A butterfly of sorts

I woke up just moments ago in that deep sleep, paralysis-mimicking, fog. I must have put a pillow over my head and fallen asleep in one position, staying there for the entire last two hours of my life. On top of that non-movement, our family had spent the first half of the day at the beach, swimming in the ocean under a full bright sun, jumping over waves or standing guard against them, as best we could, while they crashed into us.  The girls took turns going out further and further with each of us, landing at the place behind the wave-break, spectators of completely see through glass barrels forming. We sifted sand in measures of less than a half of an inch with our toes and unearthed sand dollars by the dozen, live and Velcro-like with feelers from the bottom of the sea, comparing notes with each other before returning them. It was unforgettable, but I was exhausted after all that fun.
I must have had one arm over my head, resting alongside my face and pressed to my ear, and I emerged as I am guessing a butterfly might from her cocoon, tearing an opening into my pillow fortress, first with the slightest movement from the outside of my pinky, until I had picked up momentum by dragging my hand down as it collected sheets and blankets until I wriggled free. I had slept hard and thought first of what I was going to write today here and all at once it felt like the beginning again. I would silently flip through my mental rolodex of things I wanted to explore with words, trying to find the light of humor or even story alone in my life. I would worry that I took on took big of a project, that I had nothing to say of that each day was going to pan out relatively the same, with me plodding along, trying my best, just like everyone else. Somehow each day brought something new and though it always has and always will if you looked for it, I had fallen into the trap of not searching for a story for a while and it felt stifling.
Tomorrow will be the last post of the year – my “take a year, year” and I am willing to bet that I can meet that deadline. I have decided to keep blogging, though on a more relaxed schedule, while I pursue side projects in writing – submitting as much as I possibly can because I know for sure that when you stay flexible and motivated, incredible things unfold. There are those of you who have followed along from the very beginning, or soon after, or checked in once in a while or maybe on accident when you were scrolling through your phone and thought you’d hit the latest Target ad, opening up instead on a snapshot of my life. I can never say thank you enough for the love and support I have received while taking this on. But I can start to, and for that I say, Thank You, so incredibly much.

 

The sun also rises

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Last night, just before bed, the girls asked why people vacation in Florida. They have only ever lived here and the luster of oceans, trails, and swimming pools isn’t quite as shiny for them as it might be for kids in a landlocked state. We talked about the beach and I thought about how we had yet to watch the sunrise together with the sand between our toes. Though our backyard is pretty tropical, it’s not the same thing as watching the sun seemingly emerge from the sea, ushering in a new day.

 

Quickly a plan was hatched to see it through their eyes instead of my retelling.

 

5:30 a.m. came far too quickly though and when my alarm went off everything in my body begged me to pick another day, another time, another summer to try it. Twenty-five minutes later Big Sister hopped into my bed warning me that I had overslept, that we’d be late, we would miss the sun. My muscles throbbed from my first day back to exercising in far too long. I needed coffee. I didn’t want to go. All those thoughts came at once, essentially laying the foundation for reneging on my offer. It wasn’t her protest that unsettled me – when at first I said that my body ached, it was her compassion.

 

In her willingness to try again another time, to forgive me though I had essentially broken a promise and her reluctance to be defeated by altered plans, I was authentically humbled. Grace is like that. So off we went, a bumbling, excited and messy haired crew, over the front step and into the truck, talking as we laced through the streets that would widen to the bridge that would send us to the ocean.

 

I thought we would be the only ones there save the fishermen. But as we barreled toward the slightest slice of the sun, we saw the others: pilgrims of their own reason, there were singles and doubles and small bands of revelers all there to see the same masterpiece. The girls flipped and flopped in the tiny swell and we were all offered an initiation to today.

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Strollers and spending

The girls are perfectly capable of walking. Still, there is something serene and lovely about being strolled around that is comforting to them. Unfortunately, there is no such stroller for them, because at nine and six they should be totally out of wanting this. I understand that kids need activity and Mom or Dad shouldn’t have to schlepp them around much past the age of their ability to walk and run safely, but shouldn’t there be some sort of option to? In all of my searching, the closest I have found is a medical stroller that accommodates children of different abilities which runs just north of six hundred dollars.
I had forgotten about wanting a stroller (carriage? Cart? ) for the kids until I watched Little Sister try to push her own doll in the doll stroller. She was completely hunched over with her shoulders rolled forward so that she could grasp the handles. The only strollers that would have her strolling in a comfortable position were actual non-toy umbrella strollers (or better) which start at $15.00 (and go up to $200.00 – although I am sure they have even more expensive options) for the most generic (no storage, miniscule sunshade). Anyone I asked explained that doll strollers weren’t typically made to accommodate “older kids” using them. Then they would smile and say something along the lines that six and nine are both “pretty grown up” and the girls “probably wouldn’t be playing with dolls for much longer”.
There seems to be this weird thing that I have experienced in bringing up our girls. When they are little (as young as being “expected”) there is a push to BUY ALL THE THINGS because they are precious sweet baby girls and they will only be little once. Only after buying all the gear for the first baby do you realize that they are happiest with non-toys until of course they discover toys and want new ones because the old ones are for babies (who ignored them as they ate the sides of board books). We escaped a lot of that (but not all) and now that the girls really want to play with all the dolls they have (and have diapers and clothes and ironically, toys for)there is a push to hurry up and put those things away in favor of something more grown up. I’m calling BS on that.
This issue dovetailed nicely with a recent situation that occurred over spending money consciously. The whole family was in a store looking for an item when the girls became aware of two small toys they saw nearby. These two small toys, I knew, would end up on the mountain of OTHER SMALL TOYS WE HAD BOUGHT FOR THE SAME REASON but I was distracted (lazy and unwilling to take a moment and point out that the interest in that purchase would wane) so I copped out with the old – “if you use your own money you can buy them” to which they hastily agreed. But they didn’t exactly have the money on them so they’d owe me and I agreed. (All of which was one bad move in front of another). In short I bought the toys (which I haven’t seen since that day as of writing this less than a week later), they paid me back and as such, Little Sister is currently about twelve dollars short of what she needs to buy the stroller.
This is a struggle for me. On the one hand, fifteen dollars isn’t going to separate me from paying the mortgage or buying groceries this month. But the bigger picture – and more looming conundrum exists when the whole “they are only kids once” and “really how much longer are they going to want to play with dolls” argument is used against me – as in: BUY IT CAUSE ITS CUTE AND THEY ARE LITTLE AND WANT “YOUNG” TOYS. Yes, she is young, but it’s also the perfect time to start a healthy dialogue about money, saving, spending and decision making – all of which will serve her now and in the future.

Tell us about us

My kids, like most kids I know love nothing more than to hear about when they were little. Although they are only 6 and 9 and still legitimately in that time period of their lives, they long for the stories of simpler times, when the days seemed to fill in the span of weeks and there was always another craft or game right around the corner. They have been asking for a day like that, to be “surprised with it” almost every day since we had that conversation – unnerving because how could I possibly surprise them if it was planned and yet again how would I remember to do it if they didn’t ask me 84 times? Last night before bed, I made it happen though.
When the kids were really young I was way more organized than I am today somehow. I would cut up fruit and cheeses to store in the fridge for snack-time, make up juice, milk and water bottles or sippy cups and have a puzzle or worksheet or small game out on the kitchen table or highchair to occupy them while I prepared their breakfast. You would think that I would have been carefree and relaxed because of this prep work but I had fallen victim to the same BS I do now – mainly, that I could be doing more and doing it all better.
On the table I laid out crosswords and work sheets, stickers and blank paper where they could create a scene, puzzles and activities for them. There was a comfortable quiet that befell them as they read their checklists and the instructions, worked on the perimeters of those puzzles and took bites of their fruit plates while waiting for their scrambled eggs. Had it always been this lovely?
After breakfast they went to get their own baby dolls and outfitted them with diapers and light blankets, choosing to wear them wrap style for a quick walk around the neighborhood with our dog. As I helped tie their blankets to them I was hit with the strongest sense of looming finality – that one day they wouldn’t want to do this with me anymore. Of course five minutes into our walk (and one roundtrip back to the house because the dog had done his business and I wasn’t keen on carrying it for much longer) sweat had started to trickle down their backs and days’ old bug bites started to itch again and when-are-we-going-home-cause-its-soooooooo-hot started creeping into our conversation so much that in my mind and I didn’t feel much like doing it anymore either. We headed home and the clouds rolled over and the wind picked up and as they drank in the cooler air nearly giddy with the little relief it brought them I told them of all the misadventures we had taken and how the timing always seemed to work out for just this kind of a reprieve so that it would be the most recent thing I would remember and convince me against my better judgement that it was worth trying again and again and again after that. We might just go again tomorrow.

Gut check

Up until today a trip to the doctor (aside from pregnancy) went something like this: “You have strep throat/ bronchitis/ pneumonia / vertigo”, “I will write you a script for antibiotics / manipulate your head so the invisible crystals in your ears recalibrate”. Then I went to the front desk and handed over my debit card. Since my last trip to the doctor was a bust How long can you possibly wait? I realized it was time to branch out and find someone closer to home who might get me in closer to the agreed upon appointment time.
No one tells you weird little tidbits about adulthood like how it can be hard to make friends and how further awkward it is to ask things like “can you recommend a good doctor”? For some reason this seems easier with regard to a pediatrician and harder when it comes to a personal physical that needs to take place. However, I did ask around and one came highly recommended so toady I went.
Any other time I have gone to the doctor I have filled out a generic form asking things about my medical history (it’s pretty short) and if I have ever shared needles with strangers (I haven’t). Then I step on the scale and look away (as I have been doing since I was about 12) and wait to hear how excellent my blood pressure is (108/72).
You know I stay honest with you guys and I have put on some weight My big fat post, but I thought I was still on the not-so-noticeable side of erring. Turns out, the scale at the doctor’s office has a different take on the matter. Also, fun fact, the incredible sundried tomato, Kalamata olive and marinated artichoke heart and feta chicken BOWL of pasta I ate for lunch today (on top of breakfast annnnnd a pop tart) was not the best combination of food choices I could have made before weigh in. Highlights of my weigh in included the nurse asking if I wanted to use the ladies room first (SHOULD HAVE TAKEN HER UP ON IT), then kindly starting the sliding weight at 100 (as if we had less than 50 pounds to add) and finally asking if I was currently fasting (after she weighed me. I looked at her blankly and said “You are kidding me, right? – She was not. Clearly nor was I).
I was gently and helpfully guided through about 100 other questions – not just did I smoke but had I ever (Like, EVER EVER?!) and when the doctor came in he was cordial and kind and warmly thanked me for trusting him with my care (I think he might have even briefly bowed his head ever so slightly). He reviewed my medical, social and health history and without malice said “there is only one thing in your entire profile that causes me any concern” and I thought oh, so we aren’t going to pretend the scale thing never happened…
I am not in an interruptive phase of my life so I allowed him the opportunity to explain BMI’s and how they don’t give a full assessment of health (Note: I am not overweight because of my side gig being a profession female body builder) and the importance of nutrition accountability and exercise (Wearing both a Fitbit and a Garmin, oh and I have it connected to MyFitnessPal on my phone…). I had to ask what my ideal weight should be and he again reiterated that it was a range and dependent on several factors including muscle mass and body fat and somewhat reluctantly told me that to achieve an ideal body weight I was looking at about a 49 pound weight loss. Oh.
Well. It was almost like he was saying all the hamburgers and steaks and ice creams and beer (and that one pop tart) had caught up to me. I guess denial is NOT just a river in Egypt… Maybe those size mediums that used to fit hadn’t shrunk in the wash and those size 12 and 14 shorts I bought “temporarily” for my “water weight retention” days hadn’t either.
This is a fork in the road (not to be confused with the fork that I have heaved over and over to my mouth – and not with fresh green vegetables) where shaming myself does no good and crying doesn’t either and the only way out of this is through it (again, AGGGGGGAAAAAIIIIIIIINNNNNNNNNNN?!). Here is my truth: I love my body, I am proud of my body and I have not done right by my body in months now. Starting a diet “tomorrow” won’t get me out of this any more than starving myself and hoping my willpower will set the cruise control for me (I am good at fasting for maybe twelve hours and then I feel like smoked salmon eggs benny and champagne is in order) and dinnertime is rapidly approaching. Guess what works, every single time – a sensible food choice and 30-60 minutes of exercise every single day. This means I can rise to the occasion or rise from “overweight” to “obese” both of which are brackets I have spent more of my life living in than out of. I choose the occasion.

Named storms and the like

I used to love hurricane season – and not just when I was a kid. When we first moved into this house I made up a little drawer full of hurricanes supplies (really just batteries and a few water bottles). I saved “the good candles” mostly of the Yankee Candle company variety that could easily double as a weapon should looter arrive (which was unlikely to say the least). The first time a hurricane hit here though, and I opened that “vineyard” Yankee Candle I was decidedly less enthusiastic. Not having air conditioning, facing lots of debris in the road and seven days straight of smelling what amounted to a sip left in a wineglass will do that to a person.

Still, It was an easier time then. School ended for the kids two weeks ago and since then it has rain (at least a little) every single day. This is what hurricane season means to me now. For months out of the year my phone- which has a weather alert app on it – remains silent. But lately every single morning is met not only with a sunrise – but a distinct chime to announce that there will be thunderstorms and showers. This, in turn, makes planning for anything outdoors a bit of a pain.

Even this morning – with projects looming we gave a cursory thought to if we should try to get out before the storms and go do something – five to ten minutes later it was pouring rain. The kids has fun this morning doing inside things – practicing the keyboard, writing short stories and doing puzzles, but made a break for it at the first offer of clear skies and an invitation to go swimming.

Armed with a few free minutes (and no pressure to make a plan for the day) I started to make a list of errands I needed to run and household items I had run out of. (A fun time to realize you have no AAA batteries is when someone needs to get up into the attic and though you own three headlamps, none of them have batteries. This is also a good time to note that you have approximately 32 AA batteries…) The batteries of course spurred on the memory of needing hurricane supplies and the shock that was Times you should not go to the grocery store….The new twist to this is my husband’s participation in Emergency Response Operations and an increased likelihood that if a storm becomes a threat we will need to brace for it here and then he will be away from home, coming back to us when the storm is over.

Because that puts my formally in the position of command staff on the home front, I want to be as equipped for success as possible. (Just as the headlamp situation illuminated (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?!) the need for batteries, having the power go out will motivate a person to learn how to operate a generator). In the past year of making incremental changes, I have learned that the best time to prepare for things is prior to their occurrence (Okay, so I am a little late to that party of knowledge – but better late than never, I hope). So prepare I shall, with all the supplies that we might need and maybe even a beach or ocean-breeze scented candle or two to round out the mix.

Interrupting Co(moo!)w

Interrupting is in the news right now. I thought I knew what it was like to be interrupted – I grew up with three other kids in the house with me, but that was peanuts compared to having kids. I am trying to break them of this habit of course, but I cannot pretend that I am puzzled as to where they picked it up. Because, well, it was me.

My husband is always a little bewildered by my (not at all) hidden desire to burst through with something to add. Though it hasn’t reached a shameful rebuke (we were once at a dinner function where a grown woman took the podium and above typical dinner crowd low murmurs demanded our silence by leaning into the microphone, icily staring out to the crowd and nearly scoffing “I’ll wait”…) I don’t want my delight in talking to another adult to translate into disrespect for him. For me, I am just so excited to be discussing something that I am eager to engage in dialogue. I felt that the sentiment could be perceived but what I was actually sending out to the speaker was the felling that I wanted them to wrap it up or that I already knew where the conversation was going (fun fact, I guess incorrectly about 90 percent of the time).

I have already been working on being a much more active listener. What I had neglected somehow was to pair that with restrained speaking (luckily an unintentional byproduct of close listening). I am not exactly sure where I picked up this habit (maybe in an effort to be heard over the competition at home?) but it has got to go. I would never interrupt a person in a professional setting – a personal situation is even more offensive. If I find myself slipping, I catch myself and say so to the person who was speaking before me (a simple acknowledgment of ‘I should not have interrupted you, I am working on that’ serves as a reality check).

Fear not fear, but let it work for you

The current culture on fear is that it is debilitating. Fear will hinder you, we are told. It has become a battle cry of sorts to success – that if we could only shut down fear we could fully be free. In certain instances this is justified and liberating. But I hesitate to eradicate all fear from my life, because it might just save me. I first “read” the book “the Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that protect us from Violence”* by Gavin De Becker over fifteen years ago. It was a suggested text that a college professor had added to his syllabus and offered extra credit for answering questions about. Hence the word read in quotation marks – I basically skimmed though it, fascinated by what I gathered along by fact-finding mission. Recently, though, in my ever developing quest to know myself better and hone my skills sharper I have read many books that led me back to this one in particular and I am working my way though it methodically – being constantly surprised by what I am learning.

There are safety points to take away, for sure but I hadn’t realized that many of what I considered “normal for me actions” that I do daily might be dulling my intuition of a possible dangerous situation. For example, I am a talker and an over sharer by nature – and someone who believes in a rally to boot (much to the dismay of my husband and often times children). I have no problem talking to strangers and bringing people together so we can work as a team. I have routinely embraced perfect strangers with a “we’re all in this together attitude” and given unsolicited information “I am a Mom, too”! to bring about comfort and camaraderie in situations where I felt other people needed a little support.

Apparently, criminals will employ the very same tactics in order to coerce a victim into dismissing his or her survival signals. Once I read this (and really allowed it to sink in) I first wondered if I was a manipulative criminal-in-the-making. Based on the fact that I spend hours praying for the safety, security and elimination of violence from the lives of all of living creatures, I was willing to bet I wasn’t in that category. The second thought was equally as terrifying – would I be able to read a criminal using those strategies against me? Or would I assume that he or she was a kindred spirit? Yikes!

One day, when Big Sister was a baby, I took her out for a walk (in her stroller) and it started to rain (rain is really an understatement here – it was a torrential down pour). Multiple cars stopped for me but they were all men, and though I didn’t really think any of them had stopped in order to abduct or kill me (or my baby) I couldn’t be sure, so I declined and cheerfully jogged home while my baby happily splashed her hands in her tray and shrieked joyfully at get soaked. One man even pointed to a car seat in his truck and offered that he was a husband and father – but that he got it that I was turning him down and hoped his wife would do the same thing. No harm done. The book continues to highlight the ways criminals hope to ensnare a victim and although establishing trust “I am a husband and father – here’s the evidence” and “I get it” could have been giving me too many details – his actions – praising me for not trusting a stranger and leaving when I declined help, ran counter to his likelihood of trying to capture us.

What I have learned so far in rereading it is a wake-up as to two-fold motive checking (one – my own and two – the motives of those around me), an evaluative tool that I can stand to have in my toolbox. I have a pretty fair track record of listening to my intuition and having it keep me safe (admittedly I do not live or work in a dangerous or high-crime area which could change the statistics). As with any gift though, it is only of value when you believe in its worth and I hope that my fear will serve me that way.

*I should tell you I am not affiliated with any sort of sponsorship of this book and both times that I have had it in my possession, it has been on loan from a local library. This is in no way an ad for the material, but I am hoping that you check it out and see if benefits you.

On Father’s Day cards

This week I bought four Father’s Day cards. I bought one for my own Dad, one for my Father in law, one from the kids to my husband and one for my husband. Yes, I know my husband isn’t my father – but he is an excellent one who admire deeply.

The thing about it was how disgusted I felt reading what sells. Judging by the sentiments alone, Dads fall into one of several categories: Beer drinking /golf playing, ATM machine, lover of sports and grilling meats, or fart jokes/ gross-out humor. There is the occasional card that has a sentiment along the lines of gratitude and respect – those cards usually cost $6.99 to say (no joke) “I love you Dad and I appreciate you”. Reading no less than 25 cards – I had a real WTF moment.

Dads, the real ones, who encourage us and inspire us and make us repeat that we are fearless, unique, smart, gifted and a wealth of other empowering things should be celebrated fully, not reduced to some silly stereotype. I carefully and thoughtfully made purchases that sat well with me and that took a good thirty minutes. Often times I have written cards out to those I feel closest to, not because I feel superior to card writers – but I feel that the recipient was so much better than whoever that writer had in mind.

In a very stripped down sense, any one of us could be reduced to a stereotype, but then again it serves exactly none of us. I wanted to say a huge thank you to the incredible men who have committed to being fathers. There is no one size fits all for them but they all share a common bond – they see their children in the best possible light – as the purest and most hopeful version of themselves and stayed open and silly and encouraging in the process. Let’s hear it for the Dads.

The mud-flinging space

This is not to be confused with the mud-slinging place, for that is a far more ominous and completely difference place to be (promise me that you will always do what you can not to go THERE and I promise you the same). However, I am in the mud-flinging space. This is a land where try as you might you are carving deep ruts in your soft surroundings and there is a mess and chaos and noise but you are essentially going nowhere. The space where one is trying desperately to get out of, or go through or generally overcome in one way or another and is caught up doing the things they have already tried without success because in one way or another it has served them before.

In short, it is a space where spinning your wheels is easily confused with effort. That is the bad news. The good news is that I do my best work here. But mainly, I do my best work here simply because I am here a lot (the other bad news). There is another upswing, I promise.

I used to think that successful people never came to this place, but that is far from the truth – they venture here too, but I have yet to encounter one who likes to stay for long – you might see them there but they aren’t going to take the time to wave or chat or anything because sinking isn’t an option for them. Instead, the people who I have watched catapult themselves out of the mud-flinging space often times land in spots that seem at first glance to be worse – harsher places, with more obstacles or less amenities or other alleged disadvantages. But the key to their success lies in their momentum, they don’t stay in those places for long either.

I am beginning to be far less afraid of trying a whole bunch of things that might not work to see if I can find one that does. It’s the exclusion of options that lets me sink, you see, and sinking almost always guarantees that I will be stuck (I have also identified that I do not do my best work when I a stay stuck for too long). In those first few tries of doing it wrong, and making a mess, something transforms me now. The loud alarm that used to crowd out anything other than “YOU ARE DOOOOOOOOMED”!! now chirps as a warning to “try something else” , because springboards come in various shapes and sizes and often times are disguised. Sometimes even as mud pits.