Friday, March 10, 2017

New Again

It was 4:50am...dark, quiet and cold in my bathroom.

Splashing water on my face, trying to get psyched for an early morning run, I looked up and she was standing in the hallway.

"Mama, do your fingernails get old too?" asked a half asleep, blondie Claire Bear, 6.

"Come here and give me a hug, what are you doing up?" I grab a hold of her while she puts her arms around my belly and looks up at my hair. 

"Well, I just thought that since Miss Beth puts brown back in your hair, to make the old hair not look so old anymore, that maybe that's why you paint your fingernails red or pink or those other colors, to make them look new again?" she quizzically asks.

I tuck her back into bed, tie up my sneakers and ponder all of the things I do to make the worn out, tired me... feel new again.

My husband turns 40 in a few months, a few weeks after I turn 42.  We joke that he's the last of our friends to make his way over the hill, while we both lament what it means to be officially middle aged.

On my run, I consider how good it feels to be able to run and to have meaningful perspective on what matters...which in many respects isn't what I thought did when I was 25 or even 35.

My mother frequently says that she would trade places with me any day.  "Your early 40's...hell, that's a beautiful thing, you're just gettin started--with the benefit of real wisdom and the loss of the cheese dick attitude that never did anyone a bit of good."

I have to agree.

Forever in a day, I used to feel less than about the size of my abode, my street address, my non-membership to the Escalade or Cabo frequenting club.  I wondered whether back burnering my career to stay home and raise children who whined and fought and rarely recognized my efforts was worthwhile.  I questioned whether writing checks for Catholic school tuition and piano lessons and ballet classes was the way to go.  I surrendered to the pain of not knowing my next move and sitting in uncertainty about the fate of my professional dreams or my family's next life stage.

And then, one morning I woke up and started teaching and building curriculum and pivoting in different directions and using my brain and body in different ways that felt clumsy and wonky and free and alive.

And now, as the days are long, and the years pass by in a blink, I know that the process of aging is inevitable.  We're all dying and living in the same breath.  We're all making choices to embrace the change or not.  Our hair is indeed turning gray.  Our finger nails are growing and being clipped off at the pass.  We're getting up and running or we're not.  The sun is setting and rising and the seasons are dying and being reborn.

All the while, no one knows what tomorrow will bring or if there will be a tomorrow.  But what we do know as we're being made new again is that we have a choice to take the things we've learned about ourselves from yesterday and apply it to today and re-apply it again tomorrow.

We are indeed old and new, over and over and over and over again. 

The morning that I ran, I saw an older couple on an overpass bridge.  Holding hands with big coats and hats on, they smiled and said, "Good Morning!" Panting with my music blaring, I screamed, "Good Morning!" while we shared a slice of pleasantry.

I hope that I get at least another 42 years to roll around on this planet.  In that time, I do plan to keep coloring my gray, painting my nails, running around the park, teaching my students and standing in awe trying to figure out where I'm supposed to be engaged.

While I stand in change, I'm not so afraid of the process.  Aging is definitive.  The decision to take the pieces that age and rebirth them is entirely voluntary.  My hope is to keep trying. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ode to Sam on Your 12th Birthday

Dear Sam,

How did it happen?

You woke up and are now officially TWELVE...one year away from being a teenager!

There really are no words to express what an incredible young man you are...noble, kind, generous, beyond bright and so much more comfortable in your skin than I was at your age.

I stand 5 feet, 8 inches tall and when you hug me, you come up to my ear.  You're only two shoe sizes away from your father and can eat more bowls of cereal and fruit than I ever imagined possible.


This past year has found you finding your way.

Sixth grade has proven to be quite busy, but someway, somehow, you're doing it all.

You play flag football in the fall and spring.  You've recently taken up participating on the Speech team and are preparing for your inaugural reading of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven."  And every chance you get, your fingers are playing the ivories to the tune of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter and everything in between.  You're working your way up the ranks as a boy scout learning how to camp in the frigid temps and are competing as a member of the Saint Margaret Mary Saint Thomas Aquinas club contributing your answers to math and history questions at local competitions.  You still read late into the night and enjoy watching all of the movies that dad is a champion of--many of which I think you're too young for, but dad seems to know better.  And when the homework is done, you join your buddies at the local comic and coffee shop to play coveted games of Magic.

I truly stand in awe of the person that you are becoming.

You are a noble young man.  A person who is less interested in what the crowd cares about than what you know to be true in your heart.  You've always had an extraordinary north star coupled with a dynamic moral compass and an unfailing gift of faith.  You encourage us all to pray for those in need and to give thanks for what we've been given...which in your book is more than enough.



As you continue to grow into a young man, please always remember that this one, very precious life that you have been given by God is to be used for good.  It is to be used in service of others.  It is to share what you have with the person who is in need.

When you feel scared or unsure, which is bound to happen as you embark upon the teenage years, know that you are not alone.  God is always with you and so is your family.  We are here to sit with you in uncertainty, and to celebrate with you in the joy, and to cheer you on as you make choices about what comes next.

And there are so many, many amazing things to look forward to...





Thank you for gifting us with your extraordinary spirit, willingness to go the extra mile and unconditional love, especially for those who are sometimes forgotten.  We could not be more proud of you or grateful for you.

Happy, Happy Birthday, Sweet Son...




All of my love, always,

Mama

Sunday, February 5, 2017

This is the Life We've Chosen

I miss you.

Really, I do.

I miss writing for fun or for conducting cerebral acrobatics or for just having a spot to relegate my thoughts when it all gets too bunched up and cluttered on the inside.

I miss the freedom of listening to random nothingness.

I thought that life was busy before.  And I suppose that everyone was right when they said, "It's not so bad when your kids are really little.  Sure, you miss the sleep and the quiet.  But when they get older, well, that's when the bigger worries come."

My kids aren't old.  Sam is turning 12 in two days.  Kate is 9.  And, Claire is 6.  But they're not babies or toddlers or preschoolers.  They can pour their own bowl of cereal and make their own bed.  Kate is becoming quite the master laundry expert of the house and Sam is pretty good about doing anything you want him to, if given a list.  Claire, well, she's a work in progress.

Two days a week, I have thirty-one 7 and 8 year-olds in a classroom.  One night a week, I have graduate students.  And luckily, I have another graduate class to teach on the docket as well.

But between the shuttling of piano, ballet, speech, Boy Scouts, Daisies, school, and soon to be football, soccer and gymnastics...I'm often tired. 

And so, I don't run like I did before.  I don't write like I did before.  I don't often post on Facebook or share my opinions about the fucking debacle that has become our political reality.  I've often wondered if the reason that my life has shifted so much in the last few months is that I'm officially living in the Zombie Apocalypse and no one asked me whether I wanted to be here.  The only thing that seems to make me laugh are really good SNL episodes and sometimes, humoring myself with the ridiculous banter that ensues between people who will intrinsically never change the "other's" mind.

That said, I feel badly....that I don't do more to demonstrate my opposition to the current political climate...that I don't write articles highlighting the very real catastrophic calamities that are on the horizon, if we keep heading down this undeniably, unGodly, fucked up path.

I feel badly that my house is often a wreck and that many times, I squeeze everything that needs to get done in the 11.5th hour.  And that I'm not meditating or talking to my children about the ills of the kind or lack there of leadership that we're witnessing. 

But in the very quiet moments when there is a second to breathe and no expectation of me, except for my thoughts, here is what I know to be true.

This is the life we have chosen.

We are married.  We are parents.  We have jobs with responsibilities.  We have bills.  We have people getting test results back that scream of uncertain futures.  We have science projects that are due and oil that needs to be changed in the car.  Groceries that need to be bought.  People that we need to text and meet for coffee because it's been too long.  We need to say I'm sorry and have sex, even when we're tired.  We need to review English assignments and time speeches and get lunches ready.  We have presentations for clients on a short turnaround.  And, tax appointments.  And pain.  And hope.  And anger.  And love.

And in these ways, we are all simply living the lives that we have chosen.  Trying to do our best with where we are and what we know to be true or palatable today, until tomorrow brings a different chapter in the story.

So, if it's okay, I'll keep writing and sharing my mundane stories.  They're not necessary or even helpful.  They're just a slice of life that maybe you can relate to. 

Because I miss you.

And all of the ugliness that I feel surrounded by particularly in the early morning hours when I check my phone and view a new executive order.

I like sharing my kids with you and hearing about yours.

I like knowing that you are there and that as people, we are not so far apart, all just trying to live the lives we have chosen.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Bravery

I've been locked away for a bit.

And, it's been hard and new.

Particularly, for this girl who takes pride in being a loud mouth, social media posting, crazy, runner/coffee drinker/mama yeller/f-bomb dropper--being locked in an office reading everything I can get my hands on while crafting a course syllabus has been illuminatingly trying and terrifying.

And finally, this afternoon, I caught a glimpse of light.

At 1:30pm, with a balmy 18 degrees, I put on my colorful running kicks, strapped my new Garmin and begged for the wind to take me five miles.  Somewhere between the wind blowing in my face, snot trickling down my lip and a lady stopping me about a lost dog;  I started shaping the theme and hope for my new year...bravery.

Like most, I'm intentional about what I want a new year to look like.  I typically name it, praying that by calling out the mantra, setting pen to paper and committing to new behaviors, that life will shift...in a good way.

A week into the new year, I'm realizing that authentic bravery doesn't necessarily come in flashy, public choices.  It finds itself in the daily grind...in the ways we show up, when no one is looking or even when no one cares about what we're doing and we're the only advocate in the room.

It manifests itself in the places where you don't know what you're doing.  I mean where you haven't got a fucking clue and you're just praying that if you make a move that the universe will usher your next one.

It finds itself in the mud and the muck.  You know, the details.  In carving out the plan....painstaking piece by piece, when you'd rather zone out to Netflix, Amazon Prime or eat chocolate--like a LOT of caramel, chocolate followed up by salty, fabulous chips and salsa, yes, Mama Hoots salsa and tortilla chips and then, wait, what's happening on Facebook?  What about Instagram?  And the tree outside?  Where is my neighbor going--didn't she just come home?  And why in all of holy fuck are my kids fighting again over the piano? AND, to that end, another hour has gone by and well, you cannot legitimately check a single item off of your to-do list.

Details.  Sacrifice.  Belief in the journey without any guarantee of success on the other side.  Integrity in the work.

Over Christmas break, my dad came to visit.  We don't usually get to have much one-on-one time, but in a stroke of luck and because my children are desperate to marry their devices, he and I spent a morning talking about everything under the sun.

He recently retired, like two months ago.  He gifted me a desk that he made, hauled it all the way from Dallas, set it up in my office and told me the following...don't be afraid to work, Kel.  It's the only thing you can really call your own.  Roll up your sleeves.  Get messy.  Don't stand on the sidelines waiting for the perfect set of circumstances or the accolades.  That's a bunch of bull shit.  Do it because it's the right thing to do and because your hands touched it.  It's wonderful that God gifted you with a brain but don't be a dip shit.  Put some God damn elbow grease into it and get the job done.  The best people I know work and they don't pass their shit off to other people.  Whatever you do, show up every day.  Make your mark, moment by moment, day by day.

He left and that's what I've been trying to do.  Show up.  Do the work.  And see where it takes me.


I've had quite a few moments that I've felt like this...


Kind of like, fuck me...what am I doing?

But other times, I think about vulnerability, courage, sacrifice, my dad and my students.

I'm excited, terrified, hopeful and I guess...brave.




Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Ode to Claire on Your Sixth Birthday

My Dearest Claire,

I want to tell you a funny story...

Long before you were born, papa and I were watching a movie and the main character--a feisty, classic, beautiful, impetuous girl named Claire captured my attention.  I fell in love with her.  Later that evening, I had a dream that our family was not yet complete.  We were supposed to have an addition, a little girl named Claire.

Fast forward to a snowy, blustery cold afternoon on December 14, 2010--we were in the hospital delivering you...it was the second to last push and I started sobbing...I mean I literally could not stop crying....not because I was in pain, but because I was afraid.

My doctor came to one side of me and papa came to the other.  She leaned down and said, "Kelly, what's wrong?  You're a pro at this...she is your third child.  What's wrong?"  With tears streaming down my face, I said, "I don't know.  I just think that something really big and amazing is coming into the world."

When you emerged, the umbilical cord was wrapped around your neck four times.  Immediately and like a lasso, the doctor freed you and you belted the most piercing screech I'd ever heard.  It was a terrifying and exhilarating feeling.

And the truth is, you've been screaming ever since. 

Even though you are a petite, blonde haired, blue eyed little girl, you are bold and powerful and you rarely take no for an answer which is why your daddy and I find ourselves beating our heads against a wall.

When you decide that you want something--whether it is a piece of banana bread, a container of chocolate milk or world peace, you are singularly focused and a have a level of determination that is unparalleled and usually means that through the sheer force of your will, it will happen.


A few months ago, you began all-day kindergarten...you are learning to write, to read, to do more complex math problems, to negotiate with your classmates and to follow the direction of someone other than me.  And you are in your element.  A social butterfly, you flit from one friend to the next, confident and capable in your ability to lead the way on the monkey bars and to fairly trade a Gogurt for a bag of Goldfish at lunch time.


To be honest with you, we are not terribly alike.

You are hard headed, fearless, persistent, formidable and stand unfazed if someone does not like your opinion or your persona--I am far more worried about what others think of me.  And for this aspect of your character, I stand in awe.  I yearn to have the chutzpa that you do and to so freely and largely inhabit the space that you do. 


You are beautiful and brilliant and a little mean all wrapped in one tightly powerful bundle.  As you grow, which I know that much to my chagrin, you will just continue to do, may you never stray from who you are.  Be belligerent.  Stay feisty.  Keep them guessing.  Give a little grief.  But remember that in the end, love always wins and that it is more important to be kind than to be right.


Your daddy and I love you beyond words.  We couldn't imagine our family or our home without you.  The Happiest of Sixth Birthdays, Claire!  Thank you for choosing to come barreling into our lives and for the cacophony of love you bring.


To the moon and back,

love, mama

Monday, December 5, 2016

Clenching Mercy

Pivoting in short, choppy--often, incomplete motions.

Back and forth.

Left and right.

Can't forget this and that.

All of it matters.

Whatever you do, don't stop.

These snap shots have been my life for the better part of several weeks.

Some of it is has been expected and is a remembered part of this season, but a good chunk of it is new.

Managing deadlines both at home and work.  Looking down to see that both my belly and my ass have grown a little too comfortable making my jeans a little uncomfortable.  Realizing that my kid has a project due that isn't just his but involves three others and supplies and it's Sunday night.  Watching my five-year old daughter count down the days until Christmas, swearing that I'll order that thing this afternoon or carve out time to really decide what in the hell Santa is going to put under the tree.  Wondering why I took on that volunteer "opportunity" and how it is that I will have all three children in different spots at the same time? Trying to plan a meaningful graduate course terrified that the students will call me out as a fraud.

While I was doing the dishes and editing the grocery list and grabbing the towels...I heard the extraordinary writer, Mark Nepo define poetry as the unexpected utterance of the soul and the frailty of the human condition as:


And I was reminded, yet again that this deal we do is hard.  Let's not mince words.  From time to time, it fucking sucks.  A good chunk of it is spent enduring instead of standing open to the possibility of what the day brings.

So in that moment, I just stood

still.

And breathed, a sigh of relief.

A really, really big breath.

And I closed my eyes and un-closed my fists and tried to receive whatever it is that the world had for me.

And while in the moment, I had to grin thinking that I extrapolate ad nauseam about the power of possibility and standing open to the availability of the extraordinary in the daily mundane....until it comes to me....and my life slowly turns into..."well, everything will be better once I make it to Thursday night or Sunday morning."  Meanwhile, a million moments go by and my teeth are clenched, my stomach is in knots, my mental to-do lists are cycled through repetitively and I'm just making it.  Most of the time, it's not a bad making it...it's just a dulled engagement of what could be.

Mercy is trusting that you don't have to know.

It's the indomitable fact that you can't possibly be in control all of the time and that surrendering to what could be is the greatest form of inhabiting the moment as imperfectly and beautifully as one can.

And so this morning on my run, I released. little by little...unsure but hopeful...which I think is my mantra for the new year.

I'm done with knowing.

I'm in need of mercy and grace and the divine and the blessed possibility that comes with the great unknown.





Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Shared Story

I am certain that like everyone else, I should probably be sharing the ins and outs of my opinion regarding the results of the presidential election...but after five days of trying to collect them...I just can't seem to.

I remember the morning after--I'd barely gotten 3 or 4 hours of sleep and woke up to piece together peanut butter sandwiches for the kids' lunch containers, dark roast for the coffee maker, a quick shower for a work event and a blessing for my family as they headed out the door...and in those moments, there was a haze of disillusionment wondering, "how can I do this...the regular stuff...and just pretend that this big thing didn't happen?"

For some reason, as I was schlepping to and fro in the house, tired and bewildered, I remembered my grandmother.  She was extraordinary.  She was stunning on the outside and the inside.  And when I was at a loss to understand why someone had wronged me or made me feel less than or tossed me out to dry, she would reply with..."find yourselves in the same story."  It was such a painful process...but what she meant was that both the person and I were here on earth together.  We encountered each other.  We traversed the others' path.  We connected.  There was a reason.  What did I learn?  How much would I value their place in my story?  Because that was the work.  Finding common ground.

I stumbled upon this quote by the incomparable Maya Angelou moments before I found the words to say to my children as I sent them back into the world for the day

Like usual, they lined up and I put my hand on their head and said, "May God bless your mind so that it can be open and you will learn.  May God bless your ears to be a good listener, even when it is hard and all you want to do is to talk.  May God bless your mouth to speak kind words and to give thanks.  And may God bless your heart to feel love and to know that you are never alone.  I love you...."

And I reminded them that the expectation was that they would be kind to those they met, that they would do the right thing, even if others were not, and that they would do their best to make the world a better place.

And later, I'm going to teach them about finding each other in the same story...a hard lesson of recognition that we are all connected...sometimes, whether we want to be or not.  We share much common ground, if we could simply hear and be open to the other.

Until then, my wish for them and most pressingly for myself is to continue...to continue to be who I am and to revolutionize the world with acts of love, hope, and peace....one small act at a time.