The Barefoot Life

With spring’s arrival, we shed shoes and socks at our house. This brings great relief as there are never 4 (much less 8) clean socks to be found, and the search for them can consume every bit of ten minutes. Spring means no more sock hunting for me. Instead, four little bare feet now race into the day.  

Bare feet ride on scooters down the sloped sidewalk, gaining speed along the way. As the scooter collides with a patch of grass adjacent to the road, they press hard into the ground, braking fiercely until friction works its magic. They stop and savor the ride for a second before they scoot back up the sidewalk, anticipating another wild ride.

Bare feet walk behind a bubble mower, right next to Daddy as he cuts the grass. They move with great pride in every direction across the half trimmed lawn. Eventually, they gallop toward Daddy and help push the real mower right beside him in perfect parallel lines. This slows the process significantly, but mostly, no one minds.   

Bare feet race across the lawn and toward the chicken coop, delivering apple cores, melon rinds, and old lettuce to the hens. They bolt behind the coop and suddenly stand on tip toe so that eager eyes can peer into the egg boxes. They jump at the sight of an egg or two. Then grass crunches underfoot as their owner carries tomorrow’s breakfast in each hand.

Bare feet splash and romp and prance and stomp. They soak in a muddy puddle that was formed by curious boys wielding a water hose on a lazy afternoon. Pants come off; dirt wiggles under untrimmed toenails while mud splatters porcelain legs.

At the day’s end, four small feet hang over the edge of the sofa exposing adventures in filth and freedom. They are black and grass stained and stinky and caked with dirt. I know deep down that this is the mark of a day well spent. I corral the bare feet into the bathtub and douse them in soap and warm water. I scrub them clean, knowing that tomorrow, all my work will be undone.

For in the morning, bare feet will rise and reign again.


The Real First Date

During the summer of 2002, I was deeply immersed in the splendor of college life.  I signed up for a physics course, drank lots of cheap beer, waited tables at a local restaurant and filled my free time with whatever opportunity came knocking that day.  Tubing down the New River? Sure!  Hiking the Cascades?  Sounds great!  Lazy day at the pool?  Lovely!  The world was mine to behold. 

However, physics immediately began to present problems to my carefree lifestyle.  I would read assigned chapters and realize at the end of each paragraph that I had no idea what I had just read.  Weekly homework assignments were difficult for me.  My mind was a jumbled mess of Newton’s Laws, velocity, acceleration, and torque.  There were too many formulas, too many word problems, and not enough beer.  

Thankfully, I quickly developed a strategy.  Group work was encouraged by the professor, so I decided that if I could find a group of intelligent people to work with on weekly assignments, I had a chance to pass the class.  Somehow, I struck gold.  I infiltrated a group of math-minded scholars who did not mind me riding their coattails through the class.  My low grade started creeping upwards. 

Enter, Jamie Garst.  He had also signed up to take physics that summer.  We had crossed paths a few times in class, but one weekend, he ate at Famous Anthony’s and I just happened to be his waitress.  I brought out coffee, eggs, and sausage gravy with a rushed smile.  In all likelihood, the food I delivered that morning was either burnt, cold, the wrong order, or some combination of the three.  The next day, we saw each other after class and connected that I had waited on him the day before.  He invited me to work with his homework group, and I agreed to meet with them later that week.  

Working with his group, I maintained the same strategy I used with my original group. Keep quiet.  Write down the answers.  Say something funny every now and then.  It was a success. With the homework finished, Jamie and I decided to go to TCBY for some ice cream.  We walked outside to my 1990 Geo Prizm and found that the passenger seat was soaking wet. I had left the window down, and a summer rain storm had blown through, leaving drenched upholstery in its wake.  We found pool towels to cover the seat and drove off.  What I most remember about that day is that I was comfortable in my own skin immediately.  I knew I didn’t need to worry about what radio station I was listening to or the kind of car I drove or the wetness of the seat he sat on.  He made me feel just fine with being myself.  It has been that way ever since.

The next day, I ran errands and when I got back to my apartment, there was a message on the answering machine.  I pressed play and heard his voice fill the room, “Hi, Sarah! Just wanted you to know how much fun I had with you yesterday.  I hope we can meet up again soon.  I’ll talk to you later!”  I swooned while my roommate questioned, “So, who is he? Who is that guy?” To this day, Jamie claims that this message is not an indicator of his good character but more of a strategy he employed to reel me in.  Whatever it was, it worked!

Later that same week, I met with my original homework group.  I brought along the work I had completed earlier in the week, finally feeling like I might be able to contribute something.  We sat around a large table while they scanned over it and eventually concluded, “Most of this is wrong.”  I laughed and then they swiftly got started solving physics word problems, correctly.  

What had been so wrong for my group ended up being exactly right for me.  Isn’t that the way of the world?  Sometimes, what first looks to be wrong can grow and shift into being exactly right in ways, yet unseen.

Exactly right doesn’t mean it has been easy or perfect or elegant. It has been none of these. But it has been real. It’s been full of joy and disappointment, surprises, adventure and unremarkable moments. The hardest and the best of it all hinging on parenting our wild and precious children. 14 years ago, I could have never imagined that my botched homework would be the beginning of what has been one of my favorite adventures in life. 

Close to Home

Some of my earliest memories are of walking along earthen trails carved through the forest – birds calling, the rustle of leaves underfoot, the sense of adventure and anticipation as my eyes fall upon a place I’ve never seen. I remember jumping on slick stones across a creek bed, tree roots snaking their way across the trail and rocks jutting upward, just waiting to cause skinned-up knees from a little stumble. I remember my dad extending his hand toward me with a mound of wild berries piled high on his palm. “Try one,” he’d offer and I’d gladly indulge. I still love to explore.  

Recently, when my dad veered off the paved path we were walking on and into the woods, I wasn’t surprised in the least. A line of us followed behind him like little ducklings in a row – Jackson on his heels, then me and Parker, followed by my mom. Our feet trotted over sticks and leaves as we carefully dodged thorns waiting to snag sleeves and skin. Soon we were right next to the river exploring a little paradise.  

Jackson and Parker spent the next twenty minutes gathering stones, big and small, and tossing them into the flowing water. With each release, they listened for the distinct plop that marks a rock swallowed whole by a river. Then they ran off to search for more stones. They found sticks and dangled them into the water as they pretended to fish. They spied the first daffodils poking up through the softening earth. Jackson climbed up and down a tree limb. Cautious at first, he eventually mastered the hand and footwork so that he could tackle it mostly on his own, over and over again. Parker, ever eager to keep up with his big brother, climbed along the branch as well.

The adults joined in. Dad meandered up the bank and found an excellent hiding spot where exposed roots made an earthen seat. My mom helped the boys climb and bounce on branches. We noticed the timid green of early spring. We heard the rush of water around us. We took it all in. 

Watching this close-to-home adventure unfold reminded me that discovery can happen nearly anywhere. Sometimes, I find myself feeling achey for a big adventure, for seeing a place far and away with my very own eyes. I long to sip another cold beer in a Colorado brewery after hiking in the Rockies. Or I wonder what it’s like to catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea. I imagine a day of climbing all 3,000 stone steps to the top of Matchu Pitchu or exploring the wilderness of Patagonia.  

However, today those adventures pale before the magic of two boys discovering a river. I remember that we are infinitely able to explore. Discoveries can happen near and far, inward and outward. Close to home, we discover that backyards hold a host of adventures, from collecting chicken eggs and planting a garden to baseball on the lawn and mysterious stones uncovered in the dirt. Nearby, we make discoveries along a lazy river, within the walls of a museum, or swaying on the front porch swing. Sometimes we dive inward, exploring our own hearts, our being, our beliefs, our minds as we read a book and are carried away to another time and place. Other times, we stretch outward. We make a friend, develop relationships, and connect with our communities. Each day, each moment is uncharted territory. 

And truthfully, the best explorations happen with the ones you love. What a joy it is to see the delight of Jackson and Parker as they discover the river’s edge. What a joy it is to share this moment with my parents. There is nothing like watching kids do what kids do. I imagine my parents must feel the same way as they watch their grandchildren along the bank. They know my exact delight as they remember watching four little girls explore a generation ago.  Now they watch another adventure unfold through the eyes of my boys.  

Thank goodness for those long ago days romping through the woods. I didn’t know that as I was collecting those long ago memories, I was also finding bits of myself.   



The Good Found Me

I was sitting quietly at the dining room table while the boys played in the living room. A full cup of black coffee rested on a crumb laden surface, and a bowl of oatmeal sat untouched. I felt a familiar knot rise up in my chest as a heavy tension seeped through my body, conquering mind and muscle with ease.  This overwhelming flood was a result of all the unknowns that had recently landed in my lap – and swallowing a radioactive pill was next on the tall order of tasks. With each passing day I was becoming more anxious and more aloof.  I was stuck at a red light, waiting to find out the exact date I would be ingesting the radioactive iodine.  

I could hear the boys zooming race cars across the surface of the sofa while I took a quiet moment to cry. My shoulders trembled as my head curled forward into my hands.  Everything felt so very heavy that morning as I considered past months and those yet to come. I was thinking through the idea that there is light in the midst of darkness. I had come to believe this, but in that very moment it didn’t feel quite true. I was longing for the ways of my old life, before the diagnosis. I was exhausted, physically and mentally. I was sick of adhering to my low iodine diet. I wanted this whole ordeal to be over and done with. Instead, it was dragging on and on indefinitely.  Staring at my still full cup of coffee, I wondered, “Where is the good in all of this? Where is the hope, the love, the peace, right now?”  I couldn’t find it. 

As my mind wandered and tears hovered on my cheeks, the good found me.  I felt it gently wrap its arms around my waist and lean into me. I looked down to see a blonde head and bright eyes resting on my lap as two little arms embraced me tightly. I smiled, “Jackie, how did you know that was exactly what I needed?” 

“I just did, Mama,” he replied.  I held him close for a minute and then he was gone again, back to playing cars.  But the moment would linger for me.  Hope and love and peace had answered, right on cue. Right in the middle of all my doubts.  In Jackson’s simple gesture I heard the universe softly whisper, “Didn’t you know?  Didn’t you know that all the good – the hope and love and peace – often masquerades right in plain sight under the guise of growing little boys?”

It was true.  So very very true.