The Magic in Remaking

You know the drill. As the sun slowly falls behind the horizon, the kids are peeking out windows and asking weary Moms and Dads, “Is it time yet?” A whole night of dress up and walking and friends and candy stands long before them. 

 I still remember a great many Halloweens from years past. A pizza costume fashioned from two poster board pieces hung over my shoulders by string. The year of the hot pink Crayola marker (not sure what I was thinking) and the year a friend and I went as a pair of dice. We painted our boxes and then walked the streets for hours with our arms extended as we carried pillow cases filled with loot. My biceps got one solid work out that year.

As the sun sets on Halloween this year, we’ll set a glowing pumpkin out on the front porch. We’ll eat an early dinner, put the kids into costumes and head out into the darkness. They’ll carry cheap plastic pails and walk from house to house. They’ll ring doorbells and holler, “Trick or Treat!”  They’ll hold out their pails and kind neighbors will pass some sugar laden treats into their quickly filling bags. The boys will be wide eyed and fresh with the excitement of the night. At least for a while. Eventually they will both be crying. The forecast is showing a 99% chance of tears on Halloween. From sheer exhaustion, sugar overload, or maybe half eaten suckers dropped on the road and covered with tiny rocks upon retrieval. After the tears start, we’ll rush home and tuck sugar junkies into warm beds. This is my plan.

I’ve always been able to borrow or round up free costumes in the past, but this year, Jackson got to pick his costume. And since 4 year olds know exactly everything, he was elated to be in charge of this important decision. He’ll roam the streets this year as a T-Rex and Parker will go as Elmo. There is joy to be found in the art of play, in pretending. In dressing up and trying out something new. After Jackson’s T-Rex costume arrived from Amazon, he suited up immediately. We put on his dinosaur claws and head piece and our house turned into a Jurassic forest as he stomped and paraded and roared through his territory. He was delighted in his transformation. I, on the other hand, needed a drink.

So tonight, I’ll raise a glass to Halloween. To celebrating the act of dressing up. Costumes. Play. Transformation. Because here’s the beauty in it all: Don’t we all sometimes wish we could be something we are not? Here’s our chance to play, to remake ourselves, if only for an evening.

I still remember one of the first times I remade myself with intention. Soon after I graduated college, I was looking for a part time job to get me through the summer months until I would begin teaching in the fall. I walked into Bath and Body Works one day to get an application. I talked to the manager to find out if they were hiring and lo and behold, they were. She brought me out on the floor and picked up a bottle of lotion. She said, “I’m going to give you a minute to read over the label on this. Then I want you to give me your best sales pitch.” 

My heart fluttered. My gaze was one of bewilderment. I thought about walking out of the store right then and there. I had absolutely zero experience in selling anything to anyone. I taught 3rd graders how to multiply and read and be kind to each other and their teacher. I was out of my comfort zone. But then an idea surfaced. The manager knew none of this. Maybe I could sell ice to Eskimos and I didn’t even know it yet. So then and there, I suited up as a salesperson and challenged myself to stretch and grow into someone I’d never been before. 

I walked up to her while she was looking at the display and said, “Can I help you find something today?” Super chipper. 

“I’m looking for a gift for a friend. Do you have anything you recommend?”  

I looked her in the eyes. I searched my heart for confidence. I said, “Well, one of my favorite products is the from the True Blue Spa line. It’s right over here. It has Shea butter in it to soothe and hydrate the skin, but it doesn’t leave your hands feeling greasy at all. Just refreshed. It’s one of our top sellers. If you’d like to try it out, I have a tester right here.”

  I smiled a lovely smile and held my breath. This was me living on a prayer. And on lotion sales. 

I got hired. I became a Bath and Body Works employee. It was a powerful moment in my life because I learned that I could be remade with a little bit of luck and effort and confidence. That my path could shift and change depending on my actions. I could change my world. I felt strong. I felt capable.   

That season of my life came and left quickly. But I will never forget the feeling that it brought with it. We remake ourselves over and over and over again in our lifetime. We try on a new costume, see if it suits us. If it does, we celebrate. We embrace that time. And then when the season is over, we remake ourselves again. We celebrate change.  We grow and shift time and again. Sometimes, we remake ourselves only to discover that it’s not a good fit. That’s ok too. Because we tried it out, bravely. And now, there is important work ahead for us as we figure out the next right path. I think this is how we work at becoming ourselves.

Since we moved our family closer to my husband’s work last April, I’ve felt like we are in a constant state of remaking. The move gave us time to pause and think with intention about our values and the life we hope to live. We’ve shifted in some big ways and in some little ways. We’ve suited up as farmers, as we brought baby chicks into the back yard. We suited up in lederhosen and dirndls, as we visited my dear cousin and her family in Germany. We’ve suited up as international hosts, as we welcomed an amazing Chinese teacher into our home for this school year. We don’t have to stay in any of these costumes forever, but each suit has brought new joys. Ones we would have missed out on if we clung relentlessly to our old selves.  

As we walk our neighborhood this Halloween, holding hands with a little T-Rex and Elmo, we will be celebrating play. Celebrating transformation. Celebrating the art of remaking ourselves. I imagine as we wander, I’ll be thinking of past journeys that have remade me, in heart and mind. Journeys that have brought me right where I am today. I’m thankful for all of those stories. I may even think ahead, ever curious of the remaking that awaits. 

 But then, I hope I pause and savor the tiny hands that fit snugly into my own, the crocodile tears as they flow down red cheeks, the sound of tired feet dragging on pavement, because in those small present moments, the magic is happening. 

And that magic is remaking me. 

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I’m So Organized

I’m so organized. Papers in my house are filed away meticulously. 

Unless the papers happen to be bills, mail, cards, school work, banking statments, envelopes, or birth certificates. Can’t find any of those. I sort and stack, sort and stack until I’ve made six different piles and by then, I can’t remember the sorting criteria I started with. These paper piles can be found in each and every room of my house. Where’s that picture form I need to return to preschool? The water bill? I search my piles and come up empty handed. Oh wait, here’s that check I’ve been looking for! I knew I put it in here. I’m just so organized. 

I’m so organized. Clothing is laundered, sorted and neatly stacked in dresser drawers immediately.

Unless, the clothing belongs to me. Or Jamie. Or Jackson. Or Parker. Those clothes hang out in the hamper until the hamper gets full to the brim and the clothing begins to cascade downward onto the floor. Once this happens, no one even bothers with the hamper. They just throw all articles of clothing on the bedroom, bathroom, or living room floor. Matching socks? What are those? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Underwear? Entirely optional. Eventually the clothes make it to the washer. They are dried and then piled high onto my bed. Before I go to sleep that night, I move the pile from my bed to the top of my dresser. They wait there for several days. Eventually, they are folded and sorted into piles for each family member. Then they are transferred to almost empty dresser drawers. At some point, I notice another full basket of clothes in the corner. Clean or dirty? I can’t remember. I give it the smell test. Ugh. Dirty, definitely dirty.  

I’m so organized. I know the date, time, and location for every upcoming event for our family.

Unless the event happens to fall on the weekend or a week day. If that’s the case, we aren’t prepared at all. We’ll start getting ready 10 minutes after we should have arrived. We’ll all be wearing our mismatched, dirty socks. I’ll holler at everyone to hurry up. The more I holler, the slower everyone moves. We race out the door and climb into our champagne mini van. After everyone’s buckled in, I look for my keys and realize they are not in my purse. I run back to the house and find the keys sitting on our almost empty wine rack, just like I knew they would be. Off we go! Sometimes we show up to the right place, two hours later than expected and sometimes we show up to the wrong place at the exact right time. If the event is related to a holiday, there is inevitably a few curse words discreetly uttered throughout this process. 

I’m so organized. My purse has pockets that hold all essential items such as my wallet, keys, phone, and a pen. 

Unless you happen to dig down to the very bottom of it. There you will find an additional 4 plastic dinosaurs, pretzel crumbs, a AAA battery, 45 crumpled receipts, a dog treat, empty fruit snack wrappers, a previously sucked on skittle, hair ties, 2 paper clips, hair cut coupons, 4 Legos, and a partridge in a pear tree.  

I’m so organized. The toys are neatly stored in matching bins that allow for easy access and quick clean up in the playroom.  

Unless the kids happen to be awake or sleeping. Then everything changes. Puzzle pieces are scattered across the rug. Block towers lay in ruin. 65 matchbox cars are strewn across the entire surface of the sofa. Books pile up on the floor. Train tracks carve pathways through the chaos. When Jackson is looking for his Mack truck, I usually say things like, “Have you checked under your bed? Try the fridge. Then look inside the peace lily plant. I saw it there yesterday.”

Oh yeah, I’m so very, very, organized. Unless I’m breathing. That always seems to throw me off completely.

Finding Brave

Our dog, Oompa, as in Oompa Loompa, is no young pup. He’s 14, nearly deaf, and spends most his days lounging on pillows found around the house. Each morning, he goes outside to do his business. He sniffs around a bit, eats some grass and then usually comes right back to the door. Today was different. I waited and watched, but he didn’t show up. After a while I walked to the back door to see what he was up to. Our yard is fenced, so I figured in all likelihood, he was just pestering the chickens. As I looked all around, I saw the back gate wide open. Oompa was off on a joy ride.  

Years ago this situation would have made me panic, but these days Oompa is pretty slow. I walked out the gate, hot on his trail, and immediately saw him taking a leak on the telephone pole. His expression was pure bliss. He looked young and joyful in the midst of his newfound freedom. He was seizing the moment, peeing on bushes, flowers, every blade of grass in sight, sniffing earth, and walking with more swagger in his steps. The gate was open and he marched bravely into the world to see what he could discover. He didn’t overthink the situation. He didn’t say, “Hmmm. This could be dangerous! Will there be cars? Cats? I LOVE chasing cats! Will I get hurt? Will I get lost?” No. I think if Oompa could talk, he would have said, “Hells to the yeah! Hello, world!” 

This got me thinking on all the gates in our lives that are standing wide open. Waiting. Waiting for us to seize the day and walk bravely through them and toward the unknown. Apparently, I’ve done a great job raising a brave dog. But what about raising brave kids? As I listen to myself throughout the day and I hear excessive words of caution:  

Slow down! Be careful! Don’t fall! Hold on tight! Don’t get hurt! That’s too high!

I get panicked as they run down the sidewalk, just waiting for the stumble and the bloody knees. I imagine the immanent doom as they cruise at one mile per hour in battery operated kid cars and down bumpy sidewalks on their bikes. For the love of all things, BE CAREFUL! DON’T JUMP OFF YOUR DRESSER! Day after day I proclaim that a safe choice is better than a risky choice.

But is it? 

I do want my kids to be safe. But I can’t protect them from life. They have to live. To be. I can’t roll them tightly in bubble wrap and send them out into the world. Risk and change and adventure are part of life too. Some of the best parts, really. And so, I decided that if I hope to raise brave children, I’d have to commit to finding my own kind of brave. Because kids watch and do what they see before them. When a gate opens before me, I have a tendency to overthink. To run through every possible situation in my mind before making a decision. This can be a blessing – I’m not often rash or careless. But it can also be a curse. I talk myself out of opportunities because my mind gets in the way of my heart.  

Recently, Jamie and I were driving home from an appointment when we saw a brewery up ahead. The kids were not in tow and as we got closer, we had a 5 second conversation about what we should do. Keep driving home as planned? Stop for a beer? My mind whispered that we were already running late. We needed to get home. But then I remembered Oompa. The gate opened wide. We seized the moment, whipped our champagne mini-van into that brewery parking lot and ran in there like two people celebrating their 21st birthdays. We were breathless and giddy with our good fortune. We drank a beer, we talked in complete sentences, we laughed and then went on our way. But we savored that wide open gate. Of course, we knew the outcome of our choice. A great beer and a great memory. What makes true bravery so difficult is that we are faced with an element of uncertainty. 

Sometimes bravery is just getting out of bed and walking down the steps to face an entire floor of your home that has matchbox cars and tiny dinosaurs scattered about on every square inch. Sometimes bravery is talking to someone new after yoga and then inviting them to have coffee with you. Sometimes bravery is boarding a plane and spending 9 hours cooped up with a 2 and 3 year old beside you (this is also called insanity). Sometimes bravery is saying no. Sometimes bravery is saying yes. Sometimes bravery is making a big dinner for a gathering of dear friends. Sometimes bravery is cooking Kraft Mac N Cheese for your crazy family while kids scream and cling to your weary legs. And sometimes bravery is having dinner at Chick-Fil-A on a Wednesday night. Sometimes bravery is writing your truths and sharing them with others. Bravery can be small, simple acts. It can be enormous and life changing. Each day, I have to work with intention to find my brave.  

And a crazy thing is happening. In celebrating bravery, I’ve started celebrating life.  I’ve found new joys and interests, I’ve been more intentional with my time. It’s brought unexpected friendships into my life. It’s helping me become myself.

While young, impressionable eyes are watching, I hope they see a brave Mama. I hope they see that it’s alright to be afraid – we all feel that way sometimes. But I hope that their fear never stifles them, never stops them from pursuing the life they can imagine for themselves. I hope they learn to bravely face their fears.  

Last week, Jackson had his four year check up at the doctor. We were driving over to the office talking about what would happen when we got there.  

Jackson asked me, “Will they check how big and strong I am, Mommy?” 

“Yes, baby,” I told him. We talked a bit more and I explained he’d be getting a few shots that day. I told him it would hurt for just a second and then it would be over. That Mommy and monkey and bear would be right there with him. I looked in the rearview mirror to see tears welling up in his big blue eyes. He wiped them away with the back of his hand.   

“Will I get a sticker after the shot, Mommy?” he asked quietly. 

“Yes, baby.” 

And then he sat up a little taller. “I’ll go and be brave, Mommy.”  

And he was. He climbed up on that paper-covered bench and laid down, long and lean. He held monkey and bear and both of my hands. He squeezed his eyes shut, got 3 shots and lived to tell about it. He found his brave. 

Sweet boys, may you notice the world around you, bravely. May you help a friend who needs you, bravely. May you reach out to people and dream your biggest dreams, bravely. May you face those horrible shots at the doctor’s office, bravely. May your heart feel strong and sure of itself. May you climb endless trees, take off those training wheels, walk through open gates and say, just like I imagine Oompa would, “Hells to the yeah! Hello, world!” 

Thank you, Oompa. For reminding us that gates are meant to be strolled through and savored ever so bravely.

Front Porch Swing

The boys are peacefully sleeping away in their shared upstairs bedroom. Long eyelashes sprawl up and away from resting eyes. Chests rise and fall in soft, even rhythms. I don’t really see any of this, but a girl can imagine it. I tiptoe through the house some days putting away all the contents of bins that Parker has dutifully dumped onto the floor. Sometimes, I get a head start on dinner during the napping hours. And sometimes, I crawl into my own bed immediately and fall into the soundest sleep.

Parker always wakes up first. It’s never an ‘I’m so happy to wake up’ kind of sound. There is usually a lot of wailing and screaming involved. Followed by a fierce kicking of the crib rails, followed by him shouting, “Get me out of here!”

I trod up the stairs and into his dark room. His cheeks are red and wet with tears. I reach over the crib rail for his favorite blankie and drape it over one shoulder. I pick him up and he gently rests his cheek onto his blanket, breathing in the familiar smell. He wraps one arm around his bear and as we walk out of his room, his eyes close again.

We walk down the steps and toward his favorite place. The front porch swing. It’s nothing fancy. The seat is weathered boards covered with a peeling white paint. It hangs from the ceiling of the front porch by two rusting chains that travel down into the armrests. Between the wooden slats, tiny spiders have taken up residence, building fortress-like webs. But oh, the glory. The sway. The creak. The breeze. It’s amazingly divine.

I sink down onto the swing and Parker curls into me. My foot pushes us gently backward and I fall into an easy rhythm. Back and forth. Back and forth we go. Time melts away as he sleeps. I watch the squirrels as they pass on high wire, I hear the endless chatter of birds in the cypress trees, I feel Parker’s soft flesh as he relaxes completely into my arms. And this goes on. Day after day around 3:30. His favorite place is turning into my favorite place.  

Some days I wonder about the swing. About its stories. Our house isn’t fresh and fancy – it was built in 1939. Quite possibly, the swing is original, though I’m not certain. I think about the stories it could tell. How many people have rested their weary legs in its seat? How many kisses has it shared with couples, young and old? How many friends have sat side by side catching up with glasses of red wine in hand? How many grandmas have held tight to grand babies as they tickled little piggies and kissed sweaty foreheads? How many kids have piled on to it and sailed higher than approved by their panic stricken parents? How many other toddlers have slept there in their mama’s arms? I’ll never know any of those answers. But I can imagine it’s a great many. 

Soon, I see Jackson looking out the front storm door window. He’s half naked, as usual. He runs outside and climbs right up beside me on the swing. I hold the boys close and breath in the simple joy of the moment. It reminds me that all the best things in the world cost exactly nothing. On the swing, life feels slower, simpler. The world shifts. I forget how over-scheduled, over-worked, and over-extended we have all stretched our mental, physical, and emotional selves. Distractions fade. There is time to just breathe.

The swing waits for us each day. It collects our stories. It reminds us to pause and rest our weary hearts. It delights us with its motion. It helps us slow down and savor the simple joys. It is the heart and soul of our home. If you happen to stroll down Virginia Avenue, please, please, please, take a seat on our front porch swing. Rest your legs. Clear your mind. Breathe in and out. I promise, you won’t regret it.  

Living. Loving. Thinking. Becoming. 

Several years ago, I took a trip up to Maryland to visit my sister. I happened to be about six months pregnant with Jackson at the time and while there, Jamie and I went for a little outing. Our destination was a one mile paved path that ran along a nearby lake. Jamie ran, I walked. 

I have always found it completely impossible to run while pregnant. I could never consume the 500 extra calories needed to grow tiny baby legs and ears inside of my body and then eat an additional 300 calories to counter the ones I’d burned through on my run. It just didn’t work for me. So I mostly laid on the sofa Homer Simpson style and ate ice cream while watching Biggest Loser. I still look back fondly on that time in my life.  

Anyway, we set out, Jamie running while I strolled along the path. Shortly into the walk, I saw an older gentleman up ahead coming toward me. He was in his white Reebok shoes ambling along. As he got close to me he sighed, stopped and said, “I’d have thought all the young people would be out running this morning.” It took me a moment to take in what he was telling me. If I could rewrite the story, I’d have looked him square in the eyes and replied, “I’d have thought all the REALLY old men would be down at Hardee’s eating sausage gravy this morning.” But sadly, my wit was evasive. All that came to mind in that moment, was that I was having a baby soon. So I said rather lamely, “I’m having a baby soon.” Nothing witty, nothing that said, “Look buddy, you really don’t want to piss off a pregnant lady.” 

His words had struck a chord with me because running was something I missed tremendously. I felt quite a few unpleasant thoughts toward this man. To be fair, I was not looking extremely pregnant that morning, more like I’d over indulged at Chipotle. But still, it was an unnecessary remark. And I couldn’t speak off the cuff and deliver the words I needed to convey. It left me disappointed as I looked back on the exchange. Because, really, who goes around picking on pregnant people? Apparently, that guy.

In real time, the words don’t always come out as witty, as sincerely, or as precisely as I’d want them to. But writing gives me the chance to pause and think and create. And that is why I love writing. It gives me the processing time, the think time, the time to go back and change how words sound or feel together. The time to get words and stories, ideas and outcomes just right. I love it because it is challenging. It’s like working a daunting 2000 piece puzzle on your dining room table. The words fit and flow together to make the picture, to tell a story. Except in this puzzle, the combinations are infinite, limitless. Our lives are a collection of millions of little stories all bound together within our mind and body and the meaning and insight we gain from our own experience and that of others is profound. Our stories matter. Writing helps me make sense of all that is around me and all that is within me. It takes precision, reflection, thought, craft. It is beautiful. It is engaging. It is art.

So this is me starting.

One of my favorite authors, Glennon Doyle Melton, wrote, “Who will you be when you become yourself?” This idea has resonated with me since my eyes first came upon those 8 powerful words strung together. It is no easy question, but it is one that deserves brave consideration. For me, I think that writing is a part of me becoming myself. This is the place, the space, I’m hoping to share my adventures in 

Living. Loving. Thinking. Becoming.

On Brilliance 

  
The boys and I stumbled upon this treasure this morning. I’ve walked past this exact tree countless times in my life and never noticed it. But today, it’s my favorite tree. I watched and sat and savored its brilliance. Jackson even made me smell the leaves. First he claimed they smelled like oranges. Then apples. I thought, they smelled like, well, leaves.  
 
I’ve been working hard to find the brilliance in my own season of life. A season of sticky fingers, urine sprayed across a bathroom floor, excessive negotiating, and maybe even a few (dozen) tantrums. My mind knows this time is short, and rare, and even beautiful, it’s just that the hard parts are soul searching hard, and sometimes it feels daunting and utterly exhausting. 

I think that sometimes brilliance is bold and vibrant, like the tree we found this morning. And sometimes, it’s just not. The leaves darken a shade and fall to the earth and a different kind of beauty unfolds. A quiet, radiant tree will stand strong through the long winter. A different shade of brilliant. I think we are each searching for purpose, for a path toward certain ideals, certain qualities. What we seek and what we discover do not always align. We want to find our colors, our boldness, but it’s the dead of winter. So we lay dormant. Waiting for the right time, the right conditions to come forth. We grow weary waiting. We worry that we are missing something, that brilliance has left us behind.

But it hasn’t, because it is everywhere. We just have to fine tune our receptors. Open our heart and mind. I’m finding that these days, brilliance is both boys snuggled close on my lap as we read Llama Llama Red Pajama. Brilliance is closing my eyes and feeling completely relaxed for the last 10 minutes of yoga class. Brilliance is walking downtown to the Farmer’s Market and buying the sweetest cantaloupe I’ve ever tasted. Brilliance is the boys laughing and splashing during bathtime. Until someone pours a cup of water on someone’s head. Then brilliance is overcome by screaming. Thankfully, bedtime is around the corner. And another shade of brilliance begins there.