Bling

My now seven-year-old reached a milestone yesterday: she got her ears pierced.  She’d been waiting for two years – asked me when she was five and I said seven was the magic number, not sure why.  Mostly I wanted to make it some time in the distant future, and I had a faint memory of being seven when I got my own ears pierced, though I’ve since discovered I was way off.  It was just a number I was throwing out to put off the inevitable, but Lily latched onto it as she does all things in which she’s interested.  That girl is determined.  So SEVEN became a beacon for her, lighting the way toward big-girldom.  Toward bling.

We went to Claire’s recently on a mom and daughter date, post-donut and pre-library.  And when we walked in, Lily lit up.  Not like when we go to Sylas and Maddys for ice cream, or  when Nana shows up as a surprise.  It wasn’t just delight.  It was delight, plus awe, plus let’s-get-down-to-business-here-and-look-at-EVERYTHING.  Different than anything I’d witnessed in her big brown eyes before.

Sometimes Lily’s love of glitz and glamour nauseates me.  Sequins and glitter and furry trim, pink and pink and more pink.  It makes me want to give her a science textbook and some shin guards.  Steer her away from the typical, ditzy-girl stereotypes and toward something to better her mind and heart.  Make her strong, secure in herself without all the adornments.  But when I saw the utter joy on her face I had a realization: I was the same way.  I remembered being nearly seven and loving all things fancy.  I wore my ballet skirt and dress-up clothes like uniforms, adored anything shiny or covered in organza, longed for the day I could wear make-up and painted my toe-nails glittery shades as soon as I was allowed.

I forgot that I was just as bling-loving when I was young.  It’s been a long time since Hello Kitty was my preferred necklace charm.  Eventually I started to love muted colors, torn jeans, less bows and more Birkenstocks.  Pink wasn’t cool anymore.  Black and brown and olive green were better, and by the time I was in college I was in full oversized-flannels-and-giant-overalls mode, looking less like a woman than an earth-toned, unisex blob.  Make-up was silly, knowing how to “do” my hair was a waste.  I focused on my mind and heart, living comfortably in my skin without the adornments.

Except that I wasn’t comfortable.  I hadn’t realized the balance yet – that I could love both pink and black.  Could wear a bit of make-up without looking like I just stepped off a theater stage.  That having a hair style was ok, and my future husband would appreciate it.  A little bling didn’t mean I was dumb, just that I liked it.  I had swung to the other end of the fancy spectrum and it took a while to find my way back to the middle.

I forgot about that epic journey and wanted Lily in the mid-range with me right away.  Which was silly.  Just as silly as My Little Pony studs.  But less fun.

So I went with it.  Decided to go all in on this girl-time and do what she wanted most: to look at EVERYTHING.  With interest, not the distracted “uh-huh”s I dish out so often, but real, wow-look-at-these intensityWe spent lots of time in the earrings, then the lip gloss section, then the rainbow hair extensions and chalk, and finally chose a few things to buy.  When I decided to jump in it was fun.  Joining in on her love of bling, just because she loves it, was good for both of us.

So yesterday the ear-piercing was a celebration.  Of Lily turning seven, and of me embracing my daughter.  Just as she is.  She chose her birthstone for her first studs: fancy (fake) sapphires.  They look lovely in her tiny little lobes.  She was tough amidst the pain we suffer for beauty – tried not to cry until I said it was okay to let it out.  Then she curled up to me and wept.  I remember that, too.  The surprise of your skin being punctured, even though you know it’s coming.  I held her, rubbed her back, and congratulated her on this big event.  And after a few more tears she looked up at me with her conquering eyes.  She was proud of herself.  Comfortable in her own skin, even with the new adornments.  Which is all I ever wanted.

 

Jumping In

In this first semester of having all three kids in school, I’m going out on a limb and taking a class called Abstraction at the Arts Center in my little college town.  It will involve drawing and painting with various media, all under the tent of “abstract,” which due to it’s nature is hard for me to wrap my head around.  And the very reason it’s good for me.

Abstraction: the act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances. (dictionary.com)

Apart from concrete realities.  That does not describe me.  I like a plan, I’m a habitual eater (veggies and hummus, apples and peanut butter EVERY DAY for lunch), I organize my closet based on color and length of sleeve.

I could use a little abstraction in my life.

In our first class this week we did a drawing exercise.  An abstract one, technically.  But it had all sorts of rules: look only at the model, don’t look at the paper, and don’t pick up your pen.  Did I mention I’ve never taken a drawing or painting class? Ever.  I participated in art class in elementary through junior high, but I was almost always the last to begin and rarely finished, due to an intense need to get it right.  Getting it right was about following the rules, yes, but also about deciding on the very best art I could make.  What should I do?  Perfectionism spurred by fear and a love of beauty.  I wanted to make something beautiful.  I wanted to do my art well.

Writing used to be the same for me.  I hesitated to begin an essay or a story, because I wanted to get it right.  Wanted to write the whole thing, start to finish, nearly perfectly the first time.  I hated editing.  I’d rather think and think before I penned a single word than have to re-think a section.  Which never worked.  I’ve gotten much better at just starting and letting it go where it goes.  Sometimes I begin with the beginning, sometimes the middle, and occasionally the end.  Then I work around what’s there, often scrapping the first lines I wrote altogether.  I’ve gotten better at the do-over, which is good since it’s inevitable.  Better to embrace imperfection and jump right in.

Here’s the funny thing: I love abstract art.  Much more than literal depictions of country scenes or sitting portraits.  I like the lack of rules, the expansive room for interpretation, or no interpretation at all other than a feeling.  One that is subjective.  I like color and shape and how a combo of them can make me happy or sad or really calm.  How an abstract piece in my house can set a mood without necessarily meaning to.  I like that I can like it, without any deep artistic reasoning other than my personal preference.  There’s all kinds of freedom in that.

During that drawing exercise from my first class, I failed miserably.  Broke all the rules in my desire to make my depiction look good.  My teacher made sure I looked only at her for the next pose.  It was almost more than I could handle.  Knowing I was drawing all kinds of ridiculousness on my paper, wondering if I was putting her eyes near her knees, or if I was “supposed” to include eyes at all.  I was lost in the mix of no-rules-but-lots-of-rules situation and felt like an idiot.  I was doing it exactly wrong.  In every way.

At the end of class my teacher said the most important thing was to avoid being overly critical of ourselves.  So I also broke the most important rule.  Because I thought I sucked.  I needed to let my ridiculous picture be ok with me.  The point was not to make something beautiful, but to see the model, to let our style emerge, and for me, to give myself the freedom to let my image look however it looked.  To be abstract.  

We’ll see how I do in my class.  It’s hard to say at this point, but I’m hopeful.  That I’ll be able to jump off the cliff from concrete into abstraction and dive deep, arms flailing and feeling fine about it all.  Or terrified, but letting it happen anyway.  And at the very least, I can hope to earn the title “most improved.”

Both/And

I live across the street from fraternities.  Several of them.  And the house next door is (illegally) full of college guys as well.  Yes, it’s like the movie with Seth Rogen, except not at all really.  I get that a lot.

We live right next to the University of Kansas campus, at the top of a hill that students and professors (and the guy who sings along with what sound like pirate shanteys on his headphones) climb to go to class, feeling both exhausted and relieved when they reach our spot, the hard part of their walk being complete.  Each day, as my kids throw on backpacks, put on shoes and head out for school, countless college students are criss-crossing in front of our house.  Up and down the hill, crossing the street, zipping around the corner in their SUVs.   There’s an electric feeling when we step out the door, part of all that activity.  That movement and energy – the feelings of anticipation or dread for classes that each of those people carry with them.  We like it.  We like that buzz.

And then there’s the summer, when all the students have gone home.  The fraternities put their couches (inexplicably) in large shipping containers in the parking lots and head out.  Only a trickle of students climb our hill for summer school, with less enthusiasm, knowing they’re missing all the fun.  The mood is more calm, fitting the lazy days of sleeping in and wearing pjs til noon.  Riding bikes in the empty parking lot across the street.  Heading to the pool when the heat sets in and staying up late because we can.  The buzz is gone.  Mellow has taken it’s place, and we breathe it in.  We like it, too.  The buzz and the calm, both good in turn.  When the time is right and the mood in the air fits our own.

There’s a theme I’ve noticed in my writing, and my life.  Both/and.  I like a mix.  I like to travel, and I like coming home.  I like time with my kids and I like time to myself.  I like the difference of each season (although winter could end in January if you asked me) and welcome them when they arrive.  All traveling or staying put, all together or apart, all any one season and I’d freak out.  Get antsy for the other and ill at ease in my own skin.  I’d get grumpy (i.e. when February hits), and nobody wants that.  So I’m glad for both/and.  The electric buzz of college students in the fall, the lazy calm of summer, and the mix of all good things: escaping Kansas in February and traveling with my family.  Yay.  It’s a recipe for happiness in my world.  And I’m thankful for all the ingredients.

I think today, as the students head home with the joy and relief of a Friday afternoon, the frat boys play a game of pick up in the now full parking lot, and the pirate shantey guy belts out his odd-but-happy tunes, I’ll sit out front and soak it in.  Have a beer in their honor.  Thank them silently for their uplift, even if cans of Natty Light aren’t my preferred yard art.  They have their good points.  Namely being gone for the summer and back for the fall, making the atmosphere alive and fun and full of life.  I might not like the “buzz” of living near a college at 2:00 AM, but overall I’m glad for both/and.  Cheers, frat boys.

A Little Alone/ A Little Together

That feeling of loss when you drop off your last kid at preschool.  The sudden shortness of breath, the little empty space in your soul, the guilty feeling of not being with her all day anymore.  I didn’t have it.

When I dropped Mae off for her first day of daily organized education I didn’t even flinch.  And neither did she.  “Bye, Mommy!” she chirped, running off to discover the playground.  “Bye, baby” I said, and drove off for a date with my six-year-old before her school started two days later.  That day was a slightly weirder experience, but not particularly sad.  As I walked out of the elementary school doors, all three kids outside of my realm of responsibility, I felt untethered, a little lost, but certainly free and not a bit melancholy.  I had a mission: Zumba class and errands.  With much more accomplished in two-and-a-half hours than I could ever manage with a child in-tow.

I was glad to be glad.  Glad I wasn’t bummed about this new stage.  “This is healthy,” I thought.  How I’d hoped I’d feel.  No one wants to be sad.  But then I wondered if I should be sad.  Never miss a chance to over analyze a situation, that’s my (terrible) motto.  Should I feel worse?  Maybe guilty, drained of purpose, mourning the loss of the precious tiny-tots stage of my life?  Because I didn’t.  That stage is precious, but it ain’t no secret that it’s also physically and mentally draining.

Believe me, I loved becoming a mother.  Felt greater purpose in that than anything I’d done before.  Loved my kids more than anything I’d ever known.  And yet.  When your job is to care for helpless little people -to stay with them even when you want to be alone, to bring them into the store so that it takes four times as long and everyone is grumpy when you leave, instead of going alone – it can make you feel trapped.  A prisoner of Raffi music and poopy diapers and making perpetual snacks.  It makes sense to not enjoy every bit of that.

Everyone says as mothers we should savor this time with our little ones, because someday they will be gone and we’ll look back with fondness.  It goes by so fast.  Which is true.  After it’s over. “The days are long and the years are short.”  I know eventually I will remember these years with misty eyes, but when you’re doing the day-to-day cleaning up and potty training and wrangling your ape-like children at the library it does not go fast.  It goes like a line at the DMV in L.A.  But with small people climbing on you.  It’s hard to savor that.

So, after my moment of over-analyzation about smiling while leaving my very last child at preschool, I let it go.  I don’t have to miss that stage.  I can miss parts of it, can and will look back on it with fondness in some ways, but I can also enjoy the bit of freedom.  After ten years of all-day-every-day, I can be glad for my two and a half hours to be alone, or be with grown-ups, or run errands quickly, write, do laundry and not multi-task, take a painting class (yes!), exercise without worrying about the germs-du-jour in the childcare room at the gym, make phone calls, shop for rain boots online, even take a nap if I feel awful.  Yay.

***

Then it hit.  One morning I went to a meeting – one which I’ve gone to for years, with my kids who would go to the childcare area with all the other kids so the moms could be just women for a while.  But this time I arrived without my toddler-in-tow, and it hit.  I no longer needed the childcare option.  I just showed up alone.  Oof.  I don’t know why that’s when the feelings decided to come, but they did and I felt at once sad and glad.  Sad because my kids are growing up, and glad because at least I felt it.  It wasn’t awful, just enough for discomfort, but it was there.  I did love my children after all.  Good deal.

And now I’m back to enjoying a morning of freedom, knowing I’ll see my sweet three-year-old later.  I have a feeling the kindergarten drop-off will be much worse, but I’ll leave that for then.  For now, I’m happy with my mix – a little alone, a little together.  It’s just about right.