Walkin’ and Talkin’ With My Boy

“The true charm of pedestrianism does not lie in the walking, or in the scenery, but in the talking. The walking is good to time the movement of the tongue by, and to keep the blood and the brain stirred up and active; the scenery and the woodsy smells are good to bear in upon a man an unconscious and unobtrusive charm and solace to eye and soul and sense; but the supreme pleasure comes from the talk.”  –Mark Twain

My boy is growing up– no question about that. He has gone from a scrawny little peanut with wild hair and dimples to a broad-shouldered, strong, responsible boy with carefully combed hair– and, thank goodness, he still has the dimples. Conversation doesn’t come as easily for us as it used to. With my daughters, we talk about the cooking shows we like to watch and the Little House on the Prairie books that I’ve always loved that they do too– cute outfits and hairdos and our mutual affinity for Target. My son hates stores– detests shopping– and he prefers tales of dragons and other mythical creatures to stories of pioneer days. But, my girls aren’t crazy about taking random walks to nowhere– and my son is.

So we walk. We take adventure walks around West Seattle with no clue how long we’ll last or where we’ll end up. We walk to QFC and Safeway to get groceries, and he practices his gentlemanly skills by insisting on carrying the groceries home to leave my arms free. We walk around the West Seattle Junction and pop into the little shops that line the street. He affords me a stop in the sock store if I promise that we’ll stop by the book store. He lets me look at the Seattle Skyline socks that I so badly want but refuse to pay $14 for, and I let him look at the new hardback release of the next Percy Jackson novel that costs even more than  my socks, so he says he’s willing to wait for the paperback version.

And in between shops, or grocery stores, or parks– we talk. Sometimes I tell a funny joke to kick things off and break the ice, and that’s really all it takes to get him giggling and think of a gazillion funny stories he wants to tell me. We may not have a whole lot of interests in common, but we do have a kind of messed up sense of humor in common. So we laugh about silly commercials we’ve seen or funny segments of television shows or humorous dialogue from our books. I ask him if he’s nervous about going into middle school and he surprises me with his courageous spirit and confident mindset. He tells me about his friends and the games they play at the age of eleven, because I honestly can’t remember what you play when you’re eleven and you still want to play but you’re feeling too old for certain toys. I tell him that I always want him to feel comfortable bringing friends– and someday girlfriends– to our house and he says he always will because we are cool parents and don’t embarrass him. Yet.

When our legs finally give out, and our voices too, we head home. Most of the time we head home in silence, all of our stories and jokes told, but we walk with smiles on our faces and the sun on our shoulders and the breeze in our hair. And if I’m lucky– super duper hardly ever happens kind of lucky– when we’re off the main road and in the back alley that leads to our house, I feel a strong, warm, dirty, getting-bigger-every-day hand reach for mine, and I grip that hand tightly, feeling that all is right in the world.

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Anxiety Isn’t

People– friends, strangers, acquaintances, family– have interpretations of what an anxiety diagnosis is. Some think it’s just worrying a lot. Some think it’s silly. Some insinuate that I should just get over it and get on with life. Oh, if only I could. What is anxiety? I myself am puzzled by the beast that lives within me. I struggle to say what it is, but I know for sure what it isn’t.

Anxiety isn’t just feeling stressed out.

Anxiety isn’t a lack of trust in God.

Anxiety isn’t imagining the worst and becoming obsessed with it.

Anxiety isn’t something I can just wish away.

I believe that some people confuse anxiety with worry. I know I did. And believe me, I’m a worrier too. Worrying runs in my family. I do get stressed out and forget to trust God and imagine the worst. But that– that is called worry. Worry is something I can talk myself out of. Anxiety isn’t.

Anxiety isn’t predictable. It strikes when I’m mad, when I’m stressed; it strikes when I’m happy or excited, too. There’s no way of predicting when it will make an appearance. My brain seems to lack the filter that allows emotion to come out of me in a smooth, easy manner. Whether I feel like I want to strangle someone or I feel like I couldn’t feel more love than I possibly do– whether I am nervous about having to compete a task or tremendously excited about an upcoming event– whether I have to give someone bad news or I just want to tell a group of friends a funny story– Bam! I shake and I’m floating and I’m as stiff as a board  and my chest hurts and I’m breathing too fast and I think I’m gonna pass out  and it seems to last…. for….ever.

Nope, anxiety most definitely isn’t my friend. It preys on my introverted self and almost convinces me to hole up in my house and watch movies all day. But I won’t. I will keep on going to work and playing with my kids and visiting with friends. Because anxiety isn’t going to win.

It might play tricks on my brain and flare up at the most inopportune times and inconvenience me a whole heck of a lot.

But anxiety isn’t my life. There’s more to me then some stupid brain affliction. Anxiety isn’t my defining characteristic.

I write this blog and share my frustrations and try to muddle my way through and find paths that let me catch my breath for a moment. For now, anxiety is there. Anxiety is always lurking there. But someday, maybe, I can say that anxiety isn’t.

Sunbreaks

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One of the first new-to-my-vocabulary, local-to-the-Northwest terms I quickly learned after moving to Seattle was the term “sunbreaks.” I remember having the local news on one evening in our tiny Ballard apartment and hearing the forecast, which, I’ve found, is a very common forecast for Seattle at least 9 months of the year: “Tomorrow will mostly cloudy with occasional sunbreaks in the afternoon.” Sunbreaks? Why had I never heard of those before?

Well, most likely because I had previously lived in a place where the weather was one way or the other– blazing hot sun or cool cloudy weather. Sun and rain didn’t exactly mix in Georgia. Sure, a day could start off sunny and then in the heat of the afternoon you’d see thunderheads on the horizon and know what was in store– but once the storm was over, the skies would quickly clear and that would be the end of it. Not so much in Seattle. We even have days where the sun is shining and it’s raining at the exact same time. My husband taught my kids the South African term for that: a monkey’s wedding. 🙂

While living here, I’ve learned to very much appreciate sunbreaks. Some days, I’ll be sitting at my dining room table, feeling that the misty gloom is just about going to overwhelm me… and then– brightness! And I look up at the sky, and streaks of light are coming down out of the clouds, and there’s a hole in the sheet of grey where the sun is peeking through. A sunbreak!

I’m sure glad for sunbreaks in the sky, and I’m glad for sunbreaks in my anxiety-ridden life. I’m thankful that when I feel like I can’t take the worry, the stress, or the panicky feelings for one more second– the clouds part and the sun shines in, if only for a few moments.

The sun takes the form of my daughter’s laughter.
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A fireworks display on the 4th of July.
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Watching my kids do something they love.
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My husband’s mere presence, his arm around my back, letting me know things are really ok.
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Sometimes living in Seattle is hard, especially when it’s January and the warmth and light of the holidays has passed and it’s 5 long months until clear, sunny summer. Sometimes living with anxiety is hard, when life seems overwhelming and I can’t fully enjoy a day out with my family for fear of a panic attack and I wonder when my emotional summer will ever come. In both situations, one thing is true: A brief sunbreak makes the cloud cover a little easier to bear.

My (Furry) Best Friend

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Lots of my friends don’t have dogs because they are messy. And kind of a pain. Almost like having an extra kid. They do know what they are talking about.

Our little Maisy weighs 5 pounds, if that, but she is a lot of work in a little package. She tries to sneak our food if we’re not looking and she has accidents in the house sometimes and one time she ran away. I used to wonder what our lives would be like if we didn’t have her, and thought that maybe our lives would be easier. But then we didn’t have her. And I was devastated.

When she annoys me with her barking, when I’m cleaning up her poop, my mind is consumed with thoughts of the annoying stuff and I forget the important stuff. Like how she can’t wait for me to sit down and watch a tv show or read a book, because then she can curl up on my lap. Sure, she leaves dog hair all over my clothes, but that’s why I have a lint roller.

When I read books aloud to the kids, she perches on the edge of the couch, ears turning this way and that, listening to the story, too.

When I lay on the lounge chair in the sunny backyard, she lounges in the chair next to me and lets the sun soak into her shaky little body.

When it’s cold and rainy, she burrows under the quilt on my lap, and I have a living heating pad for my achy joints.

When anxiety takes over once again and my breaths become short and I just don’t know what to do because I want to tell someone what’s wrong but I can’t find the words, I look into her eyes and I don’t have to say anything at all because her eyes tell me she  knows how I’m feeling… and she’s just there for me.

Yep, our Maisy is many things. She is a secret keeper for my kids, a good sport when forced to put on a fashion show in Build-a-Bear clothes. She’s my buddy, my sidekick when Gareth is at work and the kids are at school. She’s called many nicknames–Maisy Daisy and Maisy Moo and Crazy Maisy. She’s a diva dog, a drama queen who fusses and yelps at the slightest mishap. She’s always underfoot and probably thinks that the word “no” is part of her name. She makes us laugh and makes us say “awwww” and appears in many family photos. More than anything, she is my constant comfort, my true, loyal–and furry–best friend.

Tears for Our Teachers

Yesterday, it was time. After many months, and in one case, 6 long years, it was time to say goodbye. And though tears have been shed for weeks in anticipation of this moment– by myself even more so than my kids– there have been emotions other than sadness. Thankfulness, of course… but a bit of anger, too.

I clearly recall leaving my sweet little boy in his kindergarten classroom years ago– he was so trusting, so eager to learn– and I knew we were leaving him in great hands. But I truly had no idea what the next 6 years would bring.

When I envisioned school for my children, I based my vision off what I had experienced as an elementary student. A relatively nice stranger stands at the front of the classroom and tells you to sit up straight and stop talking and pay attention and read this essay and write a response and do this math worksheet. The stranger gets angry sometimes when kids misbehave, but other than that she sits behind her desk and shushes us now and then. Every so often I  creep up to her desk and shyly ask her a question, but any interaction I have with said stranger is full of trepidation. Nothing brings the stranger more happiness than when we go to lunch or head for the buses at the end of the day. And when the end of the year comes? The stranger-teacher, whom I know as well as I did on the first day of school, looks like she won the lottery. She has gained 3 months of freedom.

My children have something different. Every parent wants better for their children than what they had for themselves, and when it comes to what our kids receive at their elementary school, we really have won the lottery. We send our kids to that building for 35 hours a week– if they had poor teachers, what a scary prospect that would be! With excellent teachers, which is what he have had EVERY year for SIX entire years, it’s a blessing. A privilege. A gift.

These adults know my children. They don’t just know their name and what they look like. They know and love about them what I know and love about them. They know that Georgia is funny and Harper is sweet and Mason is a natural born leader. They know that all three are smart and capable and are such good friends to their classmates. They know what hobbies our kids are involved in and that our family is about love and acceptance and forgiveness. They know that they have the ability to build upon the amazing characteristics of each of my children’s personalities, and make them better citizens of our world. Of course, they teach them about science and math and reading and writing and social studies. But my kids don’t sit behind a desk filling out worksheets all day. They act in plays put on by a teacher who spends her own time and money making props and writing a script and sewing costumes. They raise baby salmon in an enormous fish tank from the time the salmon are still within their eggs, and after months pass they walk to a stream and release them into the wild. They go to a sleep away camp 2 hours away with teachers who swim with them and ride horses and rock climb with them, and they learn songs like “You Can Count On Me” by Bruno Mars that make tears stream down the cheeks of mothers at 5th grade graduation, because they really did count on each other– students on other students and students on teachers and teachers on students. They’ve been there for each other, and besides academics, these teachers have taught  them how to be good people. Because they are all such good people themselves. Each and every teacher my children have had at that school are truly GOOD people– people I pray my kids turn out to be like as adults.

And this is where– beside the extreme gratefulness and love and honor– the little bit of anger comes in. A little bit of anger for my kids, I suppose, because they have spent day after day, year after year, learning from and respecting and loving these good people. We as parents send them off to school and allow them to open their little hearts and love these adults like they are family members. They certainly have deep, family-like relationships with them. I’ve heard so many stories at the dinner table, in the car, and in doctor’s office  waiting rooms about the stories they’ve heard and lessons they’ve learned from their teachers. Everything from how their teachers handled bullies when they were kids to the importance of not eating cheap sushi because you could get very, very sick.

And then, June rolls around, and suddenly– goodbye. It is hard enough for me to accept that we have to move on from the people who’ve loved them for a school year and hope for the same amazing luck next year. But for our kids? The little hearts that opened up to let all of the love and lessons in are now in turmoil, because summer is here and hearts–one 5th grader’s in particular– need to prepare for changes and goodbyes and a big, scary middle school looming on September’s horizon. I try to tell my 11 year old nice things like “you will have their lessons and love in your heart forever”, but when he is used to their physical presence day in and day out, to hands patting him on his back and kind eyes letting him know in chaotic moments that things are ok, the prospect of relying on what they’ve left to his mind and heart is a bit overwhelming, I think.

So this is where the difficulties lie, where the tears continue to fall. Our kids have assimilated  that when school chapters end,  their “school family” isn’t their family anymore, because we won’t be taking vacations with them or celebrating holidays with them like we do with other family members. And I think that is confusing for my sweet kids, and for other kids as well. But what choice do we have? There is no fault in this fact, in this painful time of goodbyes– teachers have dozens of students coming through their doors year after year, and if they tried to keep up with 30, 60, 90– nay, hundreds of students– they would lose their minds, and would not be able to do what they do year after year. So their hearts grow bigger– they must, to love these children in the manner that they do– and our children are left better people, shaped by the time spent, the lessons learned, the love shared. They go on– resilient as they are– while we as families shed tears– both happy and sad– for our beloved teachers.

10 Lessons from 2 Fathers

Celebrating Father’s Day yesterday with 2 amazing fathers inspired me to narrow down my library of lessons learned from both of them to the 5 most important ones I’ve learned from each.

One is my own dad, the other is my children’s.

My dad was (as is the case for many little girls) my first true love. After all, he loved me before I was even born. My dad could do no wrong in my eyes, and I suppose that is still the case. Even though I know it’s illogical, I continue to believe, at the age of 37, that my dad knows everything.

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My five favorite lessons from my hero, my dad:

Lesson One: Your work ethic is a reflection of your character. Self-employed, he exemplifies “strong work ethic”, and for so many years, he’s been nothing other than dedicated and loyal to his work associates, whom he also calls his friends. Every time I want to sneak in a few minutes on Pinterest when work is slow, I think of him. 🙂

Lesson Two: Patience is, most definitely, a virtue. After working long hours, and then dealing with dinner and housework and other parental chores, my parents got to deal with an anxious daughter who was terrified of sleep and the nighttime, when I’m sure they wanted nothing more than to catch a few hours of sleep themselves. I can’t recall one instance of crying out for my dad in the night where he didn’t respond with love, with gentleness, with patience. He never once uttered an exasperated “Would you PLEASE just go back to sleep??” as I may have been known to do with my own children, but only on rare occasions, of course…

Lesson Three: Make your children feel like the treasures they are. He listened to my little problems that seemed like the world’s biggest problems, from a child’s perspective; he never made me feel unimportant or like I was “just a little kid.” In fact, he made me feel like the most beautiful, most valued little girl in all the world. And because of that, I feel beautiful and valued today… and I still want to get his opinion on my problems!

Lesson Four: The greatest gift you can give your kids is to love your spouse. My dad taught me what being married to a soul mate was all about. He was, and still is, my mom’s best friend. He appreciates her, listens to her, and loves her wholeheartedly; in turn, I knew that I could never settle for anything but that from own life-long mate.

Lesson Five: A great dad becomes an amazing Opa. He has a special, unique bond with each of my kids. I get to see all of my favorite personality traits of my dad come out tenfold when he spends time with my kids. I win, my dad wins, and my kids especially win. Winners all around!

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And now, lessons from the other special dad in my life– my amazing husband, also an amazing dad to our 3 kiddos. I figured when I married Gareth that he’d be a great a dad, but really– I had no idea how great. I mean, it’s like you see the sun reflecting off their happy little faces when Gareth walks into the room. It’s pure joy, for them to feel and for me to see.

Lessons learned from my best friend, my husband:

Lesson Six: No one can take a dad’s place. Sometimes, I try to do everything. That is definitely a fault within my personality. I can be a control freak, and I like to get my hands into everything and do things my way. Truth be told, my hands need to stay out of some things. Like father-kid time. Sometimes, a kid needs for his dad to throw him into the air without his mother standing adjacent, gasping; sometimes, kids needs for their dad to cuddle with them or read them a story while mom takes a bath. They need their own memories with just him, separate from me. And that is more than ok.

Lesson Seven: Kids don’t break. As you may have guessed from my commentary in lesson six, on occasion, I can be a hovering type of mom. I hate to see my kids hurt, whether physically or emotionally. Sometimes I want to confront the obnoxious little bullies at school who make them cry, and I’ll admit it– it’s really tempting to run along side of them as they ride their skateboards. Gareth reminds me to take a step back– that by dealing with obnoxious kids, they get to learn interpersonal skills, and if they fall off their skateboards, they will blink back the tears and try again. Much to my dismay.

Lesson Eight: Daddy-daughter dates will (hopefully) delay the desire for attention from the opposite sex. The idea of my daughters dating really freaks me out. But probably not as much as it freaks Gareth out. Perhaps that is why he makes them feel like the princesses they are, and takes them to special happenings like a daddy-daughter dance. And judging by the excited giggles and jumping up and down when their daddy does do something special with them, the attention from their dad will suffice for quite some time. I sure hope so, anyway.

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Lesson Nine: Dads can help with “mom stuff.” Gareth has always been such a great example for my son in teaching him that moms don’t have to do all the “mom stuff.” Dads can bathe kids; dads can do dishes; dads can vacuum. Dads can even fix little girls’ hair. If mom is no where to be found and it doesn’t involve complicated braiding or anything.

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Lesson Ten: A dad doesn’t have to give up being his wife’s best friend to be a good dad to his kids. When we were expecting our first born, Mason, part of me worried that I’d lose my best friend when we became parents. That every spare moment would be focused upon our cute little offspring, and our relationship would go by the wayside. I’m happy to report that it hasn’t happened, not in the slightest. Sure, going out for a movie has turned into laying in bed watching a movie on Netflix after the kids are asleep– but hey, we stay awake to watch it, and we even have a good conversation and a laugh after it’s over. As long as we start the movie by 8:00; otherwise, we’re both passed out long before the movie ends…

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And there you have it: my 10 favorite lessons from my 2 favorite dads. No matter how busy or how crazy things get in my life, I try to always remember to thank God for them– and all of their lessons– each and every day.

 

 

 

 

 

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Mistress Mary, Quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With Silver Bells, And Cockle Shells,
And so my garden grows.

–English Nursery Rhyme

I’m no master gardener, that’s for sure. I recently bought a plant at the nursery who’s little instruction card reads: “Thrives on neglect.” That about sums up my gardening ability.

However, my family is entwined in gardening, as my husband is a career gardener; I also remember my grandmother’s amazing gardening skills. I have chosen an alternate path: to travel a short distance to the farmer’s market where I can purchase a rainbow of goodness in minutes, rather than spend months nurturing and weeding and waiting–and then waiting some more– for the same goodness. I tend to wait for a lot of things in my life– I wait for a day of feeling good, the whole day; I wait for a day where we feel financially secure, a day where a surprise bill doesn’t show up in our mailbox; I wait for a day when I can see family and friends again that I’ve missed for so many days…. So I decided long ago that I didn’t want to wait ANY days for some dang fruits and vegetables.

And then, my kids grew to the age they are now, and something happened: they went to an elementary school in nature-loving Seattle and learned about gardening from their teachers and came home singing Pete Seeger: “Inch by inch, row by row… Gonna make our garden grow…” And now, they want me to garden with them. Since I would do pretty much anything within reason to make my sweet kiddos happy– we are now novice gardeners.

While I stated that I am no expert gardener, I am for sure an expert shopper, so I had great fun with that part. The kids and I traveled to various home improvement centers where I purchased cute floral printed gardening gloves and exotic sounding seed varieties. I even purchased a TROWEL. (Impressive that I even know what a trowel is, no?) I learned which things I could grow from seed, which were better to purchase as starts, and which to plant nearly full-grown. The kids were thrilled… I was willing, at least… and then we began.

Were our rows of seeds straight? As I discovered after 7 days of sun and water, no. No, they were not straight at all. More like clusters than rows, really. Did I leave enough space between the plants? Probably not. But we saw GREEN in the midst of brown dirt, and that was good enough for us. And honestly, checking up on the garden each day in the warm sunshine– spraying drops of water down on each little plant– ended up being such a nice stress-reliever and a way to forget about worrisome things, even if it was for only a few minutes.


Several months have passed since our endeavor began, and I’ve noticed things. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that I had gardens where I didn’t even realize I had them. According to dictionary.com, “garden” is defined as “a plot of ground, usually near a house, where flowers, shrubs, vegetables, fruits, or herbs are cultivated.” OK, well, by that definition, the not-so-attractive mound of shrubs near our shed turned out to be “a garden of delicious raspberries.”

The neglected bed in the front yard full of weeds that my husband and I “forgot” to pull? One day, I caught a glimpse of red beneath the tangles of green– a huge bed of strawberries! What a welcome surprise– I love berries of any type.

The discovery of the berries leads me to the second thing I’ve noticed: despite the weeds, despite my neglect, the plants still grew. And produced. And gave us delicious fruit. Do you happen to feel that a point is about to be made?

Because my reader/writer mind always feels the overwhelming need to craft a connection to a moral regarding my discoveries, here is the realization: despite my thoughts running in crooked rows along the paths of my brain; despite the weeds of worry that continuously clog up my coherent thoughts; despite forgetting to give myself enough water and sun at times– I am still a whole, complete, valid person. The strawberries that grew in my weed-infested garden taste just as delicious as the strawberries you can buy at the market that were grown in pristine conditions on a farm. And so the hope springs forth that my creation, my talents, and my efforts will matter to someone whether they emerge from underneath a bed of weeds or from a professionally manicured thatch of earth. We plant seeds the best we can, with love and with care, and then, we trust that something beautiful might come from them. We utter this little prayer that Pete Seeger penned: “Inch by inch, row by row, please bless these seeds I sow. Please keep them safe below ’til the rain comes tumbling down.”