Pieces of 2021

A lot of people think that no good can come of checking your phone at 2 AM in the morning, but anyone who’s ever been getting ready to go into a meeting at 2 PM knows that there’s nothing like a quick glance at that glowing window to distorted reality that take your eyes off the prize so quickly. Even if it’s just for a second, that glance — that loss of focus – can almost make you forget what the prize is.

 January 6, just as I was signing into an IEP meeting I’d been anticipating for weeks, I stupidly glanced at my phone. My kiddo, learning at home all year because of health issues, armed with nothing more than cheerful fortitude, had blown his math and reading goals out of the water. It’s the kind of conversation you love to have with a parent.

But there I was, clicking the start button for the meeting as the chaos in the capital, and not this kid’s triumph, tried to command my attention. When the other faces popped on the screen, the sea of smiles hinted that my colleagues had not seen the news.

For months, I had been aware of national and world news but most days, it was on the periphery, nothing more than a headline to be liked on Facebook. I felt guilty for not tracking events more carefully, but I also enjoyed the bliss of ignorance created by the wall that work had erected, obscuring all but the most vital events.

I pulled my head back to the meeting. The IEP team took turns telling mom about her kid’s amazing progress. We discussed our hopes and goals for him for the new year, and I realized that everyone in our meeting – Mom and teachers – had been channeling fears and frustrations with the chaos of the last year into things we could control. We’d unconsciously rerouted our energies into creating hope for ourselves, one kid at a time. 

When the meeting ended, I checked my newsfeed again just to make sure the country hadn’t devolved into a full-fledged Civil War. Knowing there was nothing I could have done regardless of the situation on the monitor, I got back to the things I could control. 

Then I went back to planning a meeting for the next kid on my list and making up a new game for the next day’s math class. 

I didn’t completely tune out. A functioning democracy needs care and attention. It needs participants now and down the road.

Since January, however, I’ve let my list of meetings and to-do’s turn the news down to a faint din again because I’m not taking my eyes off the prize again. 

The victories our team nurtures and celebrates are small but significant, and we know we’re not alone. There are setbacks, but, faced with two images of the world on January 6, I’m glad I chose the one filled with hope. 

Organically Grown

Somedays the wind is howling around the mountains. Other days, the sun is pointing out every new bud in the forest. Even when it’s grey and the back section of our trail is more pond than path, though, at four o’ clock, at least one kid and one adult will ask if we’re all ready to walk. Our walks have attained the ritual sacredness of communion, and, even though they are peppered with swear words when the boys argue about whose turn it is to chase the frisbee into the increasingly green rosy-bush, there is serious communing going on.

The walk around the house is about a tenth of a mile. Thing1 has a goal of getting his parents to do 30 laps walking and then running. I’m treating it as physical therapy for my ankle and, on days when my lungs allow it, have managed 10 laps with a few passes through the garden to talk to the peas and carrots. The Big Guy, waiting for a knee replacement, is less focused on the number of laps than on just walking with the boys. 

The kids will do two laps for each of ours, deliberately tossing the frisbee into the woods or at each other’s heads. Thing1 and the Big Guy will talk car repairs. Thing2 will talk music and life.

We don’t see each other for most of the rest of the day. Thing1 is finishing up classes from college online until late at night. Thing2 has class in the morning and then has creative projects. I write and study, and the Big Guy reads. There’s an implicit understanding that, while we are locking down, we need to have our physical and mental separate corners.

Vermont’s governor is slowly relaxing restrictions that have helped keep our infection rate down, but, with high-risk people in the home, our family won’t relax the current routine until we see evidence of a prolonged absence of a second or third wave of infections. As the rest of the state returns to normal, I’m grateful for these organically grown rituals that keep us close but not constricted, knowing they’re about to become even more important.

Feline Friday and The daily Zero K

In an apparent attempt to prove that the world would be better off run by members the next generation, the boys have been dragooning me — for my own good — into a very short ZeroK walk around the house every day since I’ve been sick. Thing1’s rationale is that there is nothing that even the smallest bit of exercise can’t make better, and each day there’s more evidence to prove him right.

The first day, the boys and I spent most of the first 10th of a mile trek reveling in each discovery of emerging spring green. The cats and dog cavorted around us, darting in and out of the woods after each other. The boys played catch with an old hacky-sack as we walked, occasionally giving Jim-Bob a chance to inspect it after a fumble.

The second day, the Big Guy decided to join us on our Zero K walk. The dog quickly took her place a few feet ahead of me, and the cats began their outdoor dance, darting in and out of the woods, pretending to stalk and then rub against the legs of their human prey.

By day 3, the Zero K was a family routine. The cats cavorted slightly less, opting to take the lead on our lap on the running trail I had worn around the house back when I was training for 10k’s and 12k’s in solitude.

Like the rest of the world, we’re self-isolating from the rest of the world — we have two people in high-risk categories, and I’m sick with respiratory illness. It could be a time of fear. Our communal walks, our Zero K’s through our cloister of mountains and trees have turned the next weeks of cocooning into an unexpected gift.

Sunshine Good Day

Halloween happy

Jack was born in the summer.  By default, our summer travel routine and the vacation plans of most of his classmates made most of his birthday celebrations quite a bit smaller and tamer than the circus-like orgies of cake and presents that are depicted as normal and desirable in movies or ads.  His birthdays are often spent with family doing something special at the beach or going to a favorite museum.

We knew that  six-year-old Thing2’s October birthday made the more traditional kid birthday party more likely.  He’s seven today, and we planned his birthday over the weekend.  Watching Jack’s interest in traditional kid birthday parties (even when we offered) begin to fade when he was around nine, I know there won’t be many of these left.

Thing2, the Big Guy and I decided he should invite his classmates, and a few weeks ago, I filled his backpack with his homework, lunch, and seventeen invitations.  Knowing that not everyone RSVPs for kids’ parties, the Big Guy and I got the house ready for a halloween-themed party on Columbus Day Weekend. 

Three kids and their moms showed up.

At first I was a little nervous about Thing2’s reaction to the dearth of kids (and presents, of course), but he didn’t seem to notice.  For two hours, the kids cavorted in the sun and the leaves for two hours.  They beat apart and divided the treasure from a piñata filled with candy for 16 kids.  There was no pin-the-tail on the donkey or other party games.  Instead, they screamed and laughed as they chased each other through and around the house.  The Big Guy in his Herman Munster costume and I as Lily Munster sat at the table with the three other moms getting to know each other a little better than we do at the bus stop.

Thirteen-year-old Jack’s own memories of these few traditional kid parties are often impressions of sunny days, the details blurred by distance.  I know this day will blend into the collection of parties we’ve thrown for Thing2 as well.  But I’m hoping that his memory is marking that, while a larger party would have been fun too, sometimes less really is more.

The Game

The game 10 18

I woke up a few Fridays ago determined to get my ‘down’ time in on the trail before the workday started.  I got it.  I also got a lesson from  Mother Nature down time management.

I got the kids to the bus, miraculously in time for the first stop.  Then I headed to the trail at the park.  It had been raining all night, and there were still drips and drops, but there were also peeks of sunshine.  By the time I stopped at the park, it was drizzling, but I wasn’t too worried.  It was about to clear up.

Wrapping my mp3 player in a plastic sandwich baggie and then into my belt, I pushed play and headed down the trail.  Five hundred feet into the park, the sky opened up.  Instantly, I was drenched from head to toe and supremely grateful that, in my now-soaked shirt and running pants and looking like a jelly donut entering a wet T-shirt contest, I was the only person in the park.  I thought seriously about turning back.

It wasn’t fortitude or courage that kept me going.  It was the knowledge that I had a To-Do list a mile long.  Work was next on the agenda, then (hopefully) blog posts, getting ready for a class I was about to help teach, laundry (always laundry), vacuuming, dinner and writing before bed.  I knew this was the only time to get my down time.

I took refuge under a shelter when the rain was too blindingly-heavy to navigate the path.  When the rain slowed, I restarted my run from the beginning, figuring I couldn’t possibly get any wetter.   Mother Nature laughed and let out another sprinkle.  As I got to the end of the third mile and started the fourth, it had stopped feeling like work and begun feeling like down time – without and with the rain.

That’s when it struck me that the rain was just part of the game.  The weather is going to do nothing but get worse over the next few months.  As I write, it’s still dark this morning.  Weather and time changes close in with their excuses not to run, but the dark is also part of the game.  Winning that game and getting that down time – on the trail or the keyboard – is ignoring those excuses and getting it anyway.

 

Seven

December 2006 009

I’m making a third birthday cake for Thing2 today.  He had one for his party over the weekend, we took cupcakes in for his class today, and we’ll have our family celebration tonight.  It’s the last cake for the last seventh birthday I’ll ever make for one of my children, and while I don’t want to do this again, I also don’t want it to end.

Seasons and Celebrations

Fall 2013

Sept 23

It’s the Big Guy’s birthday.  Today our family is celebrating him, but I’ve also come to see this day as the demarcation of the seasons.

It’s not just because his birthday coincides with the second day of fall, but because his favorite birthday dessert is not cake.  It’s apple pie, preferably made with apples from our own tree.  It’s only after a few cold snaps that the apples start to take on a sweeter taste, and the first, tart bite, softened by the streusel topping, evokes all the soon-to-be wood-stove warmed evenings,  homemade breads and stews, and evenings snuggled on the couch.  So now, celebrating the Big Guy is really a celebration of a season of family enjoying family.  And who better to inspire it?

In the Beginning

Running  in the beginning

Everyday is a beginning, and in the beginning, it’s always murky – sometimes even dark.  Beginnings still take determination and fight – whether it’s a new run or another day toward a new life.  It’s not until the first bead of sweat breaks that the rhythm of the trail or the day takes over.  It’s self-sustaining until the exhaustion that must come does, but when it passes, what is left behind is the fight and determination to begin again tomorrow.

A Banner Routine

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I wasn’t exactly pudgy in high school. I doubt any of my friends would have called me fat, but I doubt I was the only girl who looked in the mirror and wished they were skinnier, taller, more like the faces staring out from the magazines. I was hardly model height or weight or anything else, but looking back, I can hardly believe how hard I was on myself.  I’m sure I wasn’t alone there either.

Decades later, standards have changed, but so have I. There are now petite models, plus-size models, and, if they ever start looking for a petite, plus-sized model shaped roughly like an orange, I’ll be in serious demand. So, even though I’ve lost twenty-seven pounds since the beginning of the summer, I still have a long way to go.

I’ve been traveling a good part of that road on foot on the make-shift track I’ve formed in the tenth of a mile of grass and gravel that surrounds our house like a wavy running track. This morning, after a bad fall from grace the night before, I got up and greeted the apple tree between the house and garden thirty-two times, I glanced at the soon-to-expire inspection tag on the front of my car thirty-two times, and I said hello to my puzzled dog thirty-two times.

It was routine again after the second lap, and there’s something comforting in routine. My legs no longer feel tired on every lap. I’m not out of breath after each lap. When my music program ends on my iPod, I keep going for a few more minutes because I can. A few more songs and it’s no longer about the weight but about going the distance. It’s about making taking care of myself part of my routine. It’s the same mentality that helped me make writing a part of my routine last summer.

Anyone who’s been reading this blog since last summer knows that my posts have gone from being daily and even twice daily to weekly or semi-weekly on good weeks. I can blame some of the lapse on a little more chaotic work schedule and the kids being home from school all summer. But the reality is that at the beginning of the summer, I had to make some hard decisions about which battles I needed to fight the hardest for a while.

In the middle of May, chest pains sent me to the hospital for a stress test. It was the culmination of a winter of health neglect that coincided with a fairly serious bout with depression. The chest pain turned out to be a very bad lung infection, but it was a wakeup call. So I started walking.

Eating right takes more time than opening a box of Shake’n’Bake. Exercising takes more time than sitting down on the couch for another book. Fitting those things into my life, however, was a battle that I knew I had to fight for me.

At first I thought it was selfish and destructive. I wanted to write. I had committed to it. I needed to take care of my job and my house (in that order). But I knew I needed to take care of me. Then I stumbled on a quote by Michele Obama that, whether you love her or love to hate her, had a lot of truth in it.

She said, “You’d get up at four in the morning to get to a job. You’d get up a half hour earlier in the morning to take care of your kids, so why shouldn’t you take a little extra time to take care of yourself.” That hit me like two tons of liposucked lipids.

I get up at five in the morning to work on email or fix a file for a customer.  I spent most nights for the better part of 2 years and then 3 with an infant glued to my breast because they needed it. So why, I asked myself, wasn’t I willing to do that for myself. Now I do because I’ve come to the recognition that it’s okay for a mom to do something for herself. You are doing it for them. You’re doing it to be there for them for the long haul and to be an example, but it’s okay to do it for yourself.

Now I feel I’m starting to feel like I’m winning the battle, even if it will never end. But it’s not an uphill fight, and it’s giving me the gumption to take up the writing banner that has meant almost as much as my health. There have been spurts and fits trying to get the routine back, but the challenge now is to find a way to make those two battles one.

Worth Waiting

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It was supposed to rain that Thursday, but as the time for the parade drew closer, blue took over more and more of the sky. The Big Guy was working, as he does most years on the Fourth of July.  As they do most years, our plans for the day included chores and little else.

The little else – a homemade, hometown parade along a mile and a half stretch of the main road of our town of 300 – is the highlight of our Independence Day each year. Comprised of a small collection of tractor- and horse-drawn wagons, festooned with flags and flowers from nearby fields and filled with singing townsfolk, the entire train passes by in less than a few minutes. Some years we ride on the wagons. This year we decided to wait and wave, and, this year, the waiting made all the difference.

We decided to head out to the parade a little early this year. The bridge at the bottom of our road is closed, and we planned to watch from the Town Hall a mile and half away at the other end of the road. The 150 year old school house across from the Town Hall (which, along with the nearby church are the town’s center) was the site of an art show hosted by a friend, and six-year-old Thing2 wanted to bring her flowers for luck.

With twenty minutes to spare before the parade got going a mile down the road from the schoolhouse, we took our time visiting with our artist friend and helping her setup. We browsed the paintings and prints, glancing out the window for approaching flag-wrapped horses, but none appeared. I checked my cellphone, and, noting that ‘hitching time’ was past, ushered my twelve and six-year-old out the door and across the road.

A few other townsfolk were arriving at the schoolhouse and making their way from art show to parade stand, stopping to patronize a lemonade stand that two boys had strategically placed next to the road. A few people brought chairs, and, as we each searched for a patch of shade, we began taking turns walking into the road to scan for the parade leader.

Ten minutes passed, and our small group concluded that hitching time had been delayed. The smaller boys began making miniature forts with bits of bark scavenged from around the oak tree that shaded us. Neighbors finished talking about the weather and began catching up in earnest. At forty minutes past hitching time we were certain that the lead rider was just around the bend, and the conversation turned to parades past. But the green at the bend in the road remained uninterrupted.  The younger children now conceived a world in a grassy curve carved by the roots of the oak tree, and neighbors began to discover each other in earnest.

Almost two hours had passed after the first horse was scheduled to leave the parade starting point, we heard hoofbeats and the hum of the first antique tractor.

A bunting-wrapped Kubota backhoe pulling a hay wagon loaded with singing townsfolk, prodigal children and grandchildren and other out-of-town guests led the parade this year. It stopped every few feet to let children on and off, and from the center of the wagon, candy and gum came flying at my kids. A few minutes later a pair of horses appeared, their riders carefully balancing flag poles on the toes of their boots. There were a few other tractors and wagons, and then two flag-bearers on foot came into view from around the bend. An ancient tractor pulling the last wagon appeared. This one was loaded with singers and one participant who had turned his attention to a magazine he brought along. The entire procession lasted less than ten minutes. 

The morning was gone. I was still in visiting mode, and it seemed too late to start the chores I had assigned myself and the boys. I checked my watch and noticed that it was almost time for the Big Guy to leave work.

Deciding strange forces were converging to put us on a different course for the day, the boys and I decided to go get the Big Guy and take him to lunch. Chores and to-do lists were forgotten. The reason for the season was officially our nation’s independence, but it was the waiting that had forced us to free ourselves from routine, if only for a day. As always, the tiny parade was worth the wait. The wait, however, was priceless.

 

 

 

Worth Repeating

Blog  worth repeating

The willow trees near the main road are sending out shoots of yellow green, and it’s clear the mountains are about to explode in a myriad of greens.  For now, though, the daffodils and the tiny sunlit green dots on the trees cast a glow over our small town.  

The Dairy Bar is open now, and people are stopping in for ice cream after Little League or for a sunny batter-dipped dinner after work.  The air is thick with the smell of manure-plowed fields and fruit blossoms.  At the market, the pansies are being replaced by petunias as the days grow longer, and bales of straw are being stacked for gardeners emerging from their hibernation.  

I’m watching a story that’s being told again in small towns across the country.  I’ve seen it unfold over ten times now, and it’s a tale that never gets old.

Sunny with a chance of SuperDude

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I can predict the weather once a year with near 100% certainty.  The last Saturday in April will almost certainly be sunny and cold.  I know this because this is the day Little League begins in our town, and it would not be the official start of the game season if eager young T-ballers weren’t being watched by smiling parents bundled up in coats and sweatshirts.  There is one thing about this year’s opening day, however, that I failed to predict.  

Most weekdays I get up at 5AM to write or to work while it’s quiet.  Last night, however, I turned off the alarm and decided to let the sun, instead of the gong wake me.  But the official first day of baseball season (as far as Arlington, VT is concerned), is a lot like Christmas, and I found out when a different son – my six-year-old, Thing2 – fully dressed in jeans and a black button-down shirt and tie  crept to the side of my bed and, gently patting my face with his hand to let me know that it was time to go.  

Knowing that it wasn’t an emergency requiring us to ‘go’, I lazily opened one eye and noticed that the sky wasn’t entirely dark.  I turned my head to check the clock on the other side of the snoring Big Guy and, deciding that, at six a.m. I had bought an extra hour of sleep, decided to get up.  

“You still have a few hours till we have to be there, Buddy,” I said quietly as I headed to the bathroom.  Thing2 was too excited to let me have a morning to pee alone, and followed me in.  “But I’m glad you’re dressed warmly.  Do you think that tie is going to be comfortable under the new team T-shirt?”

Thing2’s thought for a moment.  Then his mouth popped open, but before he could reveal his solution he had scurried back to the bunk room at the end of the hall.  I could hear the sound of toys being excavated from a corner and Thing1 grumbling that it was too early for this.  By the time I sat down at my desk with my morning caffeine, Thing2 had found and implemented the solution.  

Breathless, Thing2 came racing into the study, still wearing the shirt and tie.  Over it, he had donned his fake superhero muscles and another T-shirt.    I checked the clock again.  It was six thirty, we were on outfit number two, and Thing2’s superhero alter ego SuperDude had already started to emerge.

“Do you love it?” he asked.

 I smiled, but I didn’t say anything.  In an hour and a half we’ll need to leave the house with him warm and wearing clothing that won’t leave a permanent indent on his skin if it gets hit with a baseball.  But even super heros evolve, and a lot can happen in that hour and a half.