Love Over Lust

I feel love in the age of lust.

I feel love in the age of desire.

That snippet of a song was playing as I walked through the kitchen one morning. Just two lines, but my ears perked up. I then googled it and found that the lyrics belong to Sam Weber, a Canadian singer-songwriter whose album I have now listened to in full. Many times. This happens a lot: my husband plays music from a new artist, I notice the words, a voice, or both, and a new obsession is born. But rarely with such a short introduction. These two lines sparked a rocky, complicated trail of thought, the way words do when at their best.

Since then I’ve been thinking and re-thinking about the idea of lust. What, exactly, is wrong with it, what separates it from love, or just wanting something badly. And I have to say, I got stuck. I couldn’t write about it because I wasn’t sure. Until I read a random comment on WoodenBoat Forum.

What?

Yep.

I know nothing about wooden boats except that my father built one with his bare hands (which is pretty badass). I simply googled the words “want” and “lust” together in a desperate attempt at clarity and the forum popped into view. And Ted Hoppe, whoever that is, made it all clear. He pointed out that once the lusted-after object is obtained, it “lacks the intense attraction it had before.” Whereas a want, once acquired, can be a “step in self-discovery.” Ted, you are a wise man. Thank you for sharing about boat building and the human condition.

Lust is not just about sex; It’s about wanting in general. But with more fervor. With less logic involved. As Ted Hoppe also said, “A want rarely leaves you with a burning sensation, a guilty feeling in the morning or a retainer fee for an attorney.” In high school I wanted things to the point of lust. To date certain boys. To have the right clothes. To feel popular; it all felt urgent. I wasn’t longing for these things for anyone’s true benefit, even my own, but for instant gratification. Immediate over long-term satisfaction, with no consideration of the end result. That is lust. And that can’t last.

A passionate desire for something. 

“a lust for power”

And some of the synonyms it lists:

greed, desire, craving, covetousness, eagerness, cupidity

In contrast, here’s what I know about love:

It is patient and kind, not easily angered, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking. It keeps no record of wrongs. Love rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

In high school I didn’t know much about love, as is the curse of the teen brain. I thought short-term. Perseverance played no part in my yearnings. My desires for popularity weren’t motivated by kindness and patience or protection of others. My cravings were all about boasting. Completely self-seeking. Add hormone fluctuations and lust was clearly running the show.

When I had my first child, something I had wanted for a long time, I experienced an explosion of self-discovery. Luke’s birth met a desire which had long been smoldering in my body and heart and satisfied in a way that lust never could. My love for him was patient and kind, not easily angered, and it certainly always protected and hoped and persevered. It’s the closest I’ve come in my life to the love described in an ancient letter to some corinthians, and it pointed me toward something higher. Someone who loved me in the same fierce but gentle way.

It seems that for most (minus a certain political candidate, and those like him), age brings a mellowing of lust. A realization that it will never satisfy. That wanting can be good when it comes from love – love of a person, an idea, a line of work or a hobby – but only then. I want to write, for example, because I love writing. I don’t want to conquer or claim it just for me; I want to experience it, and share it with the world. It continues to satisfy because it is a “step in self-discovery.”

That’s what I’m after. Discovery of myself, the world, those around me. Sam Weber’s song helped me think such thoughts today.

From the last verse…

There’s love in the age of lust.

Like a fool I chase this desire

Like a fire, the constant reminder

Of what will comfort me

I know that I’ve had enough

And I know what’s taking me higher

I feel love in the age of lust

I feel love in the age of desire

 

Hear Love In The Age Of Lust


Summer of Symmetry

This was a summer of symmetry.

Let me explain.

I have been in a long-term fight with a certain persistent virus that refuses to take a hint (or a shove) and move along. My old nemesis, Epstein Barr made itself comfortable, particularly in my gut this time around, and made me tired and grumpy and not very summery-feeling at all. Yet there were periods of joy, sunshine and laughter, in between the in-bed-or-wanting-to-be, that felt just as summer should. There were family vacations; days at the pool soaking up the vitamin D (Seriously. Vitamin D is my hero. And Epstein Barr’s worst enemy.); horseback riding; late dinners with friends on the back porch; fireflies; Gin and tonics; and most recently, hours of Olympics-watching. We could win a medal if that in itself were an event. But there was also Moluscum Contagiosum (I’ll tell you about that another time, but just know it was nearly as bad as it’s grotesque name implies. And it threw me down a dark psychological hole for a bit). Between the high highs and the low lows it was like a sped-up time lapse of life in general: a roller coaster of ups and downs smushed into the span of two and a half months. I felt like a wrung out rag a lot of the time.

But I listened to a conversation one day that helped me see things more clearly. And feel a little less upset by this microcosm of general reality. Krista Tippet of the podcast On Being interviewed nobel physicist Frank Wilczek about his belief in “beauty as a compass for truth, discovery and meaning.” In the podcast he explained the idea of symmetry from a mathematical or scientific perspective. He says that symmetry, the way we commonly use it, means balance, harmony, fairness. But those terms are vague. In science they need a more precise concept, so the definition of symmetry within science and mathematics is change without change. For example, Einstein’s theory of relativity says that if were to move past the world at a constant velocity, although things may look different, the same physical laws will apply to the new configuration of the world. So you can make a change in the way everything looks, but you can’t change the laws that make up the object’s reality.

Hello. Symmetry. This summer was both an experience of the common usage of the word and the scientific. It was a balance of good and bad, had a sense of fairness if you will. And though my circumstances changed – the way things looked from the point of view of an outsider passing by would have altered from week to week (sometimes day to day) – the laws of physics stayed the same. The very fact of my existence did not move. My illness and wellness rotated around the axis of me as a human being alive in the world. My circumstances did not alter who I am at the core. Did not alter the realities that keep me living and breathing: spiritual as well as physical.

Somehow this gave me peace. It didn’t make me feel better in my mitochondria, which I’ve now learned Epstein Barr attacks (the jerk), but it did help in my mind and heart. Frank Wilczek’s and Krista Tippet’s soothing voices didn’t hurt either. I could listen to them all day. I’m sure I will again, to remember the vivid and down-to-earth ways he described all manner of scientific principles, and how they demonstrate beauty in the way the world is structured. As if it is the work of a great artist.

I couldn’t agree more. I’ve always loved symmetry it’s it’s general sense – balance in everything is a good way to live. But now it means something greater. I’m trying to make peace with symmetry and let it calm my reaction to the ups and downs.

Seeing life through the lens of Frank Wilczek’s nobel prize-winning mind helps .

 

And Then

Well.

All three of my children are now in full-time school. Under someone else’s watch. Outside of my home and my care for a good portion of the day. I was excited for this moment to come. It’s been 11 and a half years since I started having kids, quit my job and stayed home full-time to be with them. Today, when I dropped off my sweet girl and walked out the school doors, I didn’t feel much. “That was anticlimactic,” I told my husband. Which felt completely wrong. In the span of three minutes I changed from being a stay-at-home, full-time mother to not.  With no fanfare or recognition of the tremendous change. The platform of the last whole chunk of my life was removed and I was walking on nothing. I almost put my arms out to get my balance. I got to the car and sat for a moment, and then the tears came.

Those tears were unexpected. I love her enormously – this is not a case of wishing to be rid of a troublesome child – but she was ready, and I was ready. I thought I was ready, at least.

I had my list. Of all I would accomplish today in light of my new, open schedule. How organized and in-control I would feel after such an opportunity. But I was a blubbering mess and knew the list-tackling wasn’t to be. I had to work out these big feelings. And I do that through writing. I had to take stock of the last decade-plus to know how to turn my mind in a new direction and move forward.

So here’s a summary of those years, to help myself grasp the immensity of the occasion:

  • Hours and hours of wiping bottoms or the messes made by them.
  • Hours and hours of being peppered with machine gun style questions. Rapid fire, not waiting for an answer before the next is delivered.
  • Hours and hours of making food for small people, nearly none of which was appreciated (“Mom! I said I wanted peanut butter and raisins!”, “I don’t even like bananas!”, “Ewwww, this looks sooo gross!”), and then cleaning up the mess of the unappreciators.
  • Picking up toys and sorting toys and organizing toys and getting rid of outdated toys and buying new toys and repeating.
  • Having babies (like actually being pregnant, giving birth to them, nursing them and waking up all night with them – years of this).
  • Playing cars and pirates and vikings and lego, then princesses and babies and “family” and doing one thousand puzzles and playing one million board games (I recommend “I Never Forget a Face,” “Animal Upon Animal” and “Secret Squares”).
  • Mommy-and-me music and gymnastics and swimming and art classes.
  • Grocery shopping with someone (or more than one small person) asking for every third item they see. Including: big carrots instead of little ones, Mango Tango, cookies, ice cream, popsicles, donuts, yogurt, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, M&Ms, gum, sugar cereal, cheese sticks (SO expensive! Come on. It’s still just cheese.), all the toys in Target, DVDs, bikes, iphones, junk from the $1 section, sparkly puppy dog purses, Minecraft t-shirts, and once, randomly but wonderfully, artichokes.

Those are all negatives. Here are some positives, and reasons the transition is a tough one and not just a celebration of freedom:

  • Hours and hours of snuggling with babies and toddlers and preschoolers, and elementary school kids when they let me (this counteracts a bunch of those negatives at once).
  • Getting to watch my children reach new milestones, say their first words, take their first steps, discover the squishy delights of play-doh, build their first lego creations, say their first inadvertent cuss words, complete their first puzzles, eat their first fistfuls of sand, and all the other firsts I was able to experience spending all day with them.
  • Play dates that included other moms so as to maintain sanity and enjoy the company of other grown-ups, which fostered some of my most treasured friendships.
  • Years of not having a boss.
  • Waking up to little voices (even crying or mad ones) instead of alarm clocks.
  • Deciding on a whim to go to the zoo. When will I do that alone?
  • Going to the park. Often.
  • Witnessing the whole deal. How they change and change and change. Watching and seeing and taking in their growth. That’s a big one.

So, it seems it was a good run. It wasn’t all bad. It wasn’t all dreamy. It was just like life: a mix. One part of the entire story of my whole life span. I did my job – well at times, very poorly at others (see: the time I hid in the basement from my toddler son who was making me, literally, crazy). It wasn’t my life’s work, it was a decade’s work. I am not just a stay at home mom. I am a writer and a reader and a bit of a painter. I am a good cook and a bad mathematician and a passionate-if-not-fabulous Zumba dancer. I am an extrovert and an introvert, depending on the moment. I am a mother and I am just another human being. I simply needed to remind myself what the heck just happened. A necessary moment to recalibrate and take a gigantic, deep breath. And cry. I clearly needed to cry.

Done.

Now I’m ready for the next phase of the story.

It begins with “And then…”

Now Is Now

We were both silent for close to a minute. It was the best end to a book I’ve read in a long time and the final words hung in the air. I could taste them. The wisdom they quietly espoused. And I’ve been chewing on them ever since.

 ***

Being present is very popular these days. The phrase has almost become a cliche – something we modern day humans have latched onto as the thing that will solve our problems. Just be present, living in the moment instead of thinking about the past or looking to the future, and all will be well. We will be centered. We will find rest. We can move forward in peace.

I agree with all of this.

Being present is one of the archive categories on this blog, and that category holds the most posts of any other.

But.

I also find value in considering the past and in contemplating the future. Since they are both part of our experience, they both matter. I learn from my past mistakes and successes by pondering them from time to time. I enjoy the promise of hope by wondering at the future. If I don’t dwell in either place only, looking both back and ahead helps balance things. It cannot be all about now all the time. If so, we would learn nothing and would make choices despite the consequences. This is why we develop a prefrontal cortex. Let’s embrace it.

But, again.

Now is now, and that’s good, too.

Sometimes, sitting still in the moment and paying attention is just what’s needed. For me, it’s needed quite often since life is so hectic and busy. Enjoying the now is an art-form I’m trying to refine.

But, contrary to popular belief, being present is not a new concept. Here are several quotes from decades and centuries past, addressing this exact idea…

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” -Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. God has given me no control over the moment following.  -Mahatma Gandhi

Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.  – Mother Teresa

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.  – Psalm 118:24, ESV

True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.  – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live.  – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 from The Message

But here’s my new favorite – the last bit of the book Lily and I finished, Little House in the Big Woods, from 1939

When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?” “They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.” But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, “This is now.” She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.

Now is now and I should try to pay attention. Or I might miss a moment like this. Or like hearing my youngest child breathe her sweet, little-girl breath on my cheek when we’re playing doctor. Or the moment of all my children, and their friends, yelling and singing and running and screaming through the house because they are happy. Or the soft pattering of rain on our skylight when Marc and I have finally fallen in bed after a long, hard day – the house is quiet, no one is asking a question I must field – there’s only my soft bed, my husband’s chest rising and falling beside me, and rain.

There’s a time for everything, including thinking about the past and the future. But now is now. It isn’t before, isn’t later; it’s happening. And I should try to be where life is happening as much as I can. No pressure. No this-is-the-answer-to-everything. Just Here we are. On the top bunk, amongst 27 stuffed animals and my middle child who doesn’t know better than to be totally present, listening to every word.

What Our Souls Absorb

I recently worked on a timeline for our elementary school’s 100th anniversary celebration, sifting through old photos, searching online for newspaper articles, discovering historic treasures at the university’s research library. It was a lot of work, but fascinating and enlightening and worth the effort, if only to learn about one particular man who has enriched my view of the world – the namesake of our school. He died in 1904, but the impact he had on our community and on countless personal lives is inspiring and incredible. His story is worth sharing. His legacy is worth expanding.

Bear with me, here.  A bit of historical background. Just make it through the next paragraph and we’ll get to the good stuff:

Richard Cordley was born in England in 1829 but came to America at the age of four and settled in Michigan. He grew up in a log cabin, went to the school his father started when he was nine, lost an eye at the age of 10 in an accident involving an ox’s horn (pioneers were no wusses). He attended college and seminary and eventually came to Lawrence, Kansas as an abolitionist preacher in 1857, with the distinct purpose of opposing slavery in a territory still undecided on the issue. In fact, he and his wife harbored a fugitive slave escaping to Canada on the underground railroad. In 1863, a man named William Quantrill rode into town with a group of pro-slavery Missourians, killing 20% of the male population and burning the majority of the town. (Hence, Kansas’s deep-seeded grudge against Missouri, particularly in sporting events. No joke.) As an abolitionist, Richard Cordley was marked as a target in Quantrill’s raid but avoided death by escaping across the river. He went on to serve as the school board president, helped found Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, wrote two books on the history of our state, and served as pastor of Plymouth Congregational Church for nearly 40 years.

Whew. Thanks for sticking with me.

So, Richard Cordley did some stuff while he was alive. He made significant contributions to society. He was a prominent local figure in the community. But in the end, that’s not what struck me; his accomplishments weren’t his greatest feat. Here’s a quote I came across about Cordley’s true impact on the world:

“The greatest thing about Dr. Cordley was himself. The beauty of his character was reflected everywhere…(He)helped all who heard him speak because he spoke from his heart…He believed in men and loved them…”

–  Dr. William L. Burdick, former dean of Kansas University Law School and a member of Plymouth Congregational Church

It’s hard to imagine a more lovely description of a person’s years on earth. His life was the greatest thing about his life. His love of people. The way he helped others. The beauty of his character. In reading through his sermons I found him to be a fabulous writer. He should be famous. But, aside from the blessing people would receive by reading his work, I doubt he would care to be well-known outside of our small town. He was humble, he was kind, he was love-in-action personified. I feel as though I discovered a hidden treasure in learning about Richard Cordley. His helpful hand and the beauty of his character have reached all the way through history to me, over a century after he died. I’m so thankful to know him in some small way. And I’m proud to have my children’s school named after such a man.

Now to pass on the treasure I found. Here’s an excerpt from a sermon he wrote about pondering the end of another year (don’t know which, but the book of sermons was published in 1912) titled The Days of our Years. I used pieces of it to highlight the historical timeline I made for the school celebration – it seemed appropriate. It seems equally appropriate in remembering Dr. Cordley’s life itself, and in considering how I want to spend my own…

The “Days of Our Years” have passed very gently. They made no sound as they went by, but they changed the face of all the things they touched. They fell like snowflakes, silent and soft, but like the snowflakes they change the face of all the earth. Every year gives another touch, and before we note what is going on, the whole scene is changed. Time moves on without a sound, building up the limbs of childhood, strengthening the arms of manhood, and fulfilling the counsels of manhood. So quietly have they borne us along that we were hardly aware of the moving, yet here we are looking back over the long line of our journey. As we note the shifting scene it seems almost like a dream…Few as the days of our years have been, what marvelous transformations they have wrought. They seemed trifles to those who looked on, but they meant everything to those involved. The days of our years have flitted by like shadows on the hillside. Joy and sorrow, light and darkness, have chased each other across our sky. We have had reason ‘To bless the favoring gale’ when we have sailed through unruffled seas; and we have waited for light ‘In the midnight of the soul.’ Yet the days of our years have left something with us as they flitted by. They passed 

‘Like snowflakes on the river,

A moment white, then gone forever.’

But even the snowflakes increase the volume of the stream. They days of our years are gone before we know they are here, but they add to the volume of our life. They leave with us what our souls absorb, and we shall be in the coming days what our past has made us. We may accumulate wisdom and knowledge and character, and be enriched in life or we may let it all flow by us while we remain paupers in our spirits…Everything is the richer for what it has passed through.

Richard Cordley knew his days mattered. That time passed without notice if one didn’t stop and look sometimes. This sermon was a moment of looking back to look ahead. Of plumbing the depths and noticing what the soul had absorbed. I write for the very same reason and feel connected to this man from so long ago. May the days of my years be half the blessing of his.

 

A Mental Kick in the Pants

While looking at girls underwear at Target on Wednesday I saw something that stopped me in the aisle. A woman was walking with an older woman.  A mother and daughter it appeared. They were doing laps on the perimeter of the store, a favorite pastime for many people of older age: no obstacles for slower reflexes to work around. No issues with temperature and humidity. A seasonless, safe space to get legs moving. I’ve seen this often before, and I must say I’ve never thought it looked fun. But on this day, something was different. The two women were holding hands.

They walked and talked. And held hands all the way around. I watched for them as they lapped me in my hunt for girls soccer shorts, and I thought “That’s just about the sweetest thing I’ve seen all week.” They both seemed calm and content. The younger woman (fifties, maybe) didn’t seem anxious to leave and get on with the good part of her day; the older woman (70s or 80s) seemed glad, but not desperate, for her company. Maybe the younger woman held hands to offer balance to the older, maybe it was just a tangible form of connection, of expressing “I want to be here with you.” In either case, it was lovely. And I stopped and stood and watched for a long moment. It was instant, the smack-in-the-face beauty of the image. I wanted to take a picture, but that seemed weird. So I took one mentally and locked it away for safe keeping.

I happened to watch an AARP video on Facebook today – a friend had linked to it and it sparked my interest. When I clicked and watched, it sparked more: inspiration about living life until it’s gone. About the value of age, the worth of older people in our society, the importance of connection.

I fear old age, to be honest. Of becoming irrelevant to people, of the breakdown of my body and mind, of watching life go by without being able to participate in any meaningful way. But this video reminded me that “old” is more about your mindset. The body and mind might slow, but we can do some things to lessen those effects: eat well, stay limber, learn new things, and most of all, decide to remain in the mix. A 75-year-old man named George in the video summed it up: “When people start stopping, that’s when they start getting old.” I want to keep going. Even if it has to be in the climate controlled, sidewalk-crack-free aisles of Target. And if someone will love me enough to hold my hand while I’m going slowly, so much the better.

So much.

That daughter, in her calm, relaxed “I’m totally here” way was loving the heck out of the older woman.

Oh, that I would do that for someone, and that someone would do that for me someday.

Note-to-self taken. I’m keeping that image close to heart, and I’m putting George’s quote on a sticky note in my kitchen. A reminder to never start stopping; a kick in the pants to keep on going.

I need a kick in the mental pants sometimes.

 

The AARP video, for your entertainment and inspiration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lYdNjrUs4NM

Bare Bones

As soon as I read the fifth page of All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, I knew I was in for a treat. When I described to my husband my stolen moments of snatching a few pages at a time, I said it was like eating candy. One of those Christopher Elbow chocolates with delicate, golden filigree on top and creamy ganache in the middle. Something sweet that you want to eat slowly – to savor; not the sugar-spike of a Jolly Rancher. It was delicious to consume Doerr’s beautifully crafted words. I even said some aloud, just to enjoy the sound. Let the syllables roll off my tongue and hit the air with a crackle.

“The eggs taste like clouds. Like spun gold… ‘How about peaches, dear?’ murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she’s eating wedges of wet sunlight.”

It left me full-up with the glory of language and it’s ability to convey feeling, but also with an empty longing. I got in the shower one morning, after ingesting a particularly lovely turn of phrase, with a sentence rolling through my head: I want to write something heartbreakingly beautiful. It repeated itself over and over. An ache of creativity hoping to escape. It was a rather selfish desire, I will fully admit, but one with which most writers can relate. When you love words – even the sounds of letters all by themselves – putting them together in new and fascinating ways to describe emotions as old as time, with which every single human can relate, feels like electricity in your veins. Not so much that it kills you, but enough to deliver a jolt and make you feel supremely alive.

When you get down to the bare bones of writing, that’s the joy. Take away the personal therapy it can provide, the (generally tiny amount of) money you can make from it, the blessing it can be to others (where would I be without Anne Lamott and Josh Ritter), and the conveyance of information, and a writer is left with words. The pure pleasure of consonants and vowels, nouns and adjectives, even helping verbs. And the desire from somewhere inside to get them outside. Like a child playing in a sandbox, with the tactile amusement of wet sand and dry – the scooping and pouring and molding of it – is a writer, given ten minutes and a writing prompt.

I never understand writers who say they hate to write. Who say they like the outcome, but not the actual process of writing. I (judmentally) think they aren’t really writers. They might type words onto a screen, make lots of money; their whole lives might revolve around the act of writing. But it’s hard for me to give them that title. It feels wrong.

Sometimes it’s a slog. Sometimes it’s full-on work – not playing in a sandbox at all. But even the work is gratifying. Like piecing together a puzzle. And the frustration of not knowing where the pieces go is part of the beauty of eventually figuring it out. Sometimes my five year old will give an exasperated “Ughhhhhhh” when she’s stuck on her 48 piece butterfly floor puzzle. But she will eventually return to it. Out of love for puzzles. The mixture of challenge and play. The satisfaction of two pieces sliding in next to each other just so. And then she smiles. And says “I did it!” And she did.

So I want to write something heartbreakingly beautiful. I’m sticking to that selfish, word-loving phrase. And when I do, I’ll say “I did it!” And smile. All the words that ever were are my sandbox, and it’s just about time to play.

And He Went. And I Let Him.

I let my son walk out the door this morning into potential heartbreak.

I wanted to keep him home. Hold him close. Shield him from hurt and hard choices. But I didn’t. I let him get into the car and drive off to meet his fate.

“School drama,” as he put it to another parent overhearing his dilemma, had erupted. Drama indeed. He came home yesterday with worry, and it followed him to bed. It woke with me in the night and said hello as soon as I cracked an eye this morning. A dull, gray cloud hanging above our house.

We talked it over. He called a friend to clarify a misunderstanding. He worked it through with Marc and then again with me. “I wish I had taken notes about everything so I knew what to say tomorrow” he fretted as I tucked him in. I told him the truth was all he needed to remember. All he could offer.

We dealt with the reality of the situation, not trying to escape the uncomfortable yuck he would face today: people will be mad; their mistakes aren’t on you; yours are; the number of people in the world who love you is greater than those who will be upset. As he wisely said the other night “It’s all about perspective.” Yes, buddy, it is. If my 11 year old can carry that through his day, I will be happily astounded.

The weight of carrying your child’s hurt like a trunk full of bricks on your back is…heavy. I could say I didn’t sign up for this when I became a parent, but that would be a cop-out lie. This is exactly the sort of thing a mother agrees to take on when she decides to give birth to or adopt human beings. To attempt to guide these small people through the maze of living. To help them discover the wonders present. To walk with them through the various levels of heartache. To be on their team when no one else will pass them the ball.

But it’s harder than I could imagine. Letting go enough to let them feel some pain, to learn from their own mistakes, to allow risk enough for them to feel the glory of their own triumphs. This is the work of restraint. Of not meddling. Of letting our children become.

There’s a song on Foy Vance’s Live at Bangor Abbey album (also his Joy of Nothing album, but I prefer the live, alive version) that has pointed me toward a phrase I’d like to employ in my life. For my whole life. It seems to be about the breakup of his marriage. An anthem of survival – something we could all use. It busts the album open with guitar, violin and drums, and this humble but matter-of-fact declaration:

Well I tried to do what I felt was right
And I know I fucked it up sometimes.
But at least my heart was open.

That last line is the title, and the point of the song. The astute reminder of how I’d like face my days. As well as what I hope for Luke.

Knowing that my son faced something hard, Mama Bear wanted to take over – protect and defend. Give a lecture to the entire 5th grade class. Overreact and pull him from school and wrap him up in my love to ward off all pain, therefore ruining his chances to grow at all.

But the better and harder reaction is letting my heart stay open. Calming down, doing what seems right, and avoiding building a protective wall, for me or my kids.

Luke didn’t balk about leaving this morning. He seemed ready to face the day.

His heart seemed fully open.

I want to guard that tender little center of emotion and character, but my job as Mom is changing. Mama bears have to let their cubs try to survive at some point – maybe when they’re the equivalent of 11? I had to let him go try. To do what he felt was right, perhaps mess it all up, and hope he retained his open, loving, forgiving heart.

And he went.

And I let him.

Deep breaths. Nervous anticipation for school pick-up. A propped open heart. These are my companions today.

Thank you, Foy Vance, for the beacon in the darkness. It’s helping.

I Didn’t And It Wasn’t

I drove with my kids to Chicago for Spring Break. By myself. Meaning I was the only adult in the car, able to drive, needing to stay awake. Anyone who has taken a road trip with me is now wide-eyed with horror and amazed that we survived. During our entire trip last to Los Angeles, up the coast to Seattle, and back to Lawrence, the only portion I drove was across the street in Yellowstone. I have what my friend calls carpolepsy – the desire to fall asleep as soon as the engine starts. I’m like a baby. When she fusses and you can’t get her to settle, put her in a car and the gentle motion does the trick. If it wouldn’t also mean death, I would hop in my minivan at the first sign of insomnia.

But as evidenced by my ability to write today, I did not kill four fifths of our family last week. In fact, I wasn’t the least bit sleepy for almost the entire trip. The solution: podcasts and copious amounts of green tea. It felt like I became a full-fledged adult on that trip. Able to drive long distances all by my damn self. It was life-changing.

It seems like a juvenile realization for a 41 year old woman. Who’s had many jobs and been married for 16 years and had three babies and does all sorts of grown up things every day. But sometimes, even as an official adult, you experience something that makes you feel more free, more independent, more capable than you have before. Like the first time you talk your credit card company into removing a fee. Or making a complicated recipe and enjoying the delicious result. Or giving birth. When I pulled up to our friends’ house in Hyde Park, having followed my GPS correctly over seven interstate highways, and a trickier back-road route through rural Missouri and Iowa, I was tired but happy. Look at me. I got us here. We didn’t die and we didn’t have to pull over so Mommy could sleep by the side of the road. You have an adult as a parent. Congratulations.

Maybe you don’t get it – what a big deal driving eight and a half hours was to me. Allow me explain how extreme my carpolepsy has been over the years:

In college I took a spring break trip with two friends to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, from Kansas. (Not the spring break for which three collegiate girls heading to the distant beach hope.  It rained nearly the entire time. I remember seeing two movies in a row one day and eating overly, extremely, I-can’t-emphasize-enough-how-fried, fried fish at a cheap buffet one night.) I drove maybe two hours total.

Marc and I have driven to the panhandle of Florida three times, and I remember driving through part of Louisiana. That is all.

Last summer we took a 31 day road trip all over the west half of America. During the entirety of our adventure I drove across the street in Yellowstone Park.

My husband prefers to drive. In part so he doesn’t have to dole out snacks, change cds, read chapters of books aloud, break up KidzBop vs Raffi arguments. And we both know my typical driving contribution is only minimally helpful – as soon as Marc scratches the surface on work emails I start fading. So, for real, people, I never drive further than Wichita, KS alone.

This trip to Chicago was a big deal. And I just decided to go for it. I figured if it wasn’t going well, Columbia, Missouri would become the destination. We’d get a boba, play at a park, and turn the car around. Better than driving into the ditch. But like the little engine that could, I thought I could. And I was right.

We had a fabulous time seeing our dear friends. We went to museums, played at parks, spent hours reconnecting with some of our favorite people. And we made a memory to savor for years to come. Overall, a complete success. (minus the tornado sirens in Springfield IL while in a Cracker Barrel without a basement/ hotel with the tornado “shelter” located seven feet from the front desk). And all because I decided to try. I could have failed, and that would have been a different lesson. And resulted in a different post. But I didn’t, and it wasn’t, and this is my happy post of victory over carpolepsy.

Yay for green tea and the era of podcasts.

And yay for trying. There’s not much else you can do.

 

 

Happy Regrouping

You might have noticed I’ve been gone a while. There are a plethora of reasons: sick kids, sick me, days off of school, and more of the same, but the deeper reason for the long absence from posting to my blog is I’ve had nothing to say. I’ve tried. The few chances I’ve gotten I’ve sat for my allotted three-hours-minus-travel-time-from-preschool-to-Starbucks-and-back and written crap. Or nothing at all. Which in itself is depressing. But there wasn’t much to be done since I can’t apply the often touted writer’s rule “write every day.” My rules are more like “shower every other day,” and “get some sort of exercise,” and “don’t let the laundry start overflowing out of the laundry room.” I do fairly well at these.

It’s hard to say exactly why the drought in well-formed and interesting thoughts occurred – perhaps February is cursed, maybe I just don’t do winter well, or it could be the fact that my thyroid had decided to take a break from it’s busy schedule. But luckily, the drought has passed and I had a glimmer of an idea today. Thank you March, spring, functioning thyroid.

 ***

I was recently waiting for several days on some test results that could have been bad news. Thankfully, I received good news instead. But the space between not knowing and knowing gave me a new swath of gray hair. I tried to stay calm, aware that worrying about the unknown accomplishes nothing but stress dreams and intestinal problems, but waiting is not my forte. It is one of my many nemeses (cold feet, hunger and relational conflict being others). I prayed. I breathed deeply. I exercised. But worry crept in and took over a number of welcoming folds in my brain. It found a comfy home next to the concern over finances, unmade summer plans, whether Mae will deal well with all day kindergarten next fall. Fretfulness takes up a lot of the spots in there. This, too, worries me. If my brain is filled with anxiety is there room for anything else? Maybe that’s why I can never remember what it was I needed at the store.

And then there is our current political climate in America. I would describe it as scorching fire and wind swirling from the mouths of those with bitterly cold hearts. I don’t even think that’s being dramatic. All of which gets me riled to the point of heart palpitations and makes it clear that this has got to stop. Worry is getting me nowhere but down.

So I employed a tried and true coping mechanism. I put on my headphones. I found my new musical obsession on Spotify and with the first line came down a notch on the stress scale.

Foy Vance is an anomaly: an Irish guy with a penchant for American blues and soul. He is one of the best songwriters I’ve heard in a long time. And he has a raspy, world-weary voice that sounds like coming home on a cold day and wrapping up in a wool blanket – a little scratchy but warm and cozy and absolutely welcome. I’m soaking up his live album these last few days and I find it calming me, inspiring creativity, and hinting at the beauty that does still exist the world even if our own presidential candidates are making it uglier by the day.

For example. In his song Be, My Daughter I hear the wisdom of the ages, resembling the words of Ecclesiastes, but with a modern, personal take. He wrote it while on tour, after a difficult Skype session with his daughter who was back at home. Another girl was treating her badly at school and he penned a song in response to her worry. An admonition to simply be. It’s just lovely…

There’s a time to talk about it

A time to live it up

A time to sit in silence

 

A time to cry about it

A time to laugh it up

 

A time for stillness in the water

Be, my daughter

 

There’s a time to shout about it

A time to bottle up

A time for all time to be over

 

A time to think about it

A time to give it up

 

A time to burn up every altar

Be, my daughter

 

Tomorrow morning you’ll be slowly waking up

And I”ll be far across the water

But I’ll send reminders against the times it gets too tough

Be, my daughter

 

There’s a time to want a love

A time to need a friend

A time to put your hurts behind you

 

A time to chew it over

A time to make amends

 

You remember that time my baby jumped and daddy caught her

Be, my daughter

Be, my daughter

 

As a parent, I hear the kind guidance, the wise direction to be still, the reminders of his love. And as a person of faith I hear God’s voice saying the same to me. This is exactly my view of his love for us. If you think that’s bunk, well alright. Sometimes I simply can’t hold it in. I hope you can see the joy and stillness in the song. I hope it makes you smile, and think, and be.

I’m choosing to think about this for a while instead of all the worries. Trump will still be on every news outlet tomorrow.

There’s a time to enter the fray and a time to retreat. A time to engage in the madness and a time to regroup. Happy regrouping, everyone.

 

(Here’s the song, so you can come down on the stress scale, too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZqh1KvsCSs)