Monthly Archives: January 2015

Clouds In My Pocket

A few weekends ago, I took the kids up to visit my parents. It was a difficult five-hour drive. My little girl was unusually crabby and cried the whole time. She usually just hangs out and looks at books and sings. She cried because she missed seeing the police. She cried because she couldn’t see cows. I pointed out the window and said, “Look, horses!” She said she didn’t want to. Then she cried for 30 minutes because she missed seeing the horses. In the midst of her crying and O’s normal barrage of questions, my irritation growing, I looked out my window. In an instant, the irritation was gone. The sky was spectacular. It wasn’t quite a sunset, yet. The sun was veiled behind a patchwork of clouds, like little dabs of a paintbrush dotted across the sky. You could see the exact, perfect sphere of the sun burning behind the cloud curtain. The sky in Texas is so big and seems to go on forever and looking into its infinite vastness is somehow comforting and unsettling at the same time. I was thinking about how beautiful it was, and how miserable my kids were and wondering about how two things could exist at the same time. Then baby girl stopped crying and said, “Look mama! Look at the cwouds!” O said, “I need to take a picture!” He got out his camera his Auntie Em got him for Christmas and started snapping and angling his camera this way and that. My little one said, “But it’s not pink, mama, or orange. Just blue!” And O said, “I want to put those clouds in my pocket”.

We spent the next ten minutes trying to speed up or slow down to capture the perfect shot for him. Baby girl continued to giggle gleefully and point at the sky. As we rounded the curve into our home stretch, the clouds took their bow and began to slide away and the sun began its business of setting. And the sky exploded into color- fuchsia and orange and gold mingling into a swirly rose gold fire. I couldn’t stop looking at it, this majestic showing-off.

Looking at my kids’ faces in the rearview mirror, I felt that familiar glow of peace and joy and pain that marks these kind of moments- that it’s-so-beautiful-it-hurts kind of feeling. I was quiet and still, almost holding my breath so as not to disturb these creatures in the wild. One false move and the moment would slip away.

Like all parents, I think often of what I want my kids to know, of how I want to parent them, of what I hope I am teaching them. There are the typical things- to be kind, to be curious, to love deep and well, to find passion, to be bold. To be independent and stand up for themselves. Laugh a lot. Know it’s okay to cry. But there is this other, intangible thing I desperately wish for them to know. And it’s moments like this. I want them to be awed by the world. I want them to walk outside and have to stop and stand still because the sight of the moon in the night sky is just too overwhelming. I want them to really see the world, it’s beauty and it’s pain, the magic and the mess. And I have no idea how to teach that. There are no instruction books on how to fall in love with the wildness of the world.

So when it happens, I simply give a silent prayer of thanks. I don’t know how it happens, I don’t know if it’s something innate in them, I don’t know if all kids have it and lose it. I have no idea if they pick up on it from me. All that matters is that it happens, now and again, this stilling of the world. It lasted until the sunset finally burned itself out. Then we had a dance party, the exhilaration carrying us a bit further. Then baby girl started crying because it was too loud and she didn’t like that song and she wanted Cheetos. And O started his questions: “How many minutes to Gram and Pop’s? How many seconds are in a thousand minutes? Can you count to infinity? How many seconds are in infinity? Are there such thing as army ants?” The moment passed, slipping away into a memory. It was a terrible four and a half hour drive, with thirty minutes of magic. It was so worth it.



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Upside Down, You Turn Me

Things have been pretty smooth lately. Which is why I shouldn’t be surprised that Monday things went upside down. I didn’t feel well all day- nothing specific, just a general malaise. I had plans to get a lot done, especially some writing, but all I managed to do was force myself to go to the grocery store. I walked in the door into that special kind of chaos that happens when you mix the witching hour with two overtired kids and a mom that had been out running errands. I don’t know about your kids, but for some reason mine go crazy when I’ve been away from them for a few hours. The babysitter swears they are calm, and then I walk in the door and the crazy gets cranked up.

I push open the door with my hip, balancing my keys and a bag with a carton of milk and a bag with eggs in it. The dog, a 100 lb wiggler, starts pushing his head into me, while jumping side to side with his back legs. My daughter rushes in. “Momma’s here, momma’s here,” she squeals and starts twirling. “Hug and kiss, hug and kiss, hug and kiss”, she chants. My son begins with the questions. “Mom, can you come look at my new office? Mom, can I write a contract on your computer? Mom, can I have a snack? What time is dad getting home? Can I have a play date?” All. At. Once.

I manage not to yell. I remind my son that anything he asks me gets an automatic no until I can come in and get settled. I drop the groceries and the keys, hold the screen door open so the dog can get out from under my feet, and scoop up my daughter for her hug and kiss. This is all it takes to ruin my planned evening of tacos and early bedtime, a fire and watching the Ohio State vs Oregon national championship game with my husband. Because I had not closed the gate.

I chat with the sitter, get all the groceries inside, check out all of my son’s creations, and get the kids settled for a few minutes so I can put away the groceries and start dinner.

The doorbell rings. My neighbor, John, says he just saw my dog run out of our backyard and down the street. Shit, I think. The gate. It’s dark and raining and cold. It’s also rush hour and we live a few houses away from a very busy street. That the dog always tries to cross.

My first thought is annoyance, that I have to go look for the damn dog. I don’t have time for this, frankly. And then I look at my kids. My son has a frown and my daughter’s eyes are big.

“Wider is gone? Doggy gone? Oh no poor Wider! Poor doggie!” says the little one as she twirls.

“Where is he? Will someone kidnap him? What if he’s hit by a car? What do we do? Call the police?” His voice has gotten very high. Then it shifts into the faux deep voice he puts on when he’s trying to act like a grown-up. “Actually, I got this, I’m calling 911”, he says and heads to the phone, his little hands on his hips. Rider has recently begun sleeping in my son’s room, at the foot of his bed. My son does not like to be alone, and the presence of the dog has made our bedtime routine a whole lot easier. My son has started saying Rider is his dog. He feeds him and talks to him, and takes him on patrol.

My heart sinks when I realize not only that this affects me, but this is really going to affect my kids. I stop my son from calling 911. I pick up my daughter and tell my son to follow me. We go out into the dark and cold and scream for him. Often he’s just next door. But after checking all of our neighbor’s houses, I am actually starting to get worried.

My husband texts me. Something blew up at work, he has to work late. Damn it. Just then, my neighbor Sarah comes out. She offers to take my kids to her house while I go look. A small something softens inside me, a tiny relief to not be completely alone in this. My son happily runs inside her house, but my daughter won’t let go of me. So I throw her in the car and we drive the streets, windows down on this cold and rainy night, yelling and hoping.

My daughter is worried but also gleefully repeats whatever I say. “Rider! Rider dog! Where are you?” I say. “Wider! Wider, good wittle doggy. Where are you?”, she shouts. We drive the dark streets and I am really worried now. I stop and ask people if they’ve seen a big black dog. Every time we cross the busy street, I brace myself to see a large lump on the road. I see nothing. He’s disappeared.

We drive home and I go to collect my son. I tell Sarah it’s been one of those days and I still have to unload the groceries. She instantly says, “Let your kids eat with mine.” I start to say the expected “Are you sure?” but instead just say “Thank you”. The thought of dinner almost undoes me. She takes them in and I go home. Put away the sweating ice cream and milk. The taco meat and shells. My house is too quiet, no kids and no dog. This is how things happen. A normal boring evening gets turned upside down by one action.

I go back to Sarah’s. My kids are eating macaroni and cheese and broccoli with hers. We sit and chat. I keep my phone out, hoping and praying someone will call. Bedtime without Rider is something I can’t think about. Sarah and I chat about the nothingness of our days, the sameness and the shared rolling of our eyes a balm to my chapped nerves. This is what great neighbors do, I think.

The phone rings, someone has found our dog. I run out in the rain to grab him. Two women are sitting on a corner, five blocks away, with a wet and stinky Rider. One noticed him on her way out to do an errand. She stopped and got out of her car, grabbed him and called the number on the collar. And then waited in the cold and dark.

I over-thanked them, got the dog in the car, collected my kids and got home. The house was a mess, but the kids were fed and the groceries put away. I corralled them upstairs, baths and bedtime stories, rocked one, laid down with the other and listened to him talk about his day while Willie Nelson crooned underneath it all. Rider thumped his tail, exhausted from his adventure.

I went downstairs and collapsed on the couch. I was too tired to grill the veggies I planned. It was too late for the fire. I made some soup and put on Downton Abbey instead of football. And closed my eyes and gave a small prayer of thanks. For people that care. For John for letting us know that Rider was gone. For Sarah who knew instantly what I needed and offered, who fed my kids and calmed my nerves and never made me feel like a mess of a bad mother. For Rebecca and Renata, who interrupted their own busy lives to return my dog. Each and every one of them didn’t have to do a single thing. John and Sarah could have just stayed in their warm houses. Rebecca certainly could have seen a dog running down the street and assumed it would find its way home. I’m not sure that many people would inconvenience their own lives at 6 pm on a rainy, cold Monday evening in that way.

It reminds me that we need to honor our instincts to help, to get involved. I’m not sure I always do, but after seeing how one small thing made such a big difference in our lives, I’m vowing to do better.




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The Weight of the Passing of All Things

“Being alive, it seems, means learning to bear the weight of the passing of all things. It means finding a way to lightly hold all the places we’ve loved and left anyway, all the moments and days and years that have already been lived and lost to memory, even as we live on in the here and now, knowing full well that this moment, too, is already gone. It means, always, allowing for the hard truth of endings. It means, too, keeping faith in beginnings.”

~Katrina Kenison, The Gift of An Ordinary Day

Oh my, oh yes. Reading this heart-filling gem of a book right now (finally). The page preceding the above quote had me in tears in the middle of the cafe where I was having breakfast. It starts: “I wish for everything back that ever was, everything that once seemed like forever and yet has vanished”. Go read this book.

Happy New Year! Here’s to allowing things to end gracefully, and being filled up by beginnings.


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