O Me! O Life! O 34!

“Moooommmy, I need to show you sumfin,” Parker whispered into my ear.  I opened my eyes to see him resting his elbows against the bed as he watched me intently.  “Follow me, Mommy!”  

Slowly, I rolled out of bed and plodded behind him as he walked urgently downstairs.  I suspected that our final destination was the kitchen where my homemade birthday cake was resting on the counter.  It had been baked and frosted by my amazing Dad (thanks, Popeteo!) the night before, and I was fairly certain that Parker had already feasted on handfuls of icing just as the early morning light snuck in through the window.  


But I was wrong.  Instead, he bypassed the kitchen and walked into the play room calling, “See, Mommy!  Look, der’s poop,” as he pointed at the rug.  Sure enough, there was poop right in the middle of the floor.  We have no indoor pets so there were only two suspects, and we all know that usually it’s the perpetrator that comes back to the scene of the crime.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I had a go potty and da poop dust went plop,” Parker explained.  

There you have it, folks.  Sometimes the poop just goes plop.  You don’t stand a chance of escaping the mess you are walking into.  

This sums up the previous year quite well for me.  Yes, there was some poop, but there was also some amazing cake.  I suspect the last year will be one I come back to for the rest of my life.  It has changed me, challenged me, and in truth, I am still reckoning with much that has happened.  

As I turn 34, I’m learning to embrace simplicity, to breath, to notice.  I’m learning that clean houses are overrated, that the people in our lives matter most, that your kids will make you look like an idiot every single day.  I’m learning to listen to that small voice within, to reach out when I need help, that there is no one way to live a life, and that love always trumps fear.  I’m learning that beers taste better in good company, that laughter is underrated, that the simplest acts are often the most profound.  I’m learning to find quiet time, to be more intentional, to enjoy this ride.  I’m learning about who I am and about who I am becoming.

One of the greatest gifts of the past year was that I found my way back to writing.  It has been the boat that carried me along in so many ways.  It has captured a year’s passing in thousands of words, dozens of stories, millions of moments.  Each written piece feels like a song from my heart.  

And it all started because of the fateful day my dentist found a lump on my thyroid.  I’m not sure I would have ever taken this leap without that storm.  Like I said, there was some poop, but there’s also been some cake.

I keep coming back to the poem below. And this year, as I turn thirty-four, I am especially thankful to be able to contribute my very own verse.  

O Me! O Life!
By Walt Whitman

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring.
Of endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring – What good amid these? O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here – that life exists and identity, 
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. 

Finding the Shade in Motherhood

Summer running can be summed up in one word – disgusting.  I have never been a dedicated summer runner and so it took a great amount of effort to get myself out the door one recent morning.  I stalled.  I scrolled through my Facebook feed.  In an act of desperation, I even unloaded the dishwasher.  But I needed to go, to get outside, to take better care of myself.  So eventually, I laced up my shoes and started running.  

The sun was hot in the mid morning sky.  Its invisible rays burned down on me.  As I plodded along, my skin grew damp with a film of sweat.  Drops poured down my face and painted my azure shirt a few shades darker.  I trotted onward in the stifling heat.  My breathing became labored and I quickly grew miserable in my effort.  Sometimes running is just about getting through it.  Today would be one of those days.

I was going three short miles through downtown Salem.  I turned up Broad Street, wandered through Roanoke College’s campus and then headed back home.  As I turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue I was in the home stretch.  “Just get to the corner,” I coaxed myself.  I wouldn’t quite make it there.

As my feet pounded over sidewalk cracks sprouting grassy tufts, past old Victorians and wrought iron fences, I found myself overtaken by a pocket of cool, crisp shade.  Above me, outstretched limbs from towering oak trees offered a reprieve from the blazing sun.  I stopped mid stride, placed my hands on my hips and paced along the sidewalk below their cover for several minutes while my lungs drank in the cold refreshment.  The heat rising from my damp skin cooled a few degrees, my breathing slowed down, and the treachery of the last mile diminished.  It struck me that sometimes a bit of shade is all we need to gather ourselves so that we may finish what we started.  We know that all the hard stuff is still out there waiting on us, that just beyond the trees the sun will envelop us again.  But a short break from the heat gives us the boost we need to bravely march forward.  

For years, I’ve struggled to recognize when I am in need of shade.  It used to come more easily, but I suspect that some time after becoming a Mother, bits of myself began to fade away.  I intend to consistently carve out time for me, but after kids are cared for, errands are run, a house cleaning is futility attempted, and food is prepared, there are only a few scraps of time left, and those are often used to collapse in an exhausted heap on the couch.  Besides, a good Mother takes care of everyone selflessly, right?  A good Mother puts her kids before herself, right?  And a good Mother does all of this without complaint, right?  I began confusing the person I think I should be with the person that actually does exist, and in doing so, I have become somewhat neglectful.  I’m starting to realize I’ve been out in the sun for far too long; my skin is red and tender.  I suspect I’m not the only one falling prey to the heat. 

I’m learning to rethink what it means to be a good Mother.  I’m learning where to find my own shade.  In this stage of life it often comes in the form of alone time, of quiet space to think or write.  But it’s other places too.  It’s chatting with a friend over dinner and drinks, it’s a blissful hour of yoga, it’s heading to the lake with my boys.  A bit of time in the shade keeps me sane, it helps me be more patient and less anxious; it may be the most important thing that a good Mother takes time to do.

After leaving the shade behind me that morning, I walked up and up and up the long hill below our house, through intermittent patches of light and shade, thinking of all that overwhelms me and all the places I find solace.  

Just as I reached my house a neighbor waved and asked if I’d like to join her on the back deck for some coffee.  We sat in the heat of July under a canopy of leaves and chatted about dogs and kids and gardens, and I recognized it was a gift, a reprieve from my normal chaos.  I was happily engaged in an adult conversation with no small people to mind, no “nos” to dish out, no knees to protect, no sibling fights to untangle.  My scattered mind rejoiced there in the shade.  I sipped my coffee, I watched the wind rustle the leaves, and I decided that a good Mother nurtures the lives in her home – each and every one of them, including her own. 

Der’s No Pawty

I woke up to the sound of wailing.

Caught between wakefulness and sleep, I tried to make sense of the noise that easily overpowered our obnoxious window unit.  Very quickly I realized that Parker was roaming through the downstairs hallway in unfiltered torment.  

“I WANT DAAAADDY!  I WANT DAAAADDY!” He sobbed over and over again.   Soon his footsteps trod up the steps and into his own bedroom.  I crawled out of bed and went to check on the birthday boy.  This was not how I imagined we would start the day.

He had tucked his knees under his belly and rolled into a ball on his bed.  I sat down beside him and scooped him up onto my lap.  

“What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked as I wrapped my arms around him.  “Daddy’s gone running.  He’ll be back soon.”  Sniffles and wails filled the space between my words.  “What’s wrong?” 

He sucked in a few deep breaths of air.  His red face was curled away from me as he explained, “Der’s no pawty, Mom.  I went downstayers and der’s no pawty.”

Uh-oh.

Now I understood.  He had visions of waking to a grand party in full swing.  He would come down the stairs with expectant eyes and spy dozens of balloons scattered across the living room floor.  We would all be awake and waiting on him.  In unison we’d shout, “Happy Birthday, Parker!”  Red and blue streamers would dangle from the doorways like jungle vines and “Uptown Funk” would play through the house.  Games and dancing would ensue.  

Instead, he had come downstairs to what looked to be any other day.  A messy house, most everyone still in bed.  Der was no pawty.

I snuggled him close and swayed back and forth while his tears wet my shirt.  The achey river of disappointment snaked its way through both of us.  I knew that there was nothing I could do to make it better, to soothe his heartache.  This may be one of his earliest let downs, but it would not be his last.  Life is littered with a great many fallen hopes.  As I cradled Parker in my arms, I felt the great divide between expectation and reality, and realized that not a one of us escape the chasm between the two.

Even the youngest of us are learning to make peace with our heartache.  Fortunately, three-year-olds are easily redirected with a reminder that their favorite breakfast is waiting in the refrigerator. They head downstairs, scoop a heaping spoonful of overnight oats into a wide open mouth and the world is suddenly right again. At least for a little while.

When You Are Three

When you are three, you believe that anything can happen.  You sit down for breakfast with disheveled hair and ask earnestly, “Mom, can we go to the moon today?”  The line is blurred between what is possible and not, what is real and pretend.  Days are filled with magic and wonder and discovery.  You roar and stomp through the house like a T-Rex, watch through the oven window as muffins slowly rise or plead to catch “just one more” lighting bug before it’s time to go to bed. 

When you are three, you hardly need toys.  You regularly stage a coup and disperse all your belongings into piles of chaos throughout the house.  Your message is clear:  It’s more fun to dump out toys than it is to actually play with them.  The things that really captivate your attention are everyday household items.  Kitchen scissors are great for trimming blades of grass in the front yard.  Tongs can pick up hot wheel cars and trains when you’d rather not use your fingers.  More delight awaits in the rolling pin, the hair dryer, chapstick, pillows, winter gloves, and the bathroom sink.  Let’s not forget vacuum cleaner attachments.  Hours of entertainment!

When you are three, you love cheesy scrambled eggs, bacon and blueberries – at least until tomorrow when you don’t.  You are fluent in English and Whine-ese.  Your best friends are a ragged bear and your big brother.  Bear dangles from your clenched fist as you shadow your brother’s every move calling, “Dackie! Dackie! Who will play with me?”  You are eager both to please and torment him.

When you are three, you are silly.  You wholly embrace yourself as you march through the house sans clothing while singing “Country Roads” under the cover of an open umbrella.  You change the lyrics in the song so that “poop” is every few words, and you find this wildly funny.  Your mother does too, but she pretends it’s not appropriate.  

When you are three, you walk on the edge of independence, changing daily with each new challenge you accept.  You can buckle yourself into the car seat (so what if it takes 10 minutes?), wear underwear (mostly backwards), ride a bicycle with training wheels, and sleep in a big boy bed.  Your legs have grown long and lean, your feet are sure and agile as they pound the floor, and your smile is tinged with a bit of mischief.  A glimpse of the baby you were only remains in the high notes of your speech and curve of your fair cheeks as you fall asleep with one arm holding tight to Bear.

Yesterday, a two-year-old rested his golden head on my lap for the very last time while we sat on the front porch swing in a light rain.  My fingers combed through his soft hair while we talked about turning three.  Concerned, he asked, “Will I get a birthday cake, Mom?”  

“Of course you will, baby!” I replied.  

Today will bring birthday songs, three proud candles aglow, cupcakes piled high with icing and a celebration of all it means to be three.  We will spend the day loving Parker fiercely.  We may not make it to the moon, but we’ve got a drawer full of kitchen utensils that he will undoubtedly delight in.  

Grab the garlic press, the measuring cups, and the sushi roller and play till your three-year-old heart is content, Parker Bean.  We all love you all the way to the chicken coop and back.  

fresh and new
10 months
First Birthday
Blueberry picking 2015
yoga in the buff
a boy and his bear