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Hello Summer

IMG_2819IMG_2820IMG_2822The weather man.

I am writing this on the back deck as the kids dance in the grass to the Moana soundtrack on repeat (and repeat). There were plenty of April showers this year, and May showers to boot. However in an unseasonable act the sun has finally gently dried the morning dew and convinced the birds to sing their dayspring tunes.

A Midwestern summer plays hard to get, until it doesn’t.

And so: S’mores. They are the inaugural summer treat after all. And although we’ve had no room in the schedule for camping just yet, it is time to welcome summer in the appropriate fashion. To invite it to sit with us around a patio dinner, complete with paper plates, dinner in three minutes from the grill, and dessert in half that time.

Midwestern summers are the eternal season of the region. They arrive in a flash, like a lightning bug spark, sudden. They’re full of sunburned shoulders, hosting company, adventures outside your zipcode, festivals all over town. They linger, like new lovers tarry over the last dregs of wine at dinner, hoping to make the moment last forever and keep the ache of inevitable separation at bay.

It’s all longingly perfect. It’s all painfully temporary.

Soon there will be concerts in the park, backyard BBQ’s, pool parties, and long hikes. But in this moment, there are S’mores. There is a quiet breeze carrying our laughter, elongated toddler shadows chasing the setting sun.

Welcome summer indeed.

 

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Hurry

IMG_2749.jpgI recently bumped into this poem and, gracious, I’m feeling a tad (ok, more than a tad) guilty. I’ve already lost count of how many times I asked the Littles to hurry this week, and I’ve lost how many times I’ve cringed as I said it. A mental image of all three kids as adults, joking together, “Remember how Mom told us to vamanos rapida all the time?” is forever imprinted in the Mom-guilt part of my brain. (Among many many other things, I assure you.)

And indeed, what are we hurrying them along to? Adulthood? I find most adults are trying to hurry themselves along to something as well. Hurry to that weight loss goal, hurry to that perfect job, hurry up and start a family. And on and on it goes, as if we are scoring points for the shortest time. But who are we playing against? And what does it mean to win? Or to lose?

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ursula K Le Guin wrote this.

So I am attempting to learn at a toddler’s pace. The other day we explored our local zoo for one millionth time, as it is always a favorite hangout. But we didn’t hurry from animal to animal as we usually do. Instead I let the Littles lead the way. And my eyes were opened to parts of the well-traveled pathways as I had never seen them before. There were nooks and crannies we have walked past time and time again that I had never noticed. But the kids did. And they told me about the many times they had so wanted to go sit in a recessed hole, or stare at a particular animal for just a bit longer, but I had never known. And while I will say we don’t always have seven hours to spend everywhere, it was nice to see the old in a new-fashioned way.

So let us not hurry. Let us dawdle at times. Let others set the pace. Because remember: the journey isn’t about rules or regulations of an end, but in simple boundaries ripe with exploration. In the trying, and the trying again.

 

Wayfaring With Littles

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I traveled with the Teenager quite a bit when he was younger. He learned to skip in the forests of Kentucky, to analyze fossils in a desert rock quarry, to swim in the ocean along the California coast. Currently he is off on his own adventures on the Midwestern plains, balancing a love of the familiar with the wanderlust planted in his heart.

“What are the best snacks to pack for a roadtrip? What did you used to pack?”

And, for all the advice I can offer, I will simply say: find a way.

Find a way to make it work. Find a way to get out of your comfort zone. Get them to do the same. You will return more wrinkled than you left, both in skin and in cloth, but you will be forever changed because of it. Do not expect it to be easy. If you are looking for umbrella drinks on the beach, remember it’s more of an adventure than a vacation. Traveling with kids is not that.

But they won’t remember it, you say? They might not, but you will. You will remember the early risings, the complaints for the snacks you did not pack, the disdain for the ones you did. But you will also remember the flash in their eyes when they discover new landscapes, the smile appearing unbidden on their faces as they touch the new. You may get a picture of it on your phone, or it may just be a snapshot imprinted in your mind alone. It matters not.

You will remember the laps on the plane with a teething infant while traveling solo, the complimentary wine from the stewardess with the kind eyes after said baby finally passes out from exhaustion. It’s the least I can do, Honey, she says with a pat on your shoulder. You will remember those who wave to your toddler on the hiking trail, laughing off your apology for all the noise during their attempted peaceful morning stroll. You will remember repeatedly mentally thanking whomever for their invention of wet wipes, offering up a prayer they receive a special place in the afterlife.

You will remember it all. At first with a grimace, later with laughter.

If they do too, consider it a bonus. Their childhood memories may be more mundane: running through sprinklers, running through the grocery store. Birthday candles covered in bright icing, twinkling Christmas lights and snow angels.

They will have their own past.

Travel offers them a present. Travel offers them you being present. It offers a parent who is aware, a parent who proffers up themselves. Togetherness.

Can we ride the train twice this time?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

No, they might not remember it.

But you will.

Consistently Inconsistent

IMG_2034.jpgYour outfit is mostly grey, a friend tells me.

It’s my favorite color, I respond.

It’s a shade.

It’s a lesson, I reply.

Things I said I’d never do again:

  1. Eat chicken nuggets
  2. Shame my children
  3. Wear a crop top
  4. Straighten my hair again

I’ve been noticing the Nevers. I’m noticing how I don’t feel older but there are ribbons of light strands in amongst the dark chestnut.

The grey is in there too.

I’ve been thinking of the Nevers and Always we place on ourselves, the people others think we are, the people we think we should be, the people we think we are, the people we really are.

To fence ourselves in.

To keep others out.

____

I’ll never gonna bite my nails again, LD says over strawberries.

I resist the urge to channel my grandmother, to say Never say never!, offer a teachable moment, so instead I pop another berry into my mouth.

Yeah? I say.

Yeah, he answers.

____

I usually don’t eat nuggets, but there was that time I was reeeaallly hungry and the kids’ dinner was done before mine.

I don’t usually shame my children, but there was that time she behaved poorly and I behaved poorly and really, we couldn’t have weathered that storm any worse.

I don’t wear crop tops, but the other day…

I mostly don’t straighten my hair (but the humidity has been terrible and I missed it looking longer).

I’ll never get married again or have more kids after college, and yet…

Never, except for that one time.

Light, but also dark.

Mostly grey.

_____

We’ve been watching Charlotte’s Web on repeat these days. LD’s eyes dart back and forth as Wilbur jumps around.

I can’t find Charlotte! he states.

She’s in the corner, I tell him.

But not every time!

____

I hear often that consistency is the key to parenting. Let your Yes be Yes, let your No be No. Don’t make empty promises. And always remain consistent!

Always.

I used to strive for consistency. I used to think this was a worthy goal (perhaps it is). To be solid enough to stand rigid, firm, motionless in any circumstance.

A rock.

One who says “Never.”

And I’ve been noticing that they’re lies: those nevers; empty promises, vacant goals. They’re not always true anymore, perhaps never were, perhaps only existing in an imagination of extremes, of perfect case scenarios.

Black and white.

And it’s just that I’m getting used to the contradiction.

I woke the other night to damp shoulders. I had slept fitfully. My mind played a film reel on repeat of my past roles: an archaeologist digging in the desert sands, learning to scuba dive in college, a random memory of me as a child on my grandparents’ front porch during a heat lightning storm.

Light and dark.

____

The kids are watching Charlotte’s Web again. LD hops off the couch and proceeds to float through the living room during “Chin up.”

This is the song I can never find Charlotte, except sometimes I can. Isn’t that funny??

It is, I nod.

It is.