Sweet Spot

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The day winds down, groceries put away, cats pawing at the backdoor. The toddler finds her shovel. I hose the hostas and she runs through the spray and a misty rainbow rises. “Mama, put on my garden shoes.” I kneel down before tiny feet and help them into rubber clogs. I fill the big watering can and together we carry it, walking slowly over the bumpy tree roots, water splashing, until we reach the garden, where a few of the tomato plants have fainted away from their stakes. We pour the water slowly. She wanders with her shovel, digging and throwing dirt clouds into the air around us, her wet dress caked with mud. A white butterfly hovers over a marigold and flutters away. Eggplant leaves sway. A fly buzzes. Here we are, inside the day’s sweet spot.

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Developmental Leap

Sometimes I wonder if I omit too much of the grit. When I sit down to write, my mind wanders to the beauty hiding inside the day, even when the day isn’t an easy one. Gratitude springs up, sturdy and determined, like the tomato plants out back.

But there is the dirt and muck and mess too. There is a toddler alternating between laughter and meltdowns. Her language bursts with new vocabulary and complex sentences. She knows entire songs by heart and demands Baby Beluga on repeat. She hops like a frog exclaiming, “ribbit!” She is keen and witty and charming. And lately, during transitions, she exerts her will, throwing her body backwards and soaring into hysterics, drawing out a high-pitched wail, sometimes just for the pleasure of being able to make the sound, release all that energy.

When she was a baby, I felt blindsided by these phases. Now I quickly identify them as developmental leaps. Knowing that they’re temporary helps. Sometimes I’m able to mitigate a tantrum with grace. Other times I lose it and let her know I can yell just as loudly.

It’s hard not to kick and scream through uncomfortable transitions. Adults have their own internalized versions, that undercurrent of anxiety, the lower-pitch of a grumpy mood. Perhaps our developmental leaps can’t be mapped as predictably as a child’s, but we too stretch and grow, acquire new skills, see the world in new ways, grow into the next version of ourselves.

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Motherhood and Writing

Antonia Malchik’s essay “One Woman’s Meat“makes my heart sing.

“The absence of mothers still penetrates literature, even today when the call to listen to and publish diverse voices is making its first dents in the traditional canon. Writing by mothers can be easy to dismiss, especially if the writer happens to be writing about the experience of motherhood itself—a subject treated so derisively that it spawned the term “mommy blogger.” A scornful way to turn our backs on women’s efforts to make some sense of this visceral, maddening, joyful, terrifying experience. A high-minded dismissal of mothers’ attempts to find some connection and community, places where we can share stories of motherhood’s various challenges and the ways in which they burrow deep into every individual mother, permanently changing her sense of self.”

“…There are two billion mothers in the world. The way that these mothers raise their children to be eventual adults has an impact on everyone around them. Yet we still behave as if those mothers’ stories—our stories—are somehow lesser.”

“…Motherhood exposes us to our raw animal instincts; the domestic life keeps us bound to the rhythms of the planet and the passing of our numbered days. Are we so afraid to admit that these subjects are just as worthy of our attention and accolades as any other narrative?”

“…How we assess the value of this the chewiest, densest area of our lives taints how we perceive a woman’s literary treatment of anything at all. Women won’t get published equitably until this kind of work, this daily living, is held to be as truly valuable and individual as the rest of society’s experiences. There is fat and bone in the way we raise children, clean house, and strive to keep ourselves whole. Just as there is fiber and sinew in the way women fall in love, pursue astronomy, research World War II, trek through Patagonia, experience heartbreak and betrayal. There’s meat there, if we would only taste it.”

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Cathedral Maple

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On Saturday night at the barbecue, everyone gathered around the picnic table eating, drinking, toasting, laughing. We were serenaded by a live band playing at another party a few houses away. The air was breezy and mild. And upstairs the little toddler slept soundly.

As the night went on, people gravitated toward our old maple tree, the heart of our backyard. At one point, I found my brother-in-law and a friend gazing up into the branches, remarking on the maple’s tremendous height, the careful pruning, its possible age. I told them the story about the open house last year when we first saw the property. I loved the house, but I felt drawn to the backyard. I went out to wander more than once, placed my hand on the old maple’s trunk and promised I would return.

We all sat around the fire sharing conversation beneath the cathedral branches. We hadn’t thought about where to set up the fire, we just ended up there, drawn to the maple’s presence.

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Celebration

Tonight, a party. A small barbecue with old friends who don’t mind that I dragged my feet toward 40 and planned everything at the last minute. Friends happy to make a cheese plate and bake me a cake. Friends ready to celebrate, just say when. The weather is perfect cloudless blue sky breezy warm summertime. Sunflowers on the picnic table and an outdoor fire. The first party we’ve hosted since we moved in almost a year ago. Time to celebrate, blow out candles, make a wish.

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Wake Up

I have not woken up to an alarm clock in two and a half years. We wake before dawn, between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., soft slivers of pink light glowing between the slats of the blinds. Tiny toddler hands cradle my face, and she kisses my cheek. Ten to fifteen kisses and I love yous while I struggle to open my eyes. The sweetest wake up.

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This is 40

img_6563-2Everyone asked me, how will you celebrate your 40th? A teenage version of me scowled, I don’t know. A toddler version of me stomped my foot. Today, on my birthday, I’m laughing at these other me’s who’ve been so resistant to the inevitable. (Graceful transitions have never been my thing.) But I woke up this morning so happy. Look at how far I’ve made it! Look at how beautiful this time in my life is, this exact moment. So much emerging, growing, flourishing. Four decades flew by and landed me here, inside heaps of happiness.

 

40 is new motherhood at midlife. It’s waking up to my two-year old announcing, “Happy birthday, Mommy! I love you!”

40 is being married to a good man, a true heart. It’s watching my husband with my daughter and seeing a dream realized.

40 is a house with a front porch and a rambling backyard. It’s rooted and grounded.

40 is learning to live with uncertainty. It’s believing that ultimately, it will all work out. And even if it doesn’t, that’s okay too.

40 is the gift of parents and stepparents, happy and in good health. It’s the joy  of seeing them with their granddaughter. My toddler on her Papa’s shoulders or snuggled with her Grammie reading a book. It’s a new and profound appreciation for my parents’ dedication, hard work, and unconditional love raising my sisters and brother and me.

40 is the difference between dreaming and doing.

40 is believing in myself. It is brave.

40 is having traveled so far. From the Grand Canyon to Uluru. The blue stained glass of Chagall’s chapel to the music of the ocean dragging across the rocky shore in Nice, and far more beautiful, the laughter of my daughter beneath a cathedral of maple branches.

40 is having sisters who are also my best friends.

40 is knowing who I am and who I’m not. It’s writing my own narrative.

40 is reliving the highlights of my early childhood through the experiences of my daughter.

40 is running for fitness, not weight loss. Strength of body, strength of mind.

40 is knowing I look good in dresses, not skirts, and never buying a skirt again.

40 is writing. Every single day.

40 is published.

40 is listening to a lot of Raffi and singing nursery rhymes.

40 is a new and stronger feminism.

40 is accepting that, though I may never kill the voice of self-doubt, that ruthless second-guesser, I don’t have to listen to it or let it decide.

40 is observing wildlife, naming the birds, paying attention.

40 is sometimes still falling into the habit of spinning my wheels, frantic to get traction, then remembering that’s not how traction is achieved.

40 is being the same hippy I was in the ’70s at age 3 and in the early ’90s as a teenager.

40 is valuing kindness and connection. It’s choosing words carefully. It’s mindful of the feelings of others.

40 is looking back on more highlights than regrets.

40 is deep gratitude for the endurance of old friendships and the people who lift me up.

40 is the fulfillment of my heart’s desires. It’s the most beautiful my life has ever been.

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Looking Back

Tonight, on the eve of my 40th birthday, I can’t quite believe I’ve arrived here at midlife. I survey the past from atop a high mesa, hand to forehead shielding the sun from my eyes. All that changing landscape. Some rough terrain and some forgiving. Places I thought I might not survive, places I wanted to stay forever. I squint into the distance, unable to make out the horizon. The vista is not unblemished, but mostly exquisite in its beauty. Gratitude fills me up. And I feel those 40 years.

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The Work of Happiness

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My inspiring writer friend Rachel turned my attention to May Sarton this morning and started this first day of summer on the perfect note.

A poem to keep like a prayer, rote, repeated, known.

The Work of Happiness
By May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall—
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

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