Party Day

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My little three-year-old had the most wonderful time at her party today, and it made my heart so happy.

Over the last year, she’s gone from shy toddler to party lover. So I planned ahead and booked it at our local gymnastics place, where I knew the kids would be free to run and play. Two gymnastics teachers led them in a few games, and Isabella ran around the room like a little sprite before joining the group. She went back and forth, partaking in games and running wild, and I just loved watching her enjoy herself. It was one of those parties that couldn’t have gone better. Fun, relaxed, and perfectly timed. Everyone seemed so happy.

Afterward, my sister sent me this incredible photo. My tiny, sweet just-turned-three-year-old gazing up at all those candles. Every once in a great while, there’s that shot that captures it all perfectly.

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This is 3!

 

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This is 3! We hung the birthday sign and the paper chain and blew up balloons. I made blueberry pancakes and lit a candle and we sang, all before sun up. I was a full and present parent who didn’t try to juggle other tasks into the day. She chose the Peabody museum, so we went to New Haven and, as luck would have it, they were feeding the bearded dragons and frogs and Vietnamese walking sticks, so we got to hold and touch and marvel up close. In the afternoon it was warm enough to go to the beach and build sandcastles. I’m still off food from the stomach flu, so when my mom offered dinner and a birthday muffin, I said, oh yes please! (I’m getting a lot better now at saying, yes, thank you for your offer to help, I’ll take it!)

I would like to write another ode to age 2, but I’ve been catching up on my course, and must save it for the weekend.

Thank you, dear readers, for hanging in there and leaving so many kind comments during this stretch of thin posts and two bouts of illness. It was a beautiful day celebrating my sweet girl and I’m feeling so grateful.

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Intentions

A big thank-you to the writers who got me through this foggy first week of 2017 with their inspiring new year’s posts. Kathy’s newest essay Voided Checks reflects on practice, gratitude, patience, and how we respond to life’s challenges. Tara Borin chose “practice” as her word of the year for 2017 and had me thinking about a word (or three) I might choose to shape this new year. Sarah at Mourning Dove Motherhood coasted me through the holidays with her infectious optimism and humor. I especially loved her post Winds Are Slowly Filling Our Sails, a meditation on the way shifting our lives in a new direction often feels slow, uncertain, and zig-zaggy, like changing direction while sailing. Rachel’s latest post at Last American Childhood swept me away with its beauty and brought me back to that place of life-as-narrative. I’m so grateful for these strong voices and the art they create and put out into the world. Whether you’re seeking inspiration in the new year or just looking for a good read, go check them out!

I’ve finally managed to organize some intentions for the new year. (Note: you’ll never catch me announcing a resolution. Too inflexible!) Which brings me to my first word.

Flexible. This year I want to be more flexible. Go with the flow. Accept the unexpected with grace. I don’t like surprises or sudden changes in plans. It takes me time to adjust. But life is full of surprises. Already, the new year has hurled curveballs at me. A few things that have helped me become more flexible: pausing, taking a breath, writing, sleeping on it (if possible). To be flexible is to be open to change. To bend rather than break. To continually meet life in the present moment.

Gentle. This year I want to be more gentle. With my child. With my partner. With my family and friends. With myself. My writing practice has made me less judgmental and more empathetic. I want to keep cultivating that. Gentle isn’t rushed or hurried or distracted. Gentle isn’t harsh or demanding. It’s not impatient or unkind. To be gentle is to take care. To seek to understand. To be compassionate.

Celebrate! This year I want to celebrate moments big and small. From newly fallen snow to milestone birthdays. I want to relax into events and holidays without getting worked up or overwhelmed or rushing around like a maniac. I want to enjoy things as they happen. Loosen up and have fun. I want to hang the sign and blow up the balloons and remember to send the card on time. I can’t wait to put this one into practice next week when we celebrate Isabella’s third birthday!

Those are my zen intentions. To counterbalance, I have a long list of ass-kicking goals for 2017 written in my notebook, because how could I not?

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What To Do

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I feel a strange foreboding. Maybe it’s just a mood. Or a sense of imminent change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of separation. Unease. Maybe it’s overconsumption of the news cycle. The way it renders me inert. What is the next right action? I think, smile. First, just smile at the kids. Toss the ball in the air. Notice the cranberry-colored leaves and the white leaves covering the grass like confetti, like wedding petals, like evidence of a grand party, like so many wishes, a soft, extravagant carpet for your feet to tread. Notice the light. Lift your face to the sun. Watch the way it spills through the branches and scatters itself over the ground. Then think of the next thing you must do. Choose one thing. And see it through.

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Horseback Riding

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I’ve spent too many posts relying on subtext to tell the truth of each day, so here’s one where I’ll state it plain.

I rode horses for a few years as a kid. Western style, not English. I remember the excitement of picking out real cowgirl boots. I know how to saddle, bridle, brush, and clean the caked mud from hooves. My body knows the rhythm of walk, trot, cantor, gallop. I love trail rides, but the ring is best for galloping. During a competition when I was ten, the saddle wasn’t tightened, and on the return loop, it slid from my horse taking me with it. I don’t remember the fall; I want to say I might’ve even landed on my feet. I know I managed not to get trampled. Once during a lesson, another horse bit mine and he reared up, front legs reaching into the air, chucking me backwards, but I held on. Those were the only memorable events, those and the time a horse stepped on my foot. I loved driving to the stable, the routine of readying the horse, just being close to those majestic creatures, and of course I loved to ride.

At some point during my pregnancy, I told my brother I missed riding horses. I don’t know what prompted it, I just wanted to be out in the woods horseback riding. A fleeting notion. Many months later, when my daughter was just 5 months old, my brother stopped by with a birthday present that he and my siblings had arranged. I’ll never forget, it was the middle of the day and he was dressed in his suit looking so polished and handsome. The baby had just dozed off and I was lying in bed with her, delirious from long-term sleep-deprivation. The place was surely a mess. By then my brother had a 2-year-old and understood, but I still felt embarrassed. He smiled, handed me an envelop, and whispered, “Open it.” Inside were two gift certificates to a stable a few towns away. Apparently the stable did not routinely offer gift certificates, but were happy to accommodate the request and created two by hand (see above picture). The font on the backside is mismatched and each certificate contains different information. He had to wait a bit while they made them up. We laughed and laughed, silent-don’t-wake-the-baby laughter bubbling into tears streaming down my cheeks, which turned into real tears after he’d left–I was so moved by the thoughtful nature of the gift, that he remembered after all that time, a whim from a passing conversation.

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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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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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Birthday Vibes

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It keeps coming up: what do you want to do for your 40th birthday? 

Nothing, I said.

Eh, maybe kayaking, I said. Maybe lobsters.

Something quiet, I said.

I have not been able to muster any enthusiasm for the big 4-0. Until yesterday when this birthday card arrived in the mail for Chris. I stared at the cartoon for a while, smiling. Yes, I thought, this is what I want my birthday to feel like.

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