When Grey Comes to Visit

Here I am again.

I haven’t written for sometime, partly because October was a slumpy month for me.  My mood was slumpy.  Not drastically dark, but veering towards grey.

I tried various things to shake it.  Chocolate, red wine, a hamburger (and considering I’ve been mostly vegan for nearly 2 years, this was a dramatic lunge at a solution for me).  Hot baths, a jog, coffee, no coffee, a trip to sunny California.  All wonderful, enjoyable things.  All able to make moments twinkle.  But the grey feeling, it slumped back in, sometimes through the back door, sometimes through the front.  But there it was again, either way, sitting and waiting for me on my own damn couch.  “Hello,” it said, “I am here again today.”

I am trying to make friends with grey.  I am fully functioning with it around but I am slightly uneasy.  I feel a bit put out, with grey sitting there on my own inner couch.  “I didn’t invite you in!” I growl.  But grey doesn’t care.  Grey sits there anyway.  It even puts its feet up.

Grey is urging me to figure myself out.  Grey.  I try to look at her as a sister, a friend.  Stop resisting her. “Okay,” I say, “what do you want?”  But she doesn’t tell me outright.  That’s the nuisance of Grey, she has her own private language.  So I start experimenting, trying to break the code: bring her a glass of wine, take her out for a walk, put her to bed early.  What does it take to help this grey sister out?  What does she need, what is she asking me to give myself?

I start to see her as chunk of my soul, my longing, and what does my longing want?  Maybe she is here to poke and pester me in a positive direction.  Maybe when I get it right, when I figure out the mystery of what she is longing for and I give it to her, she will turn to me with a big smile.  She will shimmer and change shape, change shade.  Her Grey-ness will quiver and dissolve, walk out the door, the front or the back, doesn’t matter. Maybe she’ll fly out the window and say, “Thank you for finding what it is I needed.”  And I’ll say “Thank you for showing me what I needed to step into a fuller version of myself.”  Without Grey nagging me,  I never would shift into a more complete me.

So thank you, Grey.  For coming to visit.  Stay on my couch as long as you like.  Until you leave, I will be here, curling in, listening, trying to bring my own sense of longing what it needs, expanding my life to include the territory of her secret language.

I know she’ll be back.  She comes here and there.  Though next time, she’ll have a whole new language I’ll have to twist myself to translate.  So be it.  I can welcome her in again and again, expanding whatever it was I thought I was.

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Chasing the Perfect Birthday

My sweet girl will be seven soon.

I felt myself get choked up over that fact while eating a bowl of oatmeal this morning.

But the reason my throat got caught with tears in the middle of breakfast wasn’t about her getting older.  It wasn’t because I felt overwhelmed with the passage of time or upset that life doesn’t come with a pause button.

It was about me.  My anxiety as a mother:  am I giving enough?  How can I give more?  Am I doing enough to make her childhood amazing?

Normally, I try not to focus on questions like that.  I try to keep it simple: love her, spend time together, enjoy life together, give her lots of stability and attentiveness and figure that even with the mistakes I make along the way, I am doing the best I can, and she will continue blossoming into the incredible person she already is.

But then her birthday rolls around and suddenly I feel the pressure.  It’s like her birthday, this landmark, is my motherhood report card time.  And I show up as my own most judgmental teacher, staring down my nose at myself, clicking my ruler on the desk and glaring.

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I want to make her birthday really special, give her something spectacular, make her party so great that she squeals with glee when it’s over, “That was the BEST birthday ever!”

But goshdarnit, it doesn’t come naturally to me to plan a Pinterest party.  I usually rush to figure out a gift or two in the last couple of days.  Then, for the party, we have a bunch of people over for a potluck and blow up balloons.  I’ll hug her and tell her I love her a million times a day, like I normally do.

It sounds fine, doesn’t it?  It sounds splendid!  So why do I feel like I need to do MORE?  Why do I feel this pressure, this nagging feeling to SPEND more money, make MORE special things happen?

Partly I feel that pressure because I love her so darn much.  Of course.  I want the best for her.  I want to give her everything and then some in order to express just how much she means to me, just how special she is.

But there is another reason, too, a stickier one: I am anxious about it.  I worry that things as they are aren’t good enough and so I want to add onto that, and add on and add on and pile up a big pile of wonderful-ness that will be proof of how great everything is, how great our lives are, what a great mother I am, and somehow guarantee her a wonderful life.

But is that really a gift to her?  If it is coming from anxiety in me, then won’t it ultimately have the opposite effect than I intend?  Won’t it suffocate her rather than let her breathe and blossom?

too much wonderful-ness piling up

too much wonderful-ness piling up

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Okay, so let me look at this.  I don’t want to pass onto her my burdensome feeling of things not being good enough as they are.  My feeling that if only we had more special toys or food or decorations, THEN we would know the good life.

Rather, I want to pass onto her this:  THIS is the good life.  We are living it.

And yes, we can dress it up for fun.  We can celebrate!  Let’s make it special, because it is a special day and she is a special person.

But let’s do it from a place of satisfaction rather than a place of anxiety.

Let’s be relaxed and warm and loving and let all those good feelings overflow into a party and gifts and another special day this year of being together and being grateful.

Maybe sneak in a surprise or two but not stress myself out with it.

Return to that simple place where loving each other and spending time together are the biggest riches in the world.  Those things in and of themselves ARE the celebration.

I want my girl to thrive.  I want her to grow.  I want her to experience special and fantastic things in this life.  Most of all I want her to trust that those things are happening already, they are inherent to her being, without anything extra being added on.

If I build up the birthday, build up the party and the presents, there is so much expectation wrapped up in that.  Expectation for her to love it, expectation for it to be better than last year, expectation for her to get everything she wants.  And what follows expectation?  Disappointment.  That strange feeling when everything is over, there is a sprawl of wrapping paper and ribbons on the floor and you realize your ideals can never be lived up to.

Holidays are a breeding ground for this post-expectation feeling of disappointment.  How many kids end up crying right about the time the cake comes out?  Or after all the presents have been opened?  Or feel slightly deflated and empty the day after Christmas?

I don't know this child personally but I feel his pain

I don’t know this child personally but I feel his pain

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So I don’t want to put the pressure on her or on me.  I am done with ideals and expectations and perfectionism.

I want to keep it light and fresh.  Loving and in-the-moment.  For her and for myself.

And my sweet girl, she gets it, she understands.

I recently got her a couple of things, not related to her birthday, just a couple of things she mentioned she liked.  I gave them to her separately and casually, just to show her that I care.  And to show her that what she thinks of as important is important to me too and I want to help fill her life with things she cares about.  The two gifts came to a combined grand total of $30 or so.

And she says to me this afternoon, “Those two things are my only birthday presents mama, and THAT’S FINAL!”

She said it so definitively and simply.  She felt satisfied.  She feels full.

And her confidence in that helped me.  I instantly relaxed.  And gave her a hug.  And returned to that place of simple satisfaction.  Of she and I, together.  Letting go of the pressure, the report card, the self-judgement and aniexty.  Into the quiet space of being her mother, being present, shining love.

*     *     *

What about you?  How do you go about planning parties or special occasions for your loved ones?  How do you make it special without stressing yourself and everyone else out?  Or do you stress yourself out but it all feels worth it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

*     *     *

Life Lessons from a 2 Year-Old

There are days when I want a break from everything.

Like today, for example. When I want someone else to convince my two-year old to wear a diaper when we go out, because the resistance she puts up to it is LOUD, and I am out of creative ways to respond to her.

And can someone else please convince her to wear shoes and socks and a jacket because it is cold outside?  And figure out a way to fit her fairy wings on and fit her into her carseat, please?  Because that is what she wants.

And those plastic dress-up high heels she likes to shuffle around in, can you please follow her around while she wears them and make sure she doesn’t trip and fall while she runs down the wet concrete sidewalk in her sundress and fairy wings in the rain?

Yes, some days I want a break.  I want an imaginary second me to show up and deal with all the things I am too frazzled to do anymore. But of course, that isn’t an option.

What is an option is choosing in this moment to see her more clearly, to be with her more attentively.  To give more.  Go more deeply into being with her.  Surrendering.  This heals everything.  It even erases the desire to have a break.

My daughter: she is two.  She is marvelously self-assured.

She knows what she wants.  Her will is iron strong.

And matched with her iron will, she has these golden curls.  They fall down her back delicately, perfectly, so lusciously.

Her skin is golden, too.  And her smile is so big as she opens her arms to the sky and throws her head back when she dances and twirls (“My balleriiiiiiiiinaaa!”).  It’s just enough to make your own heart spill out of yourself and rush towards her in pure love.

It’s just enough to bring you deeper into this moment of being with her, willing to help her as she moves through the world.  Even if it means doing the illogical: high heels and fairy wings and a sundress on a cold, windy, rainy day.

Even if it means tending to all these things and so many more, day after day, minute after minute.  The creative work of being her caregiver.

But I do it.  I do it because I want her to fly.  I want her to keep her big laugh and carefree way of interacting with the world.

I want to support her.

I want to help her navigate the world in a way that feels true to her.

Yes, supporting her is far more important to me than convincing her to obey me.

Because the more helpful and respectful I am with her, the more helpful and respectful she is with me, with her sister, with the world.

So, l run back into the house and grab her fairy wings when she asks, because that’s a helpful and kind thing to do and it brings me joy to do that for her.

I help her find the high-heel shoes because I see how wonderful she feels when she’s wearing them.

I wash her favorite summer dress over and over because that is the one she wants to wear.  And I watch her put it on HERSELF (it usually ends up backwards and inside-out) because she feels so independent and beautiful in it just that way.

I bring her jacket along, too, because eventually she may get cold and ask for it.  Then I will help her put it on.  I won’t say, “I told you so.” I will just say, “Here, honey.”

And I dance with her–how could I resist?–as she grabs my hand, “dance wid me mama, you balleriiiina!”

I want her to feel that I am on her team.  That I am behind her 100 percent, helping her explore the world.

I want to help her with all the little things that feel big and important to her because I want to be a part of her big things, now and forever.  And her big things will just keep getting bigger and bigger from here on out.

She is fierce.  She is gentle.  She knows what she wants and how to move towards it, why would I want to be a damper on that ability?  It will serve her well her whole life long.

So I take a deep breath, I take a step back.  I try to see the world from her point of view.

And what a view it is:  fairy wings, rain drops, dancing feet, brisk air, special dresses, golden curls down her back as she spins and spins, delighting in the shear fact of her own big-hearted existence.

How precious I can be a part of that.  How precious that I can witness and assist.   And by being with her, I am reminded, by her example, how to know what I want in this world, how to be myself unabashedly.  How to access that carefree, big-hearted, fierce and gentle part of myself.  Thank you, dear one, for that gift, for these life-lessons.  Fairy wings, rain drops, high heels and all.

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The Beauty of Motherhood

I feel so rich with a big jug of fresh cider in the fridge.

We went to an apple-pressing party this morning with a group of other moms and kids in our area.  The kids were running around, swinging on tires tied to trees, sidewalk chalk out, little trucks to push around and a mini-tractor to pedal.

There were potato chips and carrot sticks and apples.  Oh, the APPLES.

We brought a wagon up the grassy hill to the one tree with the most apples.  We climbed in the tree and picked fruit from the branches, shook the tree until they tumbled down like large red/green balls of hail (watch out for your head!).  We used sticks to prod apples to the ground and climbed the ladder to pick and hand them down to friends’ waiting palms.

We got apples.  A wagon full, buckets and bags full.  A good-sized harvest for little hands to manage.

We brought them down the hill, admiring furry black-and-brown striped caterpillars along the way, back down to the old cider press our hostess had rigged up.

The motor was a bit weak but we washed the apples and chopped them up and fed them in.  The teeth grinding the apples into bits, making a big pile of broken fruit in the slotted wooden barrel below.  Then we put the round lid on and screwed it down and down and down.  Pressing.

All the juice ran out the slots of the barrel and into a square wooden tray beneath it.  The tray had one round hole and all the juice ran out of that and into a bucket underneath.  The kids were running in with their paper cups, interrupting the stream, catching all that fresh pressed sunshine and drinking it down.

We pressed again and again. Kids scattered, running back up to the walnut tree cove where the swings hung.  Or colored with chalk and crayons.  Or munched on a buffet of various potato chips spread out on the picnic table.

The sun comes out.  The water in the Puget Sound is sparkling fairytale blue.

I don’t know the other families here well.  Many I met for the first time at a picnic last week.  For a moment in our apple-pressing conversation, the topic turns to wrinkles.  One woman mentions how her mom bought her wrinkle-cream recently, to help erase the lines created when her children were up sick for several consecutive nights. She laughs and says, “Don’t pass your insecurities onto me, Mom!”  We all laugh and I look at the genuinely happy and beautiful face of the woman telling this brief story.

I think about how we moms are sensitive to our own sense of declining beauty.  How all women get trapped assessing their level of beauty, tracking changes as they grow older, but mothers have their own set of additional beauty hurdles.  As if just by being a mother they have more obstructions to clear.  While Hollywood has turned baby bumps into the new sexy, headlines also rush on about how quickly a woman is able to “get her body back” post-baby.  As if the goal is to look like we never had children at all.

But as I look at these mothers pressing apples, I see something I admire, in their blue jeans and sweatshirts and tired smiling faces:  I see their commitment.  I see the softness that comes from caring for little people day after day, night after night.  The inner strength that slowly builds from dishing up snacks and wiping bottoms.  From holding a sweaty sick child all night, praying for their health.   From kissing countless scrapes and bumps and chipped teeth, praying for their healing.  From navigating sibling rivalry, trying to stretch your time and love to embrace all the people in your home, including yourself.

I see the beauty that is created when one is deeply involved in service, in forgetting yourself for the sake of another.  It is a powerful surrender that no one can prepare you for before you become a parent.  I remember when my oldest daughter, Rose, was several weeks old and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get around to trimming my toenails.  If feels silly to write that now, but at the time it was monumental.  I’d end each day and think, “Geesh, tomorrow I will cut my toenails.”  But the next day would come and go and my nails would grow that much longer, pushing against the inner edge of the slippers I wore all day long inside the house.

I remember telling a friend that, a performance artist who asked how new motherhood was going.  She laughed when I mentioned my nails and thought I could do a performance piece just on that, the strange fact explaining so much:  What is new motherhood like?  It means not cutting your own toenails.

It means no longer tending to your own needs as top priority.  It means surrendering yourself to these bright new beings, responding to their cries and hunger and physical and emotional needs over and over again in a blur of self-forgetfulness.

No one can explain ahead of time the work it is.  No one can explain how utterly erased you sometimes feel.  How you can’t remember what you personally think or feel anymore, let alone remember to find time for your own toenails.

But I have a theory, looking at these women on apple pressing day.  I have a theory that all that self-forgetfulness adds up to something.  It adds up to a beauty, a beauty of motherhood.  The tired, smiling faces, they have a quiet glow made up of all those moments of lost self.  The extra gray hairs and wrinkles we acquire when we hold sick children through sleepless nights, or try to stay steady through trips to the emergency room, they have a power that extends beyond surface appearance.

Where others may see the lack of beauty (no make-up, no salon hair dos, no fashionable outfits, unfit bodies), I see the acquisition of beauty, the beauty of service, the beauty of motherhood.  It is a strong beauty, a humble one.  It isn’t flashy or self-conscious, in fact it is completely unaware of itself.  It is the beauty of a woman who has been pushed to her limit again and again, yet somehow finds a way to grow bigger and embrace more when she didn’t think she had anything left to give.

As a kid, I remember thinking my mom was the most beautiful woman on earth.  I loved how she smelled, her soft cheeks, the funny skin at the elbow that hung loose when her arm was straightened, the wrinkles on her forehead when she raised her eyebrows–I loved running my fingers over those again and again and my dear mother let me (thank you mom!).

I wonder what my daughters will remember about my body, about my beauty, once they are grown.  But I can’t know.  The essence of this beauty is that the one who has it isn’t entirely aware of it.  It is a beauty born of self-forgetfulness.  It is the beauty of motherhood.

And I think of all the mothers I know, the conversations I’ve had lately with other moms—we discuss our bellies, our changed shapes, the stretch marks.  The sag.  The widening.  The fact that we pee a little when we jog or bounce on trampolines or go to Zumba, we talk about changes in beauty that are usually taboo.  We empathize with each other and smile in comradery with a knowing nod.

But I think if we all looked carefully, if we all acknowledged honestly, we’d see the other beauty growing in each of us, too.  The beauty of self-forgetfulness.  The beauty of motherhood.

*        *        *

Back at our apple day, the apples we gathered have all been processed now.  They were once blossoms on the trees.  Then, they grew into fruit, were picked, washed, chopped and pressed.  Now, I bring home a jug of cider.  And I feel so wealthy.  Rich and sweet, deep gold in color, that sweet fruit transformed from stage to stage into this:  the essence of the thing itself, beautiful as the women who worked to make it.

*       *        *

What about you?  How do you feel in your beauty, in your body, in your motherhood?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I was silly and left my camera at home on apple-pressing day.  I am borrowing this image from another blog, http://localkitchen.files.wordpress.com/2009/12/apples1.jpg

I was forgetful and left my camera at home on apple-pressing day. I am borrowing this image from another blog,

Gratitude

I’ve been wanting to write here more often than I have been so I am sitting down again to see what comes out.

I’ve been helping Rose blog over on her site (she got the idea somewhere to start a blog).  If you want to check out a couple of snapshots from our days, there are some here:  http://www.girlpowerlagoona.wordpress.com.

We’ve stumbled into fall here and I feel my energy changing a bit, lagging somewhat, but in a relaxed, cozy way.  I don’t fight the slowing down but try to ride it and munch a few more squares of dark chocolate after lunch.

I went to an acting class a few weeks ago, just a one-time, 3-hour workshop and it was fantastic and fun and strange to take that time away from my family on a Saturday morning and go play pretend with several people I hardly know.  But it is more than playing pretend because acting is an art, a craft, and one I can throw myself into relatively comfortably—I mean, comfortably dive into that very uncomfortable place when you are attempting to dig up every scrap of your humanity and let it loose in the most raw, honest, and un-selfconscious way you can muster up in that moment.  I really love it.

And then, last weekend, the Roshi was on the island, Shodo Harada, a Zen teacher who is Japanese, 73 years old and maybe 5’3″.  I lived and trained with him in Japan for roughly 5 years in between college and children.  Usually when he comes, he offers a weeklong retreat which I am too steeped in motherhood to attend.  He did that this time, too, but he also did something he doesn’t usually do: he stuck around for several days afterwards and any Joe Shmoe or Jane Shmane (like me) who has some history with him as a student could drop into the zendo (meditation hall), listen to him speak, sit zazen (meditation) and go to sanzen (one-on-one interview) with him.

So there I was.  I hadn’t gone to sit with him and do sanzen since I was pregnant with Rose, seven years ago.  I pull up for the evening sit, childless and husbandless, in Corey’s red ’94 Toyota pick-up truck.  It rumbles loudly up the gravel drive-way into the monastery.  I get out and quickly smooth and straighten my zazen clothes–samugi top, hakuma, rakasu–a foreign costume I feel remarkably at home in.  I walk down the long gravel path that runs from the parking area down to the zendo.

As I walk, my footsteps crunch over stones, my awareness pushes through my breath, settling onto this body hanging over my bones, feeling the sensation as each footfall meets the ground.  As I sink into being there, I have a sense of myself in bits and pieces, all that has happened to get me to this place, all that has happened since I was last here, coming to sit before a sanzen (seeing the Roshi and showing him your state of mind).  How quickly life happens, how unpredictably.

There is me: 20 years old, unexpectedly stumbling upon this monastery on the island.  Spending one day there, drinking tea, helping in the garden, eating the vegetarian lunch, sitting 15 minutes of zazen for the first time in this same zendo.

There is me: 21 years old, coming back to the monastery the next spring.  Staying for several days.  Doing the morning and evening sits.  Feeling a quaking urge to keep going with this practice, to watch body, breath, and energy, to return to my inner place of home more diligently, more fully, over and over again.  Wanting help from a teacher.

So there is me: 21, flying to Japan after college graduation to sit with the Roshi, experience sanzen for the first time, meeting Corey there, who I somewhat detest at first glance (it wasn’t until years later that I realized this was projection–the long telling of how he and I actually grew into a healthy and loving couple is another story altogether).

There is me there, in Japan, expecting to stay for three months, which then stretched into a year, which stretched into another and another and another.  To have that space to look within, to see all the layers of self-consciousness and habit muffling my own sense of inner light.  Seeing self-doubt and self-hatred where I didn’t think I had any.  The sitting practice showing me my rough edges, the ones I had been able to hide from myself until they bubbled to the surface on the zazen cushion.  To touch that core, inner light, again and again, learning how to stoke it and feel it blaze, burning the outer layers we add on to ourselves for protection.  It is a long, creative process.  And 5 years there gave me only a base, a beginning.

And now, there is me, today, 34.  Since leaving Japan I have gotten married, given birth to two children, miscarried one, moved across the country twice, and have seen friends and family change, grow older, some get sick, some die.  Me: with two children, a husband, a wonderfully blessed life.  Walking down this gravel path to the zendo.  Heart overflowing with gratitude, heart buckling under the wonder of it all, the passage of time, all that has changed, all that is unchanged.  Feeling the light burning in me, feeling the immense gratitude for being able to feel that light at all.  Grateful to the Roshi, acting as a guide.  Grateful for the unexpected opportunity to train in Japan and clarify my own self.  Grateful for my children and my husband who challenge me to keep that light burning brightly so that our life together can flow.

Here I am, going into the zendo, sitting one long period of zazen, they call it “golden hour”.  A few tears fall down my cheeks.  The heart-buckling gratitude for all that is nameable and unnameable, too.

The bells ring and I stand to go to sanzen.  There:  candlelight, the Roshi’s face flickering, my heart beating, my tears of gratitude still falling onto my rakasu, hakuma, samugi.  His words fall on me like many bright leaves, reading my mind as usual, as he does to everyone, urging me to see all the gifts the universe gives to make our lives possible.

He rings his bell and I bow out.  I crunch down the gravel path, to the red pick-up truck.  It growls loudly as the engine turns over.  Ducking out early isn’t the usual protocol, I should be returning to the zendo for another period of zazen and the ritual cup of tea and sutra chanting to finish off the night. But I must get home to my other Roshis, the two young ones, who are under 4 and 3 feet tall.   And to the taller one, my husband, my partner, who keeps me digging into the truest parts of myself and supports me to express myself from there all the time.

And when I get home to these three Roshis, there will be no bells or bowsThere will be hugs and kisses.  I’ll eat a bowl of cereal as a late dinner and snuggle under the covers with all of them.  We’ll be up later than I expect, talking, giggling, reading out loud.

The light that I went hunting for in a zendo at 20 years old, my two little ones playfully engage with it without trying.  The ability to be present, to speak and react from a spontaneous and true place, they have this mastered without effort.  And when I waver into a realm of frustration, anger, discontent, or a preoccupied, busy mind, they are quick to call me on it, to rattle me back to BEING WITH THEM.  Here.  Now.  This.  This.  This.  Every moment fresh and alive.  Every moment needing me to be real, to see and accept them exactly as they are.  Every feeling they express is uninhibited and complete.  My job is to be big enough to meet them and respond accordingly, lovingly, without the burden of my own emotional blocks and expectations, which is a lot easier said than done.  It is my practice now.  It is my life, the life I have been given.

My gratitude for this life, this gift, this very one, is huge and humbling.  I bow and kiss and hug.  I sit and laugh and I try my hardest to let it all flow through me, this light, burning up, blazing out, glowing brightly.

Photo on 2013-08-21 at 10.11

This Being Alive Thing

Just start to write.

Write something.

Yes, another cup of caffeine might help, but can you just sit down and write?

I want to say a perfect thing, a brilliant thing, a funny and/or insightful thing.

Write.  Just write.

Okay, I am writing.  I am doing it.  The words are appearing as my fingers hit the keys, nothing short of magic, really.  Nothing I understand, except loosely—something way down in the deep unknown of myself sparks a thought & language, then moves to a keyboard & electrical signals, and of course, the Internet, whatever that really is.  I don’t understand it, but I use it.  Like many things in my life: car, cellphone, refrigerator.  Loosely understood but often used.

I’d like to tell you about my day.  The walk down the hill to the coffee shop with my girls, passing the farm-stand along the way, the one overflowing with delicious summer garden abundance: cherry tomatoes, eggplant, spinach, & sunflowers.  I’d like to tell you about my day.  The song we were singing–or was it humming?–as we picked a few blackberry jewels off a neighbor’s rambling bush and crushed them in our mouths in jammy tart bursts.

We said hello to landscapers pulling weeds out of a half-hidden yard.  We said hello to two high school boys slouching in the bus shelter along the curb, or rather they said hello to us, loudly, which made me think it was a joke I am now too old to understand.  We picked pale purple flowers from the broken branch of a hydrangea, ate salty potatoes (which we sprinkled with extra salt) and drank a latte (me) and sparkling apple juice (them) under the almost sunny sky of the little waterfront village we call home.

I can try, but I can’t fully explain, the shape of my girl’s face as she sits across the table from me and tells me she wants to get her hair cut to her shoulders.  Her face, almost like a pear, sliced in half, so fresh and available and full of every ripe sweetness.  Her eyes could be the seeds, brown and shining, glinting with the thought of herself seated in a real salon chair, being pampered and shaped into another realm of beauty and grown-up-ness, a 6 and three-quarter year old queen.

And my little one, the light-bulb two-year old, flitting about the outdoor patio where we sit.  Skinning her knee here, on the gravely ground, then again there, on the stone pathway.  She melts into a whimper and a cry but after a quick scoop into my arms, and three tender kisses on each of her ouchies, she is off again– “my tay (I’m okay)”, she says–running, moving, an unstoppable force fueling her from an invisible source, like ocean waves or the orbit of the earth, just going, spinning, being.  Without explanation or self-awareness.  Existing as herself, fully and completely, she is mesmerizing.

We go to the bank, then the library, then make our way back up the hill.

We don’t pass anyone this time.  We just march up, the sun now streaming down, heading for home, pink lemonade popsicles, and nap time.

We live in luxury.  We are queens.  We have sun and blackberries, skinned knees and imagined haircuts.

We have ourselves, each other.  We have the invisible source/force holding us to this planet, fueling us down and up the hill of our town.

I can’t pretend to understand it fully, but I use it.  Often.  All the time.  This being alive thing.  This fuel, this source/force.  It creeps into everything we are and everything we do.  It uses us and we use it, inseparable.  The world shines of it, in broken flowering branches, in trips and falls, in the hot hike up the hill home, to more salty potatoes and cold, ripe figs for lunch.

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A path to Domestic Bliss

I have something to tell you: I am not a domestic perfectionist.

If you know me, if you’ve dropped my house unexpectedly, you know.  There are books and toys and DVDs strewn about, as well as dress-up clothes and yoga mats, the remnants of the fort we built yesterday and some paint splattered on the floor from an impromptu finger-painting session last night.  There are definitely dirty dishes in the sink.

Some might call it lived in.  Others might call it lazy.  I like to think of it as creative swirl.  And its a good thing.  It means that we are busy living our lives, busy making them feel right, instead of making them look right.

Don’t get me wrong, I think neat and tidy has its place.  I enjoy relaxing in a clean, crisp environment as much as the next person.  But as a mother, that is not my top priority.

If you have young kids you know what I mean: the process of cleaning up can seem never-ending.  It can become a battle ground, especially if you have a domestic perfectionist living inside of you.

But around here, we find perfection within the imperfection.

Around here, it is messy.  It is a creative swirl.

It is also fun and active.  We have important things to do.  Like wrestling and dance parties.  Bubble baths and homemade spa days.  Things like watching movies in a cuddle pile on the couch.  Or drinking tea, discussing the day’s unravelings— not letting “dealing with the mess” get top priority.

It was not always like this.  I’ve had to work, really work, at letting the house be messy and still being able to relax in it.

I’ve had to work at not letting my happiness depend on whether or not the laundry is folded and put away.

Before that, I was letting the state of the house determine my mood: if it was messy, I was unhappy.  I’d carry a dark grey cloud above my head, huffing around the house putting things away, blaming someone else for the mess, feeling resentful that I HAD to deal with it in order for my day to feel good again.  Sometimes I got really ugly and looked something like this:

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Then I realized something:  I didn’t HAVE to.  The mess didn’t have to come before my happiness.  My happiness could come first.  I could choose it.  I could look at that bad mood brewing in me because the house was untidy and I could not let it take over.  I could sit down in the middle of the house and not do anything at all to change it.  I could accept things as they were, crumbs and all.

Maybe I’d even shrug at the mess and laugh a little, wiggle my shoulders and jostle my head.  I’d decide to hug my kids and read to them in a cluttered house.  I’d decide to joyfully make pancakes for breakfast even if last night’s dishes were still in the sink.  I’d let the mess be, especially if letting it be meant I was a happier and more present person, a more loving mom, a more relaxed wife.

Now when I clean, I do it because I want to, because I enjoy it.  I don’t clean in order to maintain cleanliness, I clean because I want to create a fresh page, an empty canvas–so the creative swirl can be begin again in whatever way it needs to.

I won’t sacrifice a happy environment for a clean one anymore.  It’s just not worth it.  It took a lot of practice, but I no longer have a domestic perfectionist in me trying to control things and resist mess.  Instead, I have something else.  I like to think of it as a domestic goddess.  Yes, that’s right.

A domestic goddess has a home that feels full and fun and loving.  She has kids that know they can be messy without being scolded.  Kids that play without feeling stifled by a mom who needs everything to be cleaned up on the spot.  Kids who don’t stop being creative because they fear how tense mom gets when things get out-of-order.  She tidies up without anger or blame.  She spends time with her partner at the end of the day, making catching up more important than cleaning up.

A domestic goddess has a wide and long view, one that extends beyond this mess, this day, this week.    She sees down the road—way, way down when the kids are grown and everything is different—and seeing that place way down there, she turns and looks back.

With that perspective, she sees this moment, this splatter or spill or stain.  She laughs at it and wipes it up.  Or she steps right over it, that bit of creative swirl, and kisses or tickles or hugs whoever it was that made it.  And in that moment, she finds a snippet of domestic bliss.  It’s a wonderful place to be.

Hello out there

It seems that I am starting a blog and the name of it is Sparkle and Zest.

I am here to share the things in my life that bring me joy, the things that are naturally beautiful and eye-catching.

I am also here to dig, to look carefully and with curiosity: if I pick up the nitty-gritty pieces of my life, the pieces that are dull or difficult at first glance, can I work with them, let them teach me?  Can I rub them just right so they begin to sparkle?  Can I welcome all the pieces of my life, finding the glimmer and light in just about every darn thing?  That is what I am here to do.

There is motherhood.  There is marriage.  There is housework and friendships and food (oh, I love food!).  There is art and spirituality.  There is life, with its strange and wonderful gifts offered along the way, the ones I can not yet guess at or imagine.

I come here to write and share.  To be myself unabashedly.  To feel my own sparkle and zest–in all it’s thousands of bits and pieces.  I hope you find something of interest here, too, and that we can dig and polish together.