Red Light Days

As a mom of three children, there are two types of mornings.

Some mornings they wake up of their own accord, their circadian rhythms attuned to the customary 6:30 a.m. nudge and the light in the hallway switching on to ease them gently from their sleep. On these days they scurry down the stairs while I’m still packing their lunch boxes or standing at the kitchen counter with a bowl of cereal and a cup of lukewarm coffee, the creamer a faint swirl on the surface. They slip into a chair and ask for waffles with whipped cream – Eggo, obviously, not homemade. While they eat we listen to music they request, anything from Hamilton to Fallout Boy to a children’s musical duo who go by the name Koo Koo Kanga Roo.

I wouldn’t say these mornings are easy – mornings with my girls are never as simple as that – but there is a serendipitous feeling to them, a notion of things falling into place. We get ourselves into the car, dropping the older two off at elementary school before my four-year-old and I continue on to preschool down a stretch of Main Street interrupted by traffic lights at nearly every intersection. On what we like to call Green Light Days, we hit the timing just right, gliding under light after light without even slowing down. When we spot a red light up ahead, my youngest waves her imaginary wand and commands, “Change, light! Be green!”  When it does, I exclaim over the awesomeness of her magical powers, which makes her giggle.  

It is the best possible way to begin a day.

Of course, the opposite of a Green Light morning is a Red Light morning. And while I’m sure it isn’t actually the case, it feels like the days when all the lights are red are also the ones when everything at home is going wrong, when one of the girls wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and takes it out on me and her sisters, and all of the breakfast options are terrible and her hair won’t lay flat and if anyone looks at her they’re bound to get screamed at. On Red Light Days, shoes cannot be found, and someone hits someone else on the way out the door, and usually there are tears – theirs, mine, or both. After unburdening myself of the big kids, we crawl down Main Street, gritting my teeth at every stop. Why is the universe aligned against me? Why can’t I just MOVE at the pace I want to MOVE? When we get to the preschool, I pry my daughter off of my leg and hand her over without looking back.

It used to take me a long time to recover from a Red Light morning. But since I began to notice the ways these colors shaped my day, since I began to say to myself, as the lights turned from green to yellow to red, I guess today’s just a Red Light kind of day, I find it easier to smile and shake off the stupidity of all the morning’s arguments.

Sure, I get where I’m going faster on Green Light Days. There’s something powerful about the feeling that there’s a red (or green?) carpet rolled out before me, that the whole world is giving me the right of way. There are times when we all need to feel that way. On Green Light Days I get to congratulate myself: Look at that. Me and my kids, on our way, getting the day started on the right foot. We’re happy, we’re smiling. I must be doing something right. 

I realized, eventually, that there is a beauty, too, in the Red Light Day. True, on Red Light Days, my imperfections take center stage. My children’s too. We are messy and mean. We don’t often think before we speak. We let our frustrations boil over, and everything becomes about me, me, me, me. Everything is a little bit harder than we want it to be, even the simple act of getting from one place to another.

After enduring all the negativity of such a morning, it was difficult for me not to view the wave of red lights as a punishment, a cosmic joke of which I was the butt. All I was trying to do was get on with my day, and I was being THWARTED, damn it!

Or was I? STOP, the red lights said. As I breathed impatiently through my nose, replaying my tone of voice when I yelled, kicking myself for waking the girls up five minutes later than usual, the lights told me again. STOP. Stop the rushing, the blaming, the regrets. Stop comparing yourself to others, your kids to other kids. Stop comparing today to yesterday. Stop wishing that every day was a Green Light Day. It won’t be. When one comes along, take notice. Enjoy it. Those days are a gift, but so are the hard ones. The red lights aren’t there to thwart us, they are there to remind us.

When we view a masterpiece, do we walk by it? Drive past with a cursory glance? No. The act of appreciation, of our lives, our children, ourselves – it takes a pause to appreciate a masterpiece like that. It takes a full stop.

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The Mom I Want My Children to Forget

2019 04 24_0009There are many things I want my daughters to remember about their childhood: the tree at the end of our driveway where they spend their afternoons climbing, swinging, and hanging upside-down; family walks around the neighborhood with the dog and a herd of scooters; a kitchen where music is always on and we sing along together to the Hamilton soundtrack or “It’s Raining Tacos” or indulge in the occasional head banging dance party to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

And then there are the things I hope they forget.

I can’t pinpoint when it started, but over the past year I found myself losing my cool with them more often, raising my voice even when I knew I shouldn’t. I found myself preoccupied with the importance of being on time, feeling physical distress – pulse pounding, shortness of breath, sweating – when I felt like we were going to be late for school or another event. Yelling didn’t help them move faster, but I did it anyway, and if I realized, as I hustled them into the car, that I’d forgotten something inside, I would mutter curses under my breath while I tried to control my breathing, lest I collapse into tears.

2019 02 10_0030_edited-1What I was experiencing wasn’t normal. I’d been a mom for over seven years and I had had my share of anger, frustration and impatience. This felt different, like my self-control had just dissolved and I was just as likely as they were to throw a fit over something insignificant. Once I lost it, I was on a merry-go-round of guilt and self-loathing. I could see the disappointment, even the fear, in my children’s eyes, and I hated myself for it.

I don’t want my children to remember the silent, tense rides to school on these mornings as I wiped away tears that I was trying to hide from them. I don’t want them to remember the shame I must have made them feel for not being fast enough, organized enough, self-sufficient enough for me. And I hope my sweet, beautiful youngest child forgets the way she tried to cheer me up when I was in a mood. I cannot tell you how many mornings, as I strapped her into her car seat, she smiled up at me and tickled under my chin. “Tickle, tickle, tickle,” she’d say, her brown eyes expectant. Be happy, mommy, is what it meant.

The knowledge that she was the one trying to lift ME up caused me more pain, I think, than anything else. It told me that she knew how unhappy I was. If I didn’t get myself some help, she might start to believe that my unhappiness was related, in some way, to her. I had to address the problems I was having so that she, if not my other daughters, would remember me as the mom I wanted to be – not perfect, of course, but able to handle my emotions in a healthy way and able to let my girls know that they are loved.

2019 02 06_0074_edited-1With my husband’s encouragement, I sought therapy. A few months after that, I started taking antidepressants. And yet, earlier this week, we were back to chin tickling, a reminder that I can never truly hide my mental state from my children. When I’m struggling, they know. When I’m feeling low, they feel it too.

I’m not ashamed of my battle with anxiety and depression – in fact, I’m proud that I had the courage to address it. It isn’t that I don’t want my children to know, later on in their lives, that I suffered from these illnesses. I think it’s important that they understand their family’s mental health history. But the last thing I want is for my moods to burden them, to weigh heavy on their memories of what is supposed to be the most uncomplicated stage of their lives.

I have hope that with continued self-care and medical intervention, the version of myself that needed a chin tickle nearly every day will fade from memory. I hope that someday I will be able to think of my youngest daughter saying, “Tickle, tickle, tickle,” without tears welling up in my eyes.

I’m motivated by the thought that, when they are grown and they recall the tree in the backyard, I’ll be there, smiling at their antics and cheering them on. I’ll be walking at their side, carrying their scooters up a hill, my shadow ten feet long in the evening light, answering “Would you rather” questions. I’ll be dancing in the kitchen right along with them while the dog licks our after-dinner crumbs off the floor. They won’t question whether or not they made me happy. In their memories, they’ll know.

2019 02 25_0064May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you’re noticing any symptoms of mental illness or are having difficulty regulating your mood, I urge you to seek treatment or speak to a loved one about it. There’s a better, more fuller life than the one you’re living now. 

At Thanksgiving, Feeling Thankful Isn’t Enough

Thanksgiving (known to many as “Pre-Christmas”) is next week, and I’ve been seeing gratitude posts all over social media, a kind of “Thank-down” to Turkey Day. Many of these posts are genuine and heartfelt; others, I’d guess, are for the sake of appearances. Because if you don’t participate in the Thank-down, all of your followers will think you’re an ungrateful jerk. Obviously.

As someone who’s been an enthusiastic gratitude poster in the past, I totally get it. Feeling thankful feels good. Having to come up with a post for each day allows you to really examine and appreciate your blessings. It’s not a bad thing.

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Thankful for these three for sure. 

What I’d like to do, however, is to propose a Thank-down, version 2.0. A verbal Thank-down. A personal, not a public, Thank-down. Maybe it would go a little like this:

Call your mom. Say Thank you, mom, for literally everything. Thank you for feeding me and tucking me in and making it to all of my track meets, every one. Thank you for trying to make me a decent human being, even when it took the form of you ramming my door with the vacuum cleaner over and over again that morning I was hungover on college break. I’m sure I deserved that.

Then call your dad. His own phone call, not just I’m talking to you because I already talked to mom. Call him first, even. Hey, dad. Thanks for teaching me how to drive. Thanks for always telling me I could stand to put on some weight.  Thank you for that time you took me to see Bush when I was twelve and I spent the whole time screaming, “I love you, Gavin!” That was pretty much the coolest thing ever.

If your parents were terrible people, call or write or message the person that gave love to kid-you. Let them know that you made it to adulthood, and they’re part of the reason why.

 

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Thankful for my original fam.

Thank your friends. You’re awesome and I love you. Thank you for being generally amazing. Who doesn’t want to get that text?

If you have siblings, thank them. Even if it’s completely unspecific, it’s still nice. Thank you for being my sister. (As if they had any say.)

Thank your spouse or significant other for choosing you. Thank them for putting up with all your bullshit, day in and day out. I could – and probably should – write my husband a ten-page letter telling him all of the reasons I’m thankful for him. Do this with no expectation of getting a letter in return, because gratitude is unconditional.

The same goes for your children, who most likely reside way up at the peak of your gratitude pyramid. Ask them, Do you know why I’m thankful for you? Tell them until they get bored and wander away. Tomorrow, ask them the same question. See if they were listening. I bet they were.

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Thankful for beautiful details. 

Thank as many people as you possibly can, anyone you see whom you have the slightest reason to thank. The school crossing guard. The custodian. Thank your doctors and nurses, policemen and rescue workers. Thank your elected officials – then make sure they know just what they can do to best represent you. Thank every teacher you or your children have ever had; thank them over and over again for the time they invest in our country’s future. Thank the barista who hands you your morning coffee. Give a grateful wave to the driver who lets you merge. Go out of your way to look for people to thank.

Thank God, your god, whatever that looks like to you. Out loud, like you mean it. Thank your religious leaders, who do the difficult work of trying to usher us selfish people toward goodness.

And remember, Thanksgiving isn’t a deadline. It doesn’t have to be the culmination of gratitude. In fact, it can be the perfect starting point.

P.S. If you read this, thank you.

 

When God Tells Us Not to Fear: What if We Believed Him?

IMG_1593.jpgEach month, our Moms of Preschoolers group calls on one person to deliver a devotion about a topic of her choice. After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and the increase in calls for more people to arm themselves against potential threats, fear was the topic on my heart and mind. 

Note: The “what-ifs” listed here are not all my personal fears. I intended these to speak to the fears of my audience.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the car with two of my daughters, and somehow the topic of fear came up. “I’m not afraid of anything,” declared my four-year-old, but quickly paused. “Well… except tigers.” Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I laughed. Tigers? This isn’t a child growing up in the Indian jungle. Tigers pose absolutely no danger to her whatsoever. It seemed like a silly, kind of arbitrary fear. Some kids are afraid of scary dogs, or spiders, or bad guys. Things you might actually encounter here in suburban South Carolina. But, silly or not, our conversation got me thinking.

What are you afraid of? What what ifs are swimming around in your head?

What if…  my family’s financial stability crumbles? What if my spouse loses his job? What if one of us has an unexpected health issue?

What if… I never lose the baby weight? What if I never again love my body the way I did before I had children?

What if… I have a miscarriage? What if I can’t get pregnant again?

What if … my children are bullied at school? What if they are the bully? What if they choke on a hot dog I failed to cut into small enough pieces? What if my teenager texts and drives? Or drinks and drives?

What if … someone wants to hurt my child?

There are a lot of what-ifs. And while I think I do a pretty good job of keeping my fears at arm’s length most of the time, they’re there, and they’re real.

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Fear is powerful. It keeps us up at night, sometimes, but more often it holds us back from becoming the people that God wants us to be. Back in the fall, Kelly Pfeiffer, who spoke at one of our meetings, talked about our instinctual fight or flight response when faced with stressful situations. When we feel afraid, our response is to run away from the problem, to freeze in indecision and avoidance, or to lash out in an attempt to protect ourselves and our families. Think about this. How Christ-like are these responses?

Do you remember the story about Jesus calming the storm? “37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Harsh words. But I love this story. I think about the disciples, who were imperfect, just like us. The storm came up, and like any rational person would, they feared for their lives. The danger of capsizing was very real. And yet, here’s the Messiah, in the boat right beside them. The savior of the entire world – as these men believed him to be – was right there, and they still were afraid.

Here’s what this story says to me: It doesn’t matter who you are, or how strong your faith is. It doesn’t matter if the physical body of Jesus Christ is literally sitting next to you. Humans are creatures of instinct. Fear is going to happen. So the expectation isn’t that we will shed all fear, that we will live a life free of anxiety and worry. I think that what Jesus wants is for us to trust Him enough to follow him through the fear, and to see what’s on the other side.

I’d like to give just one example from my own life. When I was twenty-two, I was living in St. Louis. It was a Saturday afternoon, and I walked through the park across from my apartment to go get a coffee from a nearby cafe. I was talking on my phone, not really paying attention to my surroundings, when three men stepped out from behind the stone archway that marked the entrance to the park. They were trying to steal my bag. One of them yanked it, trying to get it off of me, but the strap wouldn’t break. I went skidding across the sidewalk, my phone flew out of my hand, and I just screamed in rage as I reached for the nearest man’s ankle, wanting nothing more than to trip him. Gosh, I was angry. After a kind stranger (let’s call him a good Samaritan) pulled over to help me, and the men walked away into the park, and I had called the police- that’s when the fear really hit. And I admit, it took some time for me to feel safe again.

For a while, when I would pass a man on the street who looked like the ones who mugged me, my pulse would race. I would fight the impulse to cross to the other side of the street to avoid him. I had to make a conscious decision that I would not be afraid of every stranger I came across. I cannot love my neighbor if I also fear him. And Jesus wants me to love him, every time.  

To bring this back to what this means for us as parents, I consider what it must have been like for my mom when I called her, hysterical, to tell her what happened. She knew when I moved there that St. Louis had some dicey areas, and she’s a pretty anxious person anyway. (Probably because she’s a mom.) Still, I don’t think she wanted me to walk around afraid all the time, even after this incident. None of us wants that for our kids. In fact, when they are afraid, we don’t encourage their fear, do we? We try to make it better. Our Lord and Father, he doesn’t want that for our children either. He doesn’t want that for any of his children. And guess what – that includes us.

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Fear does not prevent calamity. Fearing for our children does not mean that they will never come to any harm. So I think the best we can do, as women who profess to follow Jesus, is to ask ourselves if our fear is bringing us closer to God. I can tell you that for me, the vast majority of the time, the answer is no.

The phrase “Do not be afraid” appears 67 times in the Bible. (The word fear appears 515 times.) For me, that’s proof that God knows how often we need to be reminded.

“Do not be afraid,” he says, “I am your shield.”

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.”

“Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.”

“Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

 

In 2016

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2016 was my first full year as a stay-at-home mom. My duties included, but were not limited to: Changing diapers. Preparing meals. Basic housekeeping duties such as vacuuming, dish washing, and collecting slightly-used tissues from communal areas. Wrestling screaming children into pants. Wrestling screaming children into car seats. Wrestling screaming children in various public places. (In general, the wrestling was meant to keep said children from harm – being struck by a car in a parking lot, for example – but often made me feel as if the harm I was trying to avoid might be less traumatic than my face, inches from theirs, hollering, “STOP IT! I’M TRYING TO HELP YOU!”)

In 2016 I found myself needing something in my life other than these mother-related responsibilities. I joined a second book club. I volunteered for the leadership committee of our local chapter of MOPS (Moms of Pre-Schoolers). I took up photography in the most intense way possible, by committing to a 365-day photo challenge in which I promised no one in particular that I would shoot, edit, and post photos of my life every. single.day. I spent too much time staring at beautiful mothers and children on Instagram and decided to start a new Instagram community, called Honestly Parents, devoted to sharing pictures of imperfect families.

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It helps that they’re cute.

All of these pasttimes, while fulfilling in their own ways, were attempts to regain the qualities I felt I had lost at some point in my life as mother. In my home, with my children, I felt tired and irritated. The demands of motherhood, the meeting of everyone’s needs but my own, made me feel hopeless and unaccomplished. I would find myself saying terribly unfair things to my young children: How am I supposed to get anything done if you just keep asking me to get you things to eat? or Mommy wishes she could play right now, but she has a bunch of boring grown-up things to do. 

On top of the adjustment to staying at home, 2016 was the year that I stopped nursing our youngest daughter. The calories I was once able to consume were no longer nurturing a child, but collecting along my hips and waistline. I had already, in a triumphant and overly-smug closet clean-out, gotten rid of my post-pregnancy “fat pants”, and I found myself unable to button clothing that had fit me only six months before. In 2016, I was guilty of directing hatred at my own body. Nothing looked right on me. My husband told me I was beautiful and I scoffed. This body that brought three lovely girls into the world became my enemy. I realized, in one of the most depressing moments of my life, that I would need to buy a larger size of underwear. I came home with something (no offense, mom, but hopefully you see where I’m going with this) my mother would wear, and I thought to myself, “So this is what it is to be a mom. Gigantic underwear, a dirty house, and kids that think you would rather fold laundry than play with them.”

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A self-portrait of motherhood.

2016 is nearly over, and a new year is about to begin. We will celebrate birthdays and holidays. We will watch the seasons change. We will fill our calendars with obligations and activities; we will try to pencil in something that brings us pleasure. We will have sleepless nights when the children wake up, one after another, for no apparent reason. We will find scribbles on surfaces we could have sworn were spotless just a moment ago, and decide we are too tired to clean them, because what’s the use anyway? We will feel despair, at times. We will cry at stupid songs and yell at our children when they don’t deserve it. We will berate ourselves when we don’t deserve it.

The year to come will be no different than this one; life will continue as it has been, because the life you lived in 2016 is the life you were given. Sometimes it will be almost unbearably beautiful, and you will think to yourself that this, all of it, is a gift. You will call yourself blessed and post sentimental photos of you and your children, and you will feel happy. Other times you won’t, because the things that make you feel unhappy now are not going to magically disappear. Allowing yourself to recognize the great, great burden of motherhood does not make you ungrateful. It makes you a real, human woman.

I am a person who loves a good toast; it could have something to do with my appreciation for a good glass of wine (related, I believe, to my recent need for larger undergarments). And so, if I am able to stay awake until midnight this weekend to welcome the new year, I will say this: “To 2017: I embrace you, all of you, before I even know you. May I do the same for myself this year.”

Cheers.

 

Fathers, Daughters, and the Bond of Baseball

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When I was young, my dad and I would play catch in the street outside my house, just where the road began a slow decline. It was a gentle slope, perfect for coasting down on a bike or even a sled, if it snowed enough and conditions were just right. But if my throw was wild – as it often was – the softball might go pop-popping off the asphalt and down the hill, and we’d have to take turns chasing it onto a neighbor’s lawn, trapping it with our glove, then jogging, slower this time, up to the top to try again.

Baseball has never been my father’s favorite sport, but it was one he felt he could teach his daughters. He took us to see the minor league team on Bat Night and we all came home with miniature Louisville sluggers. We ate popcorn and nachos and did the wave in the bleachers, giggling wildly. When a foul ball came near I would stick out my glove and scrunch my eyes tight, terrified of the impact. I don’t believe I ever caught one.

Although we lived in Upstate New York he was a Minnesota Twins fan—something about the games he was able to pick up on the radio as a boy. When I was only six or seven I kept my school papers in a pocket folder with Kirby Puckett’s grinning face on the front; I’m sure my dad was thoroughly proud. He’d root for the Mets, too, and when my oldest sister eventually went to Boston College, she and my dad could talk Red Sox for hours. He was good with pretty much every team but the Yankees; my dad has never been a guy with expensive taste, and money tends to make him angry. “Well of COURSE they’re good!” he would rant.

So he was disappointed when, in college, I adopted the Yankees as “my team”, cheering them on from my common room futon to the World Series in 2001 and 2003, and nearly losing my mind as the Red Sox miraculously defeated them in the ALCS in 2004. (I still feel slightly enraged when I think about Curt Schilling’s bloody sock.)

Then I met my husband, who had been raised in a Chicago suburb with the heavy burden of Cubs fandom. We met while we were both living in the St. Louis area, at the height of Cardinals’ domination. In St. Louis, Albert Pujols was a god who ate Cubbie bears for breakfast. It was a difficult place to root for the Cubs, but at the time, any place was a difficult place to root for the Cubs.

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That’s my husband with his sister and grandfather at Wrigley field in 1992.

This man who would become my husband took his team seriously. He internalized each error; he often had to step away from the TV in frustration. Watching him watch the Cubs (often from a nervous distance), I questioned my own loyalties. The Yankees did not make me feel this angst. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, I released my claim to them, and began to cheer, instead, for the team that might someday make my husband happy.

Late on the night of November 2, I sank into my couch and looked on as my husband, the father of my three children, paced. The Cubs were so close to doing the unthinkable. They might just win the World Series. They might just fuck it up – in fact, he was pretty convinced that they were on the verge of just that. Upstairs, our daughters slept. It was a school night for our oldest, who is in kindergarten, and staying up to watch the game just wasn’t an option. She is six, growing up in the heart of South Carolina college football country, where nearly everyone is either a Tiger or a Gamecock. When asked what team she roots for, she’ll answer, “My team is the Cubs.”

The morning after the win, when our oldest woke, I told her that the Cubs had won the World Series. Her eyes grew wide, and she ran from the room. This was a moment to share with her dad.

My husband, like my father, is raising three girls. He is an affectionate person; they know, undoubtedly, that their daddy loves them. They climb on him, chase and pin him, rub noses and give high fives. They also snuggle on the couch to watch PTI, give him their brief attention as he explains innings and outs. In sharing the Cubs with them he is sharing a part of himself. He is creating something that will last. And this is just the beginning: we talk about trips to Atlanta, when they’re a little older, to see a Cubs-Braves series. We talk about taking them to Wrigley someday, where we will tell them the story of the time mommy and daddy went to a Cubs game and daddy drank too much and confessed that he had been ring shopping.

We worry that our girls will pass over T-ball to take ballet, that they will relegate baseball to the realm of boy stuff and lose interest. But perhaps, with Christmas coming, there will be a glove under the tree. Maybe my husband will lead the girls out to the cul-de-sac and they will practice, starting slowly: Here is how you cradle the ball in your glove. Here is how you release it. And when it gets away from you, hurry, run to get it back. This is not something you want to lose.

 

 

A Year in Photos, Or What I’m Doing Instead of Writing

 

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I have not been writing, friends, and while I am not so self-centered as to believe that you’ve missed me, still I apologize.

You see, I’ve gotten sidetracked. Just before my third daughter’s birth I purchased a Nikon DSLR camera. After playing with it for the first eight months of Alex’s life, I made a decision with implications I did not quite understand at the time. A friend of mine was engaged in what is called a 365 Project, an intentional practice of taking, editing, and posting one photo a day. I can do that, I thought. And so I began.

 

In my head, the project would go something like this: As often as possible, I would take my Nikon with me where I went. It would come to the playground, the beach, the skating rink, the grocery store, school drop-off and pick-up, on family walks, even into the bathroom for tub time. It has, in fact, been in all of those places, plus more. Wherever life brought me, my camera would come too. In this way, I would document each day of 2016.

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I did not, however, consider the following things when making this plan:

  • The strange looks from passer-by
  • The dangers of sand, water, and dirt-smeared children to my camera
  • An extra three pounds to carry
  • “I don’t WANT you to take my picture!”
  • My less than basic knowledge of photo editing software
  • My less than basic knowledge of a camera’s manual settings
  • The amount of time it takes to satisfactorily edit a photo, upload it to Google Drive on my computer, download it from Google Drive on my phone, caption, hashtag, and post it to Instagram

My whole family, myself included, is ready for this project to end. As of today, we’re looking at 66 days until I call it quits and find another hobby to consume my days and evenings. But for so many reasons, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. For 300 days I have managed to capture moments that will be precious to my family forever. Not just birthdays and holidays, but all the little details that make up our daily lives, and I have been able to coax out the beauty in each of these. I’m proud of myself for sticking with it, and I’ve become a better photographer in the process.

Will I return to words? I hope so. But as I recently told an editor, I’ve been going where the creative winds blow. After a trip around the sun, I hope they bring me right back home.

 

Kindergarten Starts in Five Days- Here is How I’m Doing

The summer has been difficult.

My husband leaves for work and I stare at the clock as if it will somehow solve for me the problem of filling up the day. I have all three kids at home: I am their source of entertainment, their provider of every need. I try to set up playdates but our friends have scattered to beaches and family reunions. Or they work, like I used to. Like I fantasize about on days so hot that the driveway burns our feet and forces us to retreat into our air-conditioned home, where all the blinds are shut. Where the contents of our playroom are slowly dragged from room to room, until I feel like I am living in a murky hell of board game pieces and Barbie clothes.

Needless to say, I’ve been ready for school to start for some time now.

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My summer. Except ALL OVER MY HOUSE.

Still, my immense relief at reducing my daily load from three children to one- especially while grocery shopping- has not eclipsed the monumental fact that my oldest is starting kindergarten. Kindergarten! Like most milestones in my children’s lives, this newest transition is causing some majorly mixed emotions in this mama. Allow me to outline them for you:

Anxiety. I worry about the little things. My oldest is not a morning person. I am also not a morning person. Currently, our process of getting ready in the morning sounds like this:

Me: It’s time to get dressed now.

Me (five minutes later): It’s time to get dressed now. Didn’t you hear me tell you five minutes ago that it’s time to get dressed now?

Me (another five minutes later): Are you seriously still not dressed? 

Then I have to grab the keys and the other children and feign like I’m going to leave her sitting there in only her undies, because girls who would rather do a “Where’s Waldo?” puzzle for the 188th time instead of obeying their mothers deserve to be left home alone in an act of gross neglect. There are tantrums; there are tears. Mornings in our house are not the best. God only knows what next Tuesday morning will bring, but it is very possible that my child will be the only kid tardy on the first day of school.

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Wasn’t this, like, yesterday? Are we really about to do kindergarten?

Anxiety. We’ve checked with all of her preschool friends, and none of them are in the same kindergarten class as my child. Now, I’m one of those moms who doesn’t read too deeply into my child’s psychological state. Despite the fact that she’s disappointed not to be with her friends, the kid will get over it. She’ll be just fine. Even so, I know that I’ll think of her that first day and wonder if she’s feeling lonely or left out, and I’ll feel a little squeeze of motherly anguish.

Anxiety. This is my first experience as a public school parent. I know so many people who appear to be experts at navigating drop-off and pick-up, school lunches, PTA, homework, and all the other stuff I don’t even know about yet. Someday I will be one of those people, but right now I feel like somebody walking into their first Zumba class: stupid and lost.

Anxiety. Please let her not be “that kid”. Please let her keep her fingers out of her nose, and use her manners, and stop talking when the teacher says to hush. Please, between the hours of 7:30 and 2:30, let her not use the words “vagina” or “nipples”, which just happen to be two of her favorite terms.  Please let her go out into the world and show everyone what an amazing parent I am.

So yes, perhaps I am a little anxious- not that I would ever convey that to my five-year-old, who certainly has her own anxieties. For her sake, I will hold myself together long enough to send her off into her new classroom with a reassuring hug and a wave. Then I’ll sob a little in the car. Then I’ll drop my middle girl off at preschool and head to the grocery store with the baby, thinking about how lucky I am to have 180 days of this before next summer.

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Don’t let them fool you. They are completely unhelpful.