’t say that I ever really will because she was loved and she was real and she was ours.

A guilty horrible part of me felt unburdened after she died. There were entire nights where I slept through the night – not jarred awake by a sound I quickly ran to assess. Then the sadness came sharp and instantly – I had slept, and soundly. How dare I?

Not long after, we adopted again. Our boy, called Apollo then, was a one year old German Shepard that the owners had not neutered. He had been on hold for a gentleman, until the man brought his own Shepard for the meet and greet and “Apollo” ran circles around him, resulting in the older dog wearing out and hurting his leg. The dog limped out of the “interview” and the man never returned. Lucky for us.

We brought him home days later, where he ran a track around the yard maniacally and I wondered if we were equipped to handle such a handful. It turns out that even if we weren’t then, he would teach us and we would grow into a family together. It has been a year now since we brought him home and he loves to run just as much – though I know now to put a vest on him or at the very least, a leash and take him out until he is tired.

Receo, as he is called now, completed us in ways that I hope he knows – and I believe dogs do, but also in a way that I wanted to share, because I thought after losing Coco that I could never try again. We have had a few friends who recently lost pets (can’t there be a better alternative, like pets staying healthy and alive forever, please?) and I know the decision is a tough one about what time is the right time to think about loving another one. I think that just as in life there will never be a “perfect” time, but I am so grateful that we stumbled upon him when we did. Yes, I do hear whines in the middle of too dark mornings and I know exactly what they mean – they are the gentle nudge in the direction of a new day and another chance to live in the moment.

Anniversary Ahead

We are coming up on our eleventh wedding anniversary this weekend. I remember approaching our first anniversary and wanting it to be a big deal. I had photos of us framed and made a display along the bar with sea glass (we were married ocean side) and the same kind of chocolates that we had as favors at the wedding.

I wanted everything to be perfect, and lovely and romantic. It needed to convey my everlasting love and appreciation for the past 365 days of wedded bliss. We had a fabulous meal and fabulous champagne and it was all very nice… But I had no idea then how much I would one day love my husband, who he would turn out to be (though I had a pretty good idea) what kind of father he would grow into and how unwaveringly he would support me. As I painted my nails and toes in anticipation of that one year anniversary there was so much I wouldn’t know that it’s hard to believe now.

Our team of two would double in size with four distinct personalities full of their own beliefs and journeys. There would be laughter when we felt like crying and crying when it couldn’t be helped. There would be loss and adversity and irritation and growing pains but I can honestly say that anytime I reached out my hand to him he always took it and laced his fingers through mine and I knew that whatever it was we were facing would not outlast us.

There is no solid plan for this weekend – it’s kind of crazy week on the heels of an even crazier one and we haven’t finalized anything, but again I have already been given a gift that far outpaces anything I could best with a reservation somewhere. Every time I think I can’t do something, I have someone who shows up for me. For seventeen years now, I have never felt alone. Even when I was, there has been someone checking in on me every single day. I see him with our kids now, when he is working through homework or mediating an argument over horse hair accessory thievery and he stays calm and patient and allows each child the chance to be fully heard. When things break or rot or rust or fall apart in any of the ways they sometimes do, yes he is disheartened and he is frustrated and then he gets back up and keeps on going, making sure to keep something bigger than that feeling at the forefront of why he is doing what he is doing. There is no way to frame those moments outside of my mind.

It might be the easiest explanation to say I “married up – married someone grand” because in many ways I did. But it takes two, it really does and it would be a disservice to all marriages to play it as if I reaped all the benefits without adding anything to the mix. Ten years ago, I worried about the entrée I would order or what my “new husband” would like from the restaurant we went to. But as I head into this week I think about what an absolute privilege it still feels like to ride shotgun with him and how I really want to do that forever.

Grit

I had it all wrong. (That is starting to be a theme in my year of self- examination…). I used to think that grit was just one thing and that someone with grit had only that to rely on. Like I said, I had it all wrong.

I have to come to realize that real grit is only something that you can observe over a long time of perseverance. It is watching a (or being the) person push a boulder (sometimes metaphorically, other times not) uphill without giving up as it slides with full force back on their shoulders over and over again. It’s watching that happen when it’s raining, and when the sun is shining and when it “wasn’t supposed to be like this”. I thought this was something done only by the unshaken; that people like that never tired, or gave up faith or had any doubt that they would, indeed, eventually and against all odds get that mother-loving boulder up that hill. Surprise! I was wrong there too.

There are times that those gritty McGritsters lose faith. There are times when every muscle aches and their eyes are blurry and all the can think of is that this is total B.S. and why in the world did THEY get stuck doing this, and who’s idea was this whole thing anyway. Then, they keep going.

I have begun to believe it is not perfect people who can sustain this way. It is forward thinkers. It is the kind of person who never cared too much for finish lines anyway because they know that once you break through one, another has already been erected elsewhere and will patiently wait for them. Grit is having a million reasons to quit or have a temper tantrum or say something mean and nasty to push people away and deciding to get quiet and not do something that stupid. Grit is being exhausted and afraid and uncertain and messy and harnessing those things into something productive. It is using all of the knowledge that they have acquired in life heading many steps and spending many dollars in the wrong direction and believing that if they have learned from it, then it still served a purpose.

I strive to become grittier as I pick up the lessons around me and I have shining role models to learn from and ask for mentorship from. It is very easy for me to get stuck – and even easier for me to stay stuck – I have had a lot of practice – far too much really at both. However, I am slowly and steadfastly digging my heels in and pressing my shoulder to my own unmoving boulder (every boulder is different, it could be weight loss, or finding a career, or working on yourself, this is a choose-your-own-boulder-adventure!) with a fierceness somewhat newly attained. I am learning that often times you don’t necessarily start out with grit – it gets pulled into the momentum you have worked for and gained.

Dry

I like to keep it honest here on the blog, even when it makes me look bad…and tonight I am going to look bad. Last night I drank far too much red wine. Yuck. I didn’t even like writing that, but that is what happened. I’m not a big drinker or even a regular drinker and it didn’t work out for me at all. The wildest part about how awful I feel right now is that it was 100 percent avoidable. There is power in that. I can’t go backwards (wouldn’t that be nice, though?) but I can go forwards and make better choices that leave me with a sense of wellbeing and balance and that is where I am headed.

“You gotta give them hope”

Harvey Milk is credited with saying this of course, but I believe this quote can be attributed to the kind and caring everywhere. I trust it is a fundamental truth that everyone has an obligation to relay to everyone else that they come in contact with. I know that I look to my husband (not because of that relationship, but because of who he is) to tell me that everything is going to be okay because it gives me hope. The girls look to us for the same reassurance; they need to hear that we definitively “know” that everything will work out.

To the hope providers I say this; Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have been incredibly lucky to find mentors in both likely and unimaginable places who continually told me that I would be okay. Because they said it, I bought into it and from that grew a fearlessness that I can tap whenever I need.

There are still times when I feel unsteady, times I feel unsure and times where I almost certainly “know” that I will fail. The beauty lies in knowing that I will survive that too. Because I have hope that I will and so far, my record of overcoming is holding steady at 100 percent. If you are still here, then we are tied. Let’s keep going.

Functional Strength

I have been working a functional strength routine for the past four days and it’s nearly hobbled me, but certainly humbled me. I have had hard work outs before. I have left gyms feeling tired and euphoric but nothing could compare to the backyard overhaul that I just survived.

I have done yard work. For hours. In the full summer Florida sun. Still, not that bad.

For four days, I have ripped, dragged, hauled, pushed and actually clawed my way through wooden boards and concrete slabs and vinyl pool liners that were weighted down with rain and wet sand. There was sweat, there was blood and for the first time in a long time there were no tears that I can recall.

There is nothing quite as delicious as a shower to wash away layers of dirt and grime at quitting time and there is no sleep that can parallel the sleep of the physically exhausted. I have had the joy of experiencing both in the past few days. It was yet another thing that I went up against, not knowing that I could physically do, yet overcame. That, I believe, is the definition of Functional Strength.

Soccer Mom Goals

I am currently booking up two weeks out. There is a part of me who thinks that is almost comical, part of me who thinks that is almost shameful and a part of me who thinks something hass gone very wrong because I now have three parts to me. This was brought to my attention tonight when Big Sister’s friend’s mother asked if she could participate in a sleep over. I had to look at a calendar and search for a time that that would be possible. It was weeks away. Now this month is a particularly special month; we’re celebrating our anniversary, the kids start soccer and we have a dinner to attend. But it’s also a pretty normal month.

I’m not sure if this is us finally getting to the meat of parenting older children and this is what our future might look like every weekend. We got away with doing limited afterschool activities up until this point. There was a somewhat ill-fated shot at dance team two years ago… But that experience had me sitting in car line for over an hour before school ended with a tired toddler. Then I had to intercept a first grader, rushing them both to change into leotards and tights in car seats and making a mad dash across the parking lot three deep only to arrive 10 minutes late to a 20 minute tutus and taps class. Big Sister would usually sit quietly or sometimes talk with a friend while she waited for her turn, but when she went into class and Little Sister came out that’s when things got hairy. That time was spent mostly negotiating snacks or screen time to keep her occupied while I sat with another mom who is adorable but had the same problem. We bonded over the mutual embarrassment we suffered upon seeing each other and saying hi initially but thinking the other person didn’t recognize us (we are in the same book club but had only met once or twice). We commiserated over the fact that this is how we are spending hours of our day. Our friendship was by far the best thing to come from dance class.

I’ve noticed in parenting that the thing I do the most is compare what I’m doing with my children to what happened when I was a child. And I think that my memory has gotten a bit fuzzy. Much like the way I believe I always listened to my mother and never talked back, I also somehow believed afterschool activities were generally seamless even though I know they really weren’t. We too made mad dashes across town getting to swim practice or hurrying to get a taco or something quick to eat before an activity. I remember the rush to get out of practice and get to daycare before they started charging my mom a dollar a minute for being late to pick up my little brother and sister. It could not have been easy for her and I remember (when I take the time to really think about it) many tears and lots of frustration and I have to wonder if that’s par for the course.

My husband played sports pretty much his entire childhood on one team or another all year round. There was no question as to what the family would be doing on a Saturday; it was known that the entire day would be spent at the ball park with two kids playing, dad coaching and mom being a team mom and making sure everyone was fed and watered appropriately. I think I got a little spoiled with our own kids because I didn’t enroll them in Peewee leagues when they were very young so we haven’t quite acclimated to it yet. I know that when our kids come home from school now if there is any disruption to the routine it leads to a breakdown of the system by bed time and that is something that I try to avoid at all costs.

I am very excited to see the kids play a sport and it has been an odd lifelong dream for me to actually be a soccer mom. I know that that too will pose its own challenges as Little Sister doesn’t know anyone on her team and the coach is unfamiliar as well. The good news is that it is limited to Saturday morning/early afternoon and I won’t have to switch the whole night time routine during the school week but I’m still a little apprehensive. I know there are parents out there that have their kids in multiple activities and spend a great majority of their time together in the car transporting them from one place to the next. I can appreciate how much work that takes but I can sincerely say that I don’t envy that situation.

I have yet to master the feeling that I get before we take on something that we have never done before and I’m learning that it’s wise to stop resisting it and just feel it. As silly as it might sound there is something that makes me feel a little sad about filling out a calendar with lots to do and places to go. I know that is a luxury and that extracurricular are things that people budget for and hope to provide their kids with but it still makes me a little nervous seeing the next 12 Saturdays on our calendar semi full.

Which leads me to the quote I found on Russel Simmons Instagram the other day (if you don’t already follow him, and appreciate enlightenment and echoes of peace, please do…) that said something along the lines of “believe that the universe is rigged in your favor” and how thinking that will reverberate it back in to reality. Whoa. Deep, right? Well, that is my plan, to believe that it is rigged in my favor of working out and allowing all to be well. I might need to mediate on that further, but not for at least the thirteen more Saturdays…I’m bookend until then.

Best laid plans

Today is day two of backyard demolition. I had approximately ten loads of laundry to dry and that is exactly why it’s going to rain. All day. Our beloved pool, which has been a permanent fixture in our lives for nine years is gone. I loved that pool. Our daughters learned to swim in that pool. I floated around and sipped cold drinks and pretended I was in Fiji in that pool.

The metal walls that held it were rusting and not too long ago, one of them gave way. We fixed it, for the moment, as we had when things went wrong, but a few days ago my husband noticed the bottom buckling in other spots. It was time.

I hate being the one to call things like that. We had recently insulated the entire thing and bought a new liner and replaced things that had needed replacing. We added decking all around it and it felt in some way like a glittering sapphire in the middle of our own back yard.

My husband briefly suggested it was time for a ‘real pool’, something permanent; with concrete all around and no yard maintenance. But that would mean scraping away years of landscaping; trees we grew from sticks that had blossomed into canopy makers. That just wouldn’t work. I have said it in the past and I mean it just as much now; every plant back there is a rising love letter of hard work, determination and togetherness for our family. I remember every hole that was dug, dragging every tree to the back yard, all the watering all the dreaming and all the enjoying. I like seeing the earth. I like feeling like we have carved out our own rainforest – that to me is paradise.

We demolished the walls and in heavy footed trudges I marched them to the end of our driveway. Some pieces have already been scavenged for scrap and others will have to wait indignantly bare until they are scooped up with the bulk trash later this week. I am not even going to pretend that I don’t feel a little bit guilty discarding chunks of concrete that I prayed to for reinforcement only a few months ago.

Waiting to finish something that already feels like a loss is harder than working in tandem with the momentum I built up in order to see the project completed. Yet that is what I am doing. In the next few days, it will all be scraped away and we will roll out sod to cover the scar. Slowly we will set about sketching out and pricing, then painting and installing decking and bench seating.

I already picture days spent reading in the sunshine or on a seat under the cover of palms and sea grapes. I see nights spent under the stars with sleeping bags rolled out while the gardenias are in full bloom and the breeze winds its way through the palm fronds. I am thankful for every moment spent in that water and for all the good times we had together in it and I am grateful that I know enough to end it with gratitude and look forward to the next chapter of the backyard. Maybe a tree would help…

 

The case of the missing smencils…

For the uninitiated I must first explain smencils; they are, in effect, smelly pencils. I am not sure exactly what kind of voodoo exists around them, but they are pencils wrapped in scented paper and they come in a variety of scents. The band at our girls’ school sells them as a fundraiser for a dollar a piece and they are all the rage for the sub-five foot set (which the girls won’t be for long…).

Big sister might have used her own money to buy one or two. Little Sister acquired five as soon as she gathered the courage to purchase them. After the first five dollars spent (on PENCILS! which we have 84,000 of and counting in this house!!!)I reigned in the spender and asked her to pace herself somewhat. But mysteriously her collection still grew. Until the end of that very week when I counted six additions.

When I asked her about them, she sweetly replied that she hadn’t bought any more pencils and that they had been a gift from her pal in class (who happens to a boy that told her loves her and wants to be her best friend forever). We had the talk about how his parents might be paying for and wondering about the pencils and that there should be a cap on what is given to her and what she can accept. She offered the pencils back to him but he declined. She said that she went as far as handing them to him but she didn’t think he wanted them back. I figured we would leave it at that but had $6.00 earmarked in case his parents ever asked for reimbursement.

Just before winter break, Little Sister came home to say the boy’s Mom wanted to smell the pencils he bought (which I am pretty sure was a totally legitimate way of saying, hey, lady, I spent six bucks on some sticks that my kid will actually write with that happen to smell like root beer and popcorn, so hand them over). But we couldn’t find the ziplock bag they were in. The smencils had disappeared.

Over break we went through literally every item in both girls’ rooms. We searched my car (the black hole of things) and the craft cabinet and garage and everywhere in between. No smencils were found. Christmas came (and stuff came along with it) and I forgot about the pencils. But once school resumed Little Sister explained that her pal wanted scented markers (smarkers?) to cover the smencils that had gone missing. Smarkers were $1.50. No problem, I figured. We lost the smencils; we would have to pony up for smarkers.

Today Little Sister got to school early to buy him one (she had asked what scent he preferred, to which he allegedly suggested she buy them all – because he wasn’t picky). But a funny thing happened. When she went to give it to him he made an alarming declaration that she SHOULDN’T PUT IT IN THE FRONT POCKET OF HIS BACKPACK!!!!! She handed it over, but her spark of intuition couldn’t let that go. I imagine that her inner Dateline NBC Chris Hansen was voice-overing “What WAS in THAT back PACK”?(Yes, the capitalization is purposeful to mimic the odd emphasis he does).

She asked why she couldn’t have put it there and he told her BECAUSE YOU JUST CAN’T SEE IT. See what? she asked. That’s when he broke and showed her that she had in fact returned the smencils already but he had wanted her to buy him the smarkers too. (Cut to commercial).

The retelling of this story was given no justice here, as I assure you the solemn face and holding-her-breath-for-effect reenactment was priceless. It all worked out in the end (because I didn’t lose something! Hooray! And the kids cleaned their rooms – double hooray!). She learned a valuable lesson that only cost us $1.50 and he gained a smarker and in the end I would like to think two families helped buy at least a reed for a woodwind instrument or a ream of copy paper for sheet music. Mystery solved.

A recipe for success

This is exactly how I have failed at dieting (pretty much forever); Step one: declare I am “on a diet”. The end. That is usually all it takes for me to determine that all I really need is meat. Or carbs. Or processed junk food. Because it is (and has literally been at Atkins times in my life) Forbidden Fruit. I am not on a diet right now. I am “trying new recipes”.

Recipes conjure a feeling of home for me. A recipe is nothing more than a detailed list to follow in order to guarantee success. My grandmother handwrote them on index cards so she wouldn’t have to remember them and could turn out the exact same dish every time. My mother in law wrote me several that included some of my husband’s favorite dishes so that we would have ideas when we got stuck on the dreaded “what’s for dinner debate”. I have an entire folder of friends’ recommendations and tips written on the fly on the back of receipts, or cocktail napkins and cut outs from magazines and newspapers. I feel a connection to who I was (or who I wanted to be) at the time I tore them out and saved them for my later self. I want to tap into that potential.

Tonight, (not so very long after my failed General Tso) I hit it out of the park with a Chicken Lo Mein recipe. It was easy to alter – (no cabbage, celery, onions for Big Sister, no chicken or noodles for me), easy to shop for and prep (I should tell you that my husband chopped all the veggies), relatively inexpensive and within my goal range for nutrients. It was a win that didn’t feel like a substitution. We should make that again, we all agreed. “We should print out the recipe and keep it along with some of the other recipes we’ve been making”, my husband added. Genius.

Somewhere along the “I must only eat” and “I must never eat”, the fun fell away. This was a chance to get it back. Whereas a diet seemed like a life sentence, trying out new dishes felt like a new endeavor. I can do new endeavor.

I have no formal plan for dinner tomorrow night and the recommendation from the small and mighties collectively netted “French bread pizzas, Tacos (always, always, always, there will forever be at least one person here wanting tacos) and Pizza Quesadillas (this is commonly known as a calzone and also a bit of a mash up of the first two suggestions, if I might add)”. Me thinks these will not be dishes that I am trying at the current juncture of my life, but who knows? There might just be a “new recipe” that allows them to make an appearance.