Perspective in a Nutshell

Months ago, the boys sat outside playing in the sandbox in the back yard. Our neighbor, who is several years older, played right along with them. All three boys dug through tiny grains in search of buried matchbox cars. Then they poured piles of sand into the back of dump trucks, only to unload the sand seconds later in a new pile. After a bit, our neighbor looked up and noticed a walnut lying on the gravel nearby. He walked over and picked it up. From where I stood, it looked quite ordinary. The shell was dark brown with ridges and valleys that crossed up and over the exterior. But when he flipped it over in his hand, we were all surprised by what was hiding on the other side. The walnut had been cut in half, and on the back side there were three small hearts nestled one inside the other, like nesting dolls. It was remarkably beautiful. We admired nature’s artistic ability, and then he asked us if we’d like to keep it. We accepted his beautiful gift, this extraordinary walnut.

  It’s funny what stays with us sometimes. I think about that walnut a lot. I think about how our vision within this world, though impressive, is still quite limited. I wonder how many times things look one way at first glance, but we miss the truth that is folded into other dimensions, other vantage points. There’s so much we see and miss all at once. How often do we not even realize that we just can’t see an important part of the bigger picture?   

The walnut always reminds me of one morning in particular where I missed the truth and made quite a few mistakes. My demise started with a seemingly inconsequential decision. I set the bar high for myself that day and was hoping to join the world of real adults who get a shower and wash their hair and brush their teeth. Even as I type this, I recognize that I was asking for WAY too much. I know I can be overzealous at times. It seems to me that kids have developed a sixth sense that tunes into the exact moment that you are least available. That is when they become the neediest. Mine are no exception. In fact, they seem to excel in this area.

Over the roaring water, I heard Jackson come up the stairs and shortly thereafter, I heard the sound of angst and tears coming from the boys’ bedroom. I hollered at both of them to stop whatever they were doing that was causing a problem. I yelled over the cascading water. It was no use. No one was listening to me. No one. All I heard was more wailing, more sobbing. I took a deep breath. I tried to let it go. I tried to slowly breathe in and slowly breathe out. Next, I thought about joining them for CryFest2015. I felt patience leaving my body in a mass exodus. You know that moment when you just can’t take one more loud obnoxious behavior? I realized I was far beyond that point. It was my turn to be loud and obnoxious. 

I tore the shower curtain open and in my Maniac Mommy voice screamed out, “JAAAAAAAACKSOOOOOON! Get in here right now or I’m going to spank your tail when I get out of the shower!” It felt oh so good to yell.

Shortly thereafter, Jackson wandered out of the bedroom with fearful eyes leading the way. I launched into my tirade, “WHAT DID YOU DO TO PARKER? WHY IS HE CRYING?” I just knew that he was tormenting him again. Everything was fine until he came up the stairs and started stirring up trouble. Now, I get to be the crazy, half-showered mother with soap in her hair screaming at everyone when all I really want to do is take one shower. One simple shower. IS THAT ASKING TOO MUCH?

Jackson inched closer to me and quietly explained, “Parker’s crying because Lightning is too big for the track and his car keeps falling off of it. Then he got mad and broke the track. That’s why he’s crying, Mommy.”

Hmmmm. I considered his testimony. It was plausible. Highly possible, in fact. I was starting to feel like a jerk. A big fat horrible jerk. “I’m sorry, Jackie. You’re not in trouble. I shouldn’t have blamed you. Can you go see if you can help fix the track for brother?” I asked. I closed the shower curtain and stood in the falling hot water and thought about how much mamas get wrong. How often we miss the truth. How quickly we get pushed to edge of insanity. How hard this parenting gig is. I felt an overwhelming sense of failure wash over me. Four years of being a mother, and I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing most days. I’d always envisioned that I would grow supremely wiser with the passing of time, and yet motherhood has infinitely dulled my mental capabilities. I second guess myself constantly. I wonder if I’m setting appropriate expectations. Am I too hard on the boys? Am I too easy going? And to top it all off, each day it seems that both of my kids are changing and growing, developing their understanding of themselves and others and this world, just as I am learning too. Each new day is uncharted territory for all of us. It’s a wicked, amazing sort of dance we are all wrapped up in. If anything, motherhood has asked me to rethink everything I ever thought to be true. I stumble through the minutes and hours and days, making most of the rules up as I go along. I hope that despite all my failings as a parent, my kids will turn out to be kind, compassionate, and grateful adults.

When I first became a mother, I wanted to be able to draw clean lines in the sand and explain the world to Jackson with crystal clear limits. I often spoke in absolutes. Always. Never. Yes. No. Do. Don’t. I spoke with precision. It’s no wonder that as I watch Jackson these days, I notice that he is a child ruled by routines, he’s quite literal, and he sees the world in black and white. I think grays are hard for him because they were hard for me. The grays scared me. I didn’t know how to navigate an area where there could be many truths. Where “sometimes” reigned. Where opinions, beliefs and perspectives shaped the truths we experience and the world that we see. I didn’t want to risk getting it “wrong” so I bypassed the grays completely. But as time passes, I notice the world is more gray than ever. There is no one right way to raise a child, to live a life, to bake a cake, to draw, to dream, to love, to be. We each choose the way that speaks to our hearts. That speaks our truths. And really, that’s the beauty of celebrating perspective.

Sometimes I wonder how many extraordinary walnuts I have passed by without a second glance. I own only two of the more than fourteen billion eyes that grace this earth. There is much I will never see or know or comprehend. But it won’t stop me from trying. It won’t stop me from appreciating another viewpoint or at least stopping to see if I can catch a glimpse from another perspective. I often wonder how much do I miss as a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend? What stories are left unspoken? How much can I just not clearly see? I suspect it’s quite a lot. So I’m working hard to remember that my vision is limited, that sometimes things look crystal clear from where I’m standing; however, there may be different truths tucked away and only seen from another vantage point. I try to remember that my perspective is limited before I make a judgment. Before I blame. Before I draw conclusions. Before I find myself making sweeping statements. Before I scream at my children from the shower.  

I started carrying our lovely walnut around with me everywhere I go as just a little reminder that perspective matters. It travels along inside a zippered pocket of my purse. Now and then I’ll pull it out and tuck it inside the palm of my hand. I ponder how an artifact so light in weight can paradoxically feel so heavy in its significance. I run my fingers over the inset hearts and notice that the interior heart is the softest. It reminds me to soften. To feel. To be open. To pay attention. Then I laugh out loud when I realize that I’ve discovered a bit of perspective, quite literally, in a nutshell.

     
 

 

“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.” Dead Poets Society

Feet Warm With Love

It was nap time. Parker was already sleeping soundly in his crib. Jackson and I tip-toed past him and climbed up onto the bottom bunk of his bed. Some days, what follows is exhausting to the millionth degree. Other days, sleep takes hold of him in a matter of minutes. Still other days, he tosses and turns before declaring, “I’ve gotta poop!” Then he races off to the bathroom. You just never know what adventure you’ll find at nap time.  

But today would be easy. We snuggled under his Lightening McQueen blanket and Jackson felt around beside him to make sure that each of his animals was accounted for. His roster included Monkey, Bear, Moose, Spidybear, Snowman, Chicken and Goose (I know, we are supremely creative when it comes to naming stuffed animals). He wiggled and squirmed for a bit as he got settled. I closed my eyes hoping that he’d do the same. After a few minutes, I felt a pointer finger gently gliding across my eye brow, over and over again like a tiny brush. Next, I felt two cold feet sneak between my knees, which were stacked one on top of the other as I lay on my side. “My feet are freezing,” he whispered to me. He nestled them against my yoga pants and I was happy to radiate my warmth onto his small, much-too-quickly-growing feet.  

This scene happens quite often at our house. And every time it does, I think about Jamie’s grandmother, Granny. Years ago after one family dinner she told me about how she would crawl into the bed each night with chilled feet. She’d ask her husband James, “Won’t you let me warm my feet against your legs?” And every time, he would agree. She’d rest her feet against him until they were heated through. Then she’d drift off to sleep with the warmest feet you can imagine. The feet of those warm with love.

As I feel the wiggly toes of a four-year-old against my legs, I always think about how a bit of Granny is tucked inside of Jackson. How, even though 85 years are between them, they are connected by a common ritual that played out for years upon years long before he was born. I think about how we are each our own selves and yet, we are also a compilation of so many who came before us. Jackson undoubtedly has his Daddy’s countenance and his love for hiking the old mountains that surround us. He has a stubborn streak and requires a lot of sleep, just like his Mama. I see Pawpaw in him when he works on a puzzle with quiet determination and I see bits of Mimi when I watch him notice and savor little treasures, like a smooth stone he discovers at the edge of the river. I see Pop in him when I watch him carefully build a wooden car with his toolset, and I see his Gigi’s generous spirit when he collects the first spring flowers and passes them into my hands with a smile. I wonder what other attributes can be traced back to someone else in his lineage, an ancestor who still lives on in a bit of Jackson. It reminds me that we are each a timeless collection of so many who came before us.

I open my eyes and carefully sit up to check and see if he is asleep yet. Sure enough, his eyes are closed. His short hair reminds me of the spines on a hedgehog, making a spiky helmet on his head. His cheeks are rounded more like a baby’s than a boy’s. His eyelashes, oh his long eyelashes, hold the gentle curve of a sail filled with wind while at sea. He is peaceful. I once read that God is the author of peace. In that moment, I know that it must be true.  

As I quietly close the door upon two sleeping boys, I think about the four warm feet whose tiny owners are sound asleep. I think about Granny and Grandaddy James. I think of fireside feet and woolen socks and an old pup snuggled up to nearby toes. I think about the warmth of love, and I hope that we may each feel or remember or very soon find our feet warm with love these cold winter nights. 

A Winter Run Becomes Her

There are few things in this world that are more simple than the act of running. All you really need to run is already within you. The only requirement is that you move your legs faster than you walk. A little faster, a lot faster, doesn’t matter. I prefer the additional comfort of running shoes, but some get by without even those. Of course we’ve complicated the act of running, commercialized it, like most simple things. There is an endless supply of gear such as watches, apparel, shoes, socks, gels, fabrics, heart rate monitors and hair accessories available these days. But running at its core is quite simple: move your legs faster. I love that it can be done nearly anywhere on earth: around the neighborhood, on a trail, at the gym, up and down a grid of city streets, on winding country roads, along the seashore as waves crash beside you, or even in a parking garage when you’re desperate (around and around and around to the top, around and around and around back down, repeat). I’ve called myself a runner for 10 years now. In those years, I’ve been an eager runner, a slow runner, a faster runner, a runner with specific goals, a runner with no goals, a charity runner, a pregnant runner, a solo runner, a runner meeting a weekly group, a running partner, a runner on a-very-long-break-from-running. But I always come back to it. I always come back because I remember a feeling that can happen when you run, when your breathing and your legs and the air and your feet and your mind are all as one. Just remembering that feeling, that powerful sense of flow, always calls me back to running.  

So, having recently been a runner on a-very-long-break-from-running, I suited up in my gear: black tights, light jacket, running shoes, and headed out the back door. I knew better than to start off fast as I plodded down the sidewalk. I’d tried that days earlier and found myself gasping for air before I hit a quarter mile. That was my first post-surgery run and it was appropriately titled “That Sucked” in my Strava app. This was my second run. I was hoping to achieve the title “Less Horrible Than Last Time” on today’s run. I took it slow. I heard my feet drum evenly against the sidewalk. My ponytail swished back and forth behind me as I lightly bounded along. The sun shone and a cold wind pressed against my face. The air felt refreshing in my lungs. I crossed the street heading toward a loop near the YMCA.  

I thought about how winter has always been my favorite time to run. Often people are perplexed by this, but I love that after the first few cold minutes your body settles into the perfect temperature. Each exhale leaves a puff of condensation that vanishes before you even have a chance to waltz through it. Overheating is not an option even though your skin is buried under multiple layers of wicking garments. The world feels still and quiet and waiting. You feel brave and rare all at once. It’s a lovely combination.  

As I shuffled along, I thought about how slowing down has long been on my mind. While I’d hoped to slow my schedule, my life, I was now learning that “slow” would find me in more than one way after surgery. I would run slowly. I thought about how often we choose to fight against ourselves instead of accepting ourselves as is. We try to fix situations to suit our own agenda. We seek control of the uncontrollable. For years, when I’m worn and tired mid-day, I first think of drinking a cup of coffee. I want to override my exhaustion, to control it instead of accepting that my body needs more rest. Instead of choosing to catch a nap or embrace an early bedtime. Slow running felt right for my body that day. I worked to embrace that feeling within. To offer myself much needed acceptance. 

I ran past the entrance to the YMCA and checked in with my body. I was still breathing evenly, though I noticed the beginning of strained inhalation. Legs felt good. No gasping yet. Better than last time, I thought.  

With fingers now numb, I thought back to the first time I ran fast. Really fast. I was meeting my friend, Mike, on the Huckleberry Trail. I had first met him while he was a coach for Team in Training. He helped me finish my third marathon and after it, I was eager to improve my time. The terrain was mostly flat as we cruised past trees and benches, other runners and walkers. We turned onto Ramble Rd. and continued up toward the Corporate Research Center. I was huffing and puffing as my muscles worked fiercely to keep up, while Mike seemed to glide along the path effortlessly. Eventually, we turned around and headed back to the library. When we got back to the parking lot I was infinitely relieved. I had brushed against my limit and felt the unpleasantness that running can unveil. My chest ached and my biceps felt heavy from a build up of lactic acid.  I stood tall, taking deep breaths and asked him how fast we’d gone. He glanced at his watch. “Three miles at a 7:29 pace,” he replied. What?? 7:29? I’d never in my life gone that fast while running a single mile, let alone three. I was thrilled. The moment just after those twenty two and a half minutes was one of the first times I thought about trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I wondered if just maybe I could finish 26.2 miles in under three hours, forty minutes. I knew I had to try. That was nearly seven years ago. I still wonder if I’ll ever make it. 

I headed across Lynchburg Turnpike and into Sherwood Burial Park. I sometimes feel strange running through a graveyard. I wonder if it’s a bit morbid. But I’ve decided it’s not. I like to think if it were me in the ground, I would welcome the sound of life parading above me. And there is so much life within its gates. Beautiful magnolia trees. Oaks. Hundreds of birds sitting in the highest branches clamoring away. Without warning, they take flight at once, all together. Soaring seamlessly through the blue sky, curving and winding, painting a motion picture. Two squirrels scamper across the grass. I run by gravestones and say the names I read quietly out loud. Agnes S. Whitlow. John Paul Grant. I consider how each of these people has a story. Really, a million stories that filled all the days of their life. I see a blanket of flower bouquets stretching far and wide and know that their stories are still alive and in the hearts and minds of so many.  

Up ahead I see a gravestone with helium balloons flying above it. One says “Happy Birthday” and the other says “I love you” and I’m surprised that it brings me to tears. All at once my heart experiences the loss and sadness that come with death. I ache for the ones who are missing sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, parents, grandparents, family and friends. I stop and walk for a bit while I wait for my tears to stop falling.

I think about my Grandma Alice. I remember the day she passed away in 2009. I was getting ready to meet Mike for a run and I was heart sick from the news. I still met him that afternoon and we ran a few miles along the hills of Plantation Road together. I never said a word about her passing to him on that day because I wanted everything still to be the same, for her still to be here. I wondered if I didn’t speak the truth out loud if it could change things at all. Of course it couldn’t. It was so windy that day. Strong gusts pushed and pulled the air around us as our hearts pounded, as our legs carried us up and over steep hills. To this day, I still feel her in the wind.  

Eventually, I start running again and as I do, I think about my Grandma for a bit. I remember going up to Michigan as a child. I spent an entire week throwing Koosh balls down the narrow hallway with my cousins, hitting heads and legs and missing completely. I remember everyone gathering around the dining room table to play Pinochle and Hand and Foot for hours on end. Cards were serious business in the UP. I remember giant tubs of ice cream tucked away in the basement of my grandma’s farm house. There was a barn out back with ladders to climb, dusty stalls and endless places to explore. There were tiny wild strawberries that my dad would pick and share with me on walks down the long gravel driveway. Much later, I went back to Michigan as an adult. We took tractor rides through the back wooded lot and sat together with family around a fire pit telling stories and laughing together all evening. I remember the pies that Grandma would bake. She’d take the extra dough and roll it out on a cookie sheet. Then she’d sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on top and bake it in the oven. I’d break off pieces of it throughout the day, savoring each flakey bite. She was a fierce dominoes player. The best. I remember her sitting in her recliner with her ankles crossed. She wore tall white socks beneath beige shoes. I remember the way the seam curved along the top of her shoe forming a little ridge above her toes. I remember making beautiful bells with her in my parent’s kitchen. Together we used tiny beads and a needle and thread as she taught us how to do it each step of the way. She made handwritten directions for each of my sisters so that we would always know exactly how to make them. Each Christmas, those bells adorn our tree. I remember holding her hand on my wedding day while we took pictures before the ceremony. I remember her being quiet and gentle, much like my father. She was a teacher before she got married and lived much of her life on a dairy farm. I imagine she woke early each day and had unending chores to attend to, all while raising her four children. She had an incredible memory. Never missed anyone’s birthday. Just then, the wind rises across the open lawn and kisses my red cheeks.  I know she is right there with me. 

I’m thankful at once for this slow run with my Grandma. For time to feel her in the wind and in my heart. By now, I was finishing the back side of my running loop, heading toward my house again. While a fast run can be thrilling, a slow run can allow your mind to travel and unwind in any direction it chooses. Thoughts can mingle together and then disperse. The mind is open and accepting of all that is, all that was, and all that will be.  I breathe. I feel. I live. When I get back home, I stop the watch on my phone and title my outing “Running with Grandma”.  I couldn’t have had a better person in the world to run with on that lovely windy winter day.