I thought that once we were past the first year, we would be over the hardest stuff.
Nobody ever tells you the truth: what used to be hard gets easier, but other hard stuff crops up.
When our kiddos started walking, I was initiated into a whole new realm of parenting fear: the playground. My babies wanted to toddle, climb, explore…but often the playgrounds were too crowded with big kids running and swinging and sliding, and the playground equipment wasn’t always good for our sized kids. It felt like every sweet moment of “Look at my baby climb those big steps!” was immediately succeeded by “…to the PRECIPICE OF DEATH!”
Now I see my friends with 18-month-olds, wondering where they can go with their kids that lets them explore the world while being safe enough to prevent the perma-panic in a parental heart. If you live around north Seattle, here’s what we’ve found: certainly not an exhaustive list, but what we have tried and liked.
Bookstore storytimes (free!):
Seattle Public Library has (free!):
- great storytimes (many available; check out the Library website and search Events by audience: children).
- Kaleidoscope Play and Learn: Mondays Northgate, 10:30-12 pm, and Tuesdays 10-11:30 am, Lake City Branch.
Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park hosts (free!) Kaleidoscope Play and Learn on Thursdays, 10 – 11:30 am.
Wonderland Development Center also hosts (free!) Play and Learn sessions:
- Mondays 10-11 am, Meridian Park Elementary, Shoreline
- Tuesdays 10-11 am, North City Learning Center, Shoreline
- Wednesdays 10:30-11:30 am, Broadview Library, Seattle
Shoreline Children’s Center:
- Family Center Room 1, 9 am – noon (on school schedule)
- Play and Learn (free!):
Shoreline Children’s Center, Room 1, Wednesdays 9:30-11 am
Highland Terrace, Fridays, 9:15-10:45 am
Lake Forest Park, Tuesdays, 9:15-10:45 am
Play Areas near Shops or Cafes:
- Mosaic (Wallingford): free enclosed play space for parents to eat/drink/chat and kids to play. Since it’s run by a church, food and drink are by donation.
- Third Place Books (Ravenna or Lake Forest Park): right next to the food court.
- PlayHappy Cafe (Lynnwood): enclosed play spaces for babies and for bigger kids. $9 first kid, $6 for siblings. Decent food at decent prices.
- Playdate SEA (South Lake Union): a smaller room for smaller kids, but the bigger play space scared my 2.5-year-olds. And it’s LOUD. Weekdays $5/under 3; $10 4 and up. Weekends and holidays $8/under 3; $15 4 and up.
Indoor Play Spaces:
- OmTots at OmCulture (Wallingford): a yoga/dance space converted to kid playspace with some gymnastics equipment 3 days/week. Getting a pass is far cheaper–they used to offer a great multiples discount, but alas, no more.
- Zoomazium at Woodland Park Zoo: a great enclosed space for the 0-2 crowd; lots of activities, climbing, and exploring for the 3+ crowd. A daily Creature Feature at 10:30 am. Worth it to get a zoo membership just for this.
- Seattle Aquarium Toddler Time: a two-hour drop-in session a few times a month in fall and winter. They turn a multi-purpose room upstairs into toddler heaven: painting (with completely wash-out paints–trust me), coloring, reading nook with stuffed animals, a play boat, a mini-touch-tank, water table…
- Seattle Children’s Museum: an enclosed space for 0-2-year-olds; if you’re bringing multiple children, figure out how to stay together when so many exciting rooms beckon.
- Spartan Recreation Center Indoor Playground (Shoreline): $2.50 per kid for non-Shoreline residents gets you a huge basketball gym filled with kid toys: ride-ons, balls, mats with slides, play kitchen, etc. Open during school year, 5 days/week, 9:30-11:30 am.
- KiDiMu (Bainbridge Island): for a bigger outing, complete with ferry ride, check out this small but fun children’s museum.
Seattle Community Center indoor play spaces: $3/kid. Check open times and days by going to the Toddler Time link on the right-hand side of any participating community center. Here are the ones we’ve been to:
Toddler Rooms: Enclosed rooms full of mats, toys, some inside play structures.
- Ballard (pretty small, even for my three small ones)
- Greenlake (the biggest, and open most often)
Toddler Gyms: like Spartan Recreation Center, a huge basketball court filled with toys.
- Bitter Lake
Mountlake Terrace Pool Leisure Swim: $3/person. They have a fantastic warm, shallow area for little kids, with pool toys, life jackets, fountains…a wonderful way to give little ones water experience without paying for Mommy and Me swim classes.
Music classes: options abound. We took our kids from 9 months to 2.5 years to Chickadee Music Together with Mary Anne, who is fabulous and was born to be a children’s music teacher.
Beach Naturalist Days (various days at various Seattle-area beaches): volunteers from the Seattle Aquarium offer education about our beaches to visitors–the volunteers are so awesome, and now I know how to find crabs, sea stars, and other fun facts.
Seattle Playgrounds / Parks: We went to many parks that were not appropriate for my kids’ age at the time–though how can you know? The bolded ones below have smaller play structures where I felt safer taking my early walkers / toddlers. The others are ones we’ve been to–clearly we need to check out more of Seattle!
Ballard Playground (outside Ballard CC)
Bitter Lake CC playground
Bryant Neighborhood Park
Cal Anderson Park
Gas Works Park
Golden Gardens Park
Green Lake Park
Licton Springs Park
Maple Leaf Park
Matthews Beach Park
Ravenna-Eckstein (comm center)
View Ridge Playfield
West Queen Anne Playfield
As your kids get older, here are some of our recent favorites:
- Museum of Flight
- Pacific Science Center
- Pump It Up (Lynnwood)
- Imagine Children’s Museum (Everett)
- Northwest Railway Museum’s vintage train ride (Snoqualmie)
- riding the LightRail from downtown to any destination
And in case you need more ideas…
My mom was the first to show me how to be a good mom.
- kind, patient, compassionate
- a teacher who does not condescend to her students
- a worrier
- a cryer (yep, that’s where I get it from)
I watched her anxiety as my brother or I faced hard things: new skills, challenging situations, sad experiences that she could not fix for us–or maybe she could, but knew we had to figure it out on our own.
At our sporting events, she cheered the loudest.
When I went away to college, I think she felt as bad as I did when I got my first illness and wondered who would bring me soup and tissues.
During all four years at college, my parents quasi-adopted many of my friends from far away who would stay with us for Thanksgivings or Easters.
I remember being bewildered by her annoyance at my behaviors: I would yell down the stairs instead of walking down and talking with her; I would get so engrossed in a book or whatever I was doing that I would appear to hear her (“Yep. Uh-huh.”) but retain nothing of her instructions or questions.
[Be satisfied, Mom: my children do the same things, and drive me the same amount of crazy. I totally deserve it.]
If we had superhero capes, hers might have a stack of books topped with a (half-full) cup of tea, encompassed by a giant heart.
Mine might have a stack of books topped with three sippy cups erupting like fountains.
My mom, my Nana and Grandma, my awesome aunts Mary, Mary, Mary, Rea, and Cindy: these women taught me about motherhood through their examples of sacrifice and love to their own children and all children.
On Mother’s Day and every day, I honor them.
* * *
When our babies first attached to a lovey–and we determined that this stuffed animal/blanket was their one and only favorite–Alan and I got an extra of each.
We have been very lucky so far not to have lost Bear, Munny, or Bunny, but occasionally they get misplaced. (Like, inside a bag that gets stuffed inside a strainer in a cabinet. Or tucked neatly into the nightstand by the guest bed. Or buried under a mountain of other stuffed animals and toys in the tent in the corner of our basement.)
So Jamie has his Auxiliary Bear, and Audrey and Theresa have an Auxiliary Bunny. But somewhere along the line, Theresa started calling the back-up “Rescue Bunny,” which has stuck.
Rescue Bunny is not identical to Original Bunny. It is also not just a back-up. It serves as a support system in time of crisis, and its very existence is reassuring.
I wrote about this last year, too: how I have been blessed to have a strong mother as well as additional mother figures. My Rescue Mamas. Penny, Mary Jane, Sue, Jacki, Pat, Rie, Elke, BJ, Cleo, and others on my journey. They do not replace my own mom, but their presence in my life has helped shaped me into the woman and mama I am.
This is what I hope for my kids too: because, Jamie, Audrey, and Theresa, your mama knows a lot, but I don’t know everything. Someday you might want to talk to a mama-type person about something that is not in my areas of expertise. Or you need a different perspective. And you will have your grandmas and your Aunts Karen, AJ, Jen, and Maya–aunts by blood and marriage and friendship–to guide you through your experiences. And Abbie, Jillian, Nicole, Andrea, Lisa, and other women whom we have not yet met who will help shape you into your best selves.
On Mother’s Day and every day, I honor all of these mamas. My tribe.
Some simple gifts recently:
- lunch in the sunshine with another triplet mama (hi, N!)–so refreshing to the soul to have conversation full of “Me too!” and “I know, right?” and “I’m so glad I’m not the only one.”
- red tulips that glow against the darkish grey of twilight rain
- Mindful Moment Fridays: a new routine I started for my students to teach them mindfulness practices
- watching baby snails and slugs emerge on rain-slicked sidewalks
- smelling the lilacs, which always reminds me of my Nana and Grampy’s lilac trees in their backyard. And Amy Lowell’s “Lilacs,” which ends:
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,Lilac in me because I am New England,Because my roots are in it,Because my leaves are of it,Because my flowers are for it,Because it is my countryAnd I speak to it of itselfAnd sing of it with my own voiceSince certainly it is mine.
- rhododendrons bursting into color everywhere: whites, pinks, brilliant reds
- taking a walk instead of yelling during one very frustrating afternoon.
- a date with my elderly neighbor to hear the Seattle Symphony play Grieg’s piano concerto, a beautiful piece which brought tears to my eyes.
- watching my students perform in Footloose.
- a mini-hike with Nana, Grampy, Nicole, and all the kids on a gorgeous spring afternoon in April.
- my dad cleaned out 4 metric tons of Cheerios and other detritus from the floor of our van while he was here. And fixed our pot filler. And fixed our grill. And mowed our lawn. My mom did approximately 36 loads of laundry.
- Canadians. Seriously. They are so nice.
- a weekend trip to Vancouver to cheer on Alan as he ran the Vancouver Marathon: a beautiful day; a beautiful city; a strong, dedicated, inspiring husband.
- having seven people in our lives take care of our kids in various shifts over two and a half days. So grateful for our village.
- a surprise thank-you note from one of my freshmen: that I helped her find her voice, and that she is inspired to be a voice for the voiceless.
- reconnecting with my best friend from high school (hi, H!).
- our new family tradition: getting donuts after kids’ haircuts. Such a nice treat, and a very nice incentive for those who dislike having anyone touch their head. Extra-extra bonus: the vegan donut place near us means I get a donut too.
- “special kid-Mommy days”: Audrey voted to spend her special Audrey-Mommy day at the aquarium with a bonus ride on the Great Wheel; Theresa spent her special Theresa-Mommy day at the aquarium with a good amount of time in the gift store, hugging stuffed animals; Jamie wanted to follow his trip to the aquarium with a ride on the Great Wheel, but it was closed for renovations, so we ended up riding the elevator to the top of the Space Needle instead. I am so grateful for these days.
My yoga teacher had us fold ourselves into pigeon pose at the end of class. While we were forehead-to-mat, she said something like this:
“Breathe into your hip and create space. The space is an opening: an opening to your most authentic self, and an opening to connect with the human experience.”
Meanwhile, I was thinking, “My hip is really s t r e t c h e d. Yow. How much longer with the yog-ese till I can get up?”
As usual, though, she’s right.
I experienced the opening in each hip as discomfort: tendons and muscles stretching beyond their normal range of motion. I tried to breathe space into the tightness, and relax. To stop fighting.
I tried the same thing last week. It was a hard week. Heartbreaking. Exhausting.
And I was reminded of a prayer: “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.”
Openness requires stretching beyond normal limits. Maybe not so much breaking as softening. Trusting. Allowing the joy and the suffering and the light and the darkness together, as fully as possible.
This is also what it means to hold space, for ourselves and for others. The sacred space, the space between.
In college, I took a class on chaos theory, which explores the realm between order and disorder. The space between one equilibrium and a new equilibrium.
Where we want to be is on one side or another. Where it’s comfortable and safe and known.
Where we live and grow is in between. In the chaos.
So this is my prayer: Open my heart. Soften me so that I may connect more fully with others in our peace and in our pain.
In Blackwater Woods
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
Life has been humming along here for us five, which means I haven’t had a lot of time to post but have noticed lots of small moments of celebration that some of you (ahem, grandparent-ish figures) want to know about.
It has not been all hummingbirds and tulips, though our tulips have bloomed and are the bright spot in our unkempt yard. Potty usage was smooth sailing for a while, and there have been some regressions. Like, I do multiple loads of laundry per day. The washing machine is like my own personal spot for daily devotions. (There must be a patron saint of laundry, right? All those Catholic mamas with their large families must have spent time praying to someone as they scrubbed stains and washed and dried and folded.)
But my friend with twins a little older than our kids, whom I had not seen in like months even though she lives three blocks away (hi, K!), told me today that her kiddos have had similar potty issues, which makes me feel better that my kids are not abnormal.
There have also been some behavioral upheavals, including some very overtired and loopy or defiant children from our recent trip to Dallas. Mostly, the issue seemed to be saving face: “I don’t want to get in trouble but I don’t want to do what you say, so I’ll find a way to barely comply while not actually doing what you asked me to.”
Then there was the “it’s so funny to do exactly the opposite of what you say.” Hugely funny. That pushes my angry button every single time. But I have been working on my responses, so that’s another little celebration.
Some little celebrations to observe on the kids’ end:
- We spent Easter with Alan’s extended family in Texas. They are super-awesome, especially his aunt and uncle who are our kids’ Ooma and Oompa: another set of adoring grandparents.
- The kids got to meet my Aunt Rea and Alan’s Uncle John for the first time, which was also awesome.
- Theresa has some serious attention to detail. Alan’s uncle called her a “cautious observer.” She pointed out nails embedded in the sidewalk today on our ride to the park, and a mural on the upper wall of a food court that I would never have noticed otherwise, and bugs and flowers and so many tiny things that remind me to stop and really look at the world around me. At the aquarium on our special Theresa-mommy day, she asked about jellyfish: “Why don’t they have eyes?”, which the volunteer answered for her. She found almost every acorn cap in the entrance to the Children’s Garden at the Dallas Arboretum. She delights in pill bugs. Callie tolerates–maybe even invites–her hugs. This may someday turn into my house becoming a menagerie. Also, she has decided to ride her balance bike after nine months of not wanting to, and is rocking it.
- Jamie’s biggest thrill of our trip was the ceiling fans at Ooma and Oompa’s house. There were seven. He liked turning them on and off, which became a problem when we realized that he would not stop, even after multiple instructions. He also learned “Hot Cross Buns” on Ooma’s piano. He also got several experiences with escalators and elevators, which probably led to him describing the following scenario yesterday: “There’s an escalator in my building and it goes up to my desk. I will take the escalator and you can take the elevator. And there are ceiling fans. It’s in Mont-Free Downtown.” He likes introducing his statements with “Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey. Hey.” One current interest is letters and sounds: he wants to know “How is your named spelled?” and tries sounding out words in books like we’ve showed him.
- Audrey has been practicing her own calm-down time: she gets really quiet when she’s upset, and either says, “I feel like crying, but that’s okay” [like when we left her backpack on the shuttle to the airport and a kind man on the shuttle had to run after us to give it back–including Munny inside], or sits down with arms around her knees, saying she needs space [like in the doorway of the bathroom at the Cameron Park Zoo]. She loves inventing life stories for her animals, often involving making them a birthday cake, feeding the animal, and helping them poop on the potty. She worried that our van was sad when we left, and gave it a hug when we returned. She continues to be an awesome helper, bringing her siblings ice when they’re hurt, helping Jamie put on his pants when he got frustrated, and saying things like, “I’m an activist. Activists are helpers.” She also delighted in being the spokesperson for our group, telling everyone about our trip: airline staff, other passengers, Ooma and Oompa’s friends…
- The kids like making up their own names for themselves and their animals. Theresa’s recent alter-egos are Kanika and Jackson Piaxon. Audrey makes up words that don’t sound like any other language on earth, then tells me she’s speaking Spanish or French.
- Audiobooks are a godsend. We listened to Small Pig by Arnold Lobel, Brave Irene, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and The Amazing Bone (read by the amazing John Lithgow) by William Steig, and Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit on the long ride back from Waco, and the kids were a) awake, and b) silent.
- They actually most of the time play well together–today they were even helping each other put together a puzzle. When things are going well, they look like this:
- Most of all, I’m grateful that they hit the grandparent jackpot. They love those adults who love them right back. (Audrey kept asking people in Texas, “Will you miss us?”–even people like Frieda whom she had just met but evidently bonded with.) I wish every kid had such a circle of grown-ups who lavish them with love because of who they are.
We’re all seeking.
Some of us for enjoyment: the next awesome show on Netflix.
Some of us for a partner.
For a cure.
For a family.
For a baby.
For relief, or release.
It’s better than Waiting, I suppose. Waiting is passive. Dr. Seuss calls it “a most useless place: The Waiting Place.”
Seeking feels more active, more promising. More in control. (But with no guarantee of “boom bands.”)
For me, Seeking can end up being synonymous with restlessness. An itchy, irritable, why am I not THERE yet? It is hard, hard, hard to be in the middle. Just be-ing. Especially when the be-ing is in the dark. For a long time.
* * *
To be clear, this is not about me. Or rather, it is about my wanting to help the people around me. To heal things. To fix. To make better. Because my life mantra (or at least one of them) is from George Eliot’s Middlemarch:
“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each another?”
Not one of us can heal another’s internal suffering. The best we can do is to witness and to love, and I feel sometimes that it is inadequate, imperfect, blundery. And it reminds me of precisely how powerless we all are: both Seekers and Witnesses.
* * *
We became friends about six months ago with a couple pregnant with triplets–a really great couple, whom we knew would make great parents.
Their triplets arrived really early, at 27 weeks. They were relatively stable (as stable as preemies can be) in the NICU, and their ring of family and friends brought food, commented on their updates, sent waves of love and support to those three babies.
A few days ago, at 7 weeks old, one of the boys died.
To lose a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. To lose a child while you have to care for two other medically fragile newborns is unimaginable. I cannot even begin to figure out how best to love this couple as they grieve one baby and care for their living babies.
* * *
My Grandma turns 90 this May. Each of the past several times I’ve talked with her, she tells me, “Every day I pray that the Good Lord take me. I’m ready. This isn’t living.”
Stuck in a nursing home due to a combination of ailments, including congestive heart failure and recently, chronic nausea and pain from a herniated disc in her lower back, she is done. D-O-N-E. She watched her sisters languish in nursing homes, visited them weekly if not daily. She doesn’t want that. Nor do I.
I call. I listen to her breathless, weak voice. I answer her questions about how my job is, how my kids and husband are. I tell her I love her.
* * *
Maya told me once, when I was having a hard time, that she would “hold space” for me. What on earth does that mean?
It means that I hold a space open for you, she said. I don’t wish or pray for one thing or another for you. I just hold space that you are able to find the direction you need.
It means empathy. Exposing our hearts to pain and grief: the other person’s, and our own.
It means not Seeking, or Waiting. It looks like someone witnessing and loving another on their journey.
Can we be strong enough, vulnerable enough, to hold space for the seekers? For the suffering?
P.S. This is a beautiful post on holding space and how to do it. Cheers to hospice nurse Bridget for sharing it.
Anyone who knows me knows I have an intense sweet tooth. When I had to eliminate a bunch of foods from my diet, I wondered if I would ever get to have dessert again (especially in the winter, when lots of fruit is not in season). Here are some things I found to satisfy the sweet cravings without adding refined sugars:
Allergy-Free Pumpkin Muffins (Alan made these earlier this week, and I swear, you cannot tell they’re not “normal” muffins)
Carrot Cake Bites (which is a better recipe title than “carrot cake balls,” which is what they are shaped like): I didn’t roll them in shredded coconut, which made them a bit sticky to eat and therefore slightly less portable, but they were so, so delicious.
Raw Nut-and-Fruit Bars (from NaturalZing catalogue)
- 2 cups raw almonds
- pinch of sea salt
- 2 cups pitted dates
- 3 scoops protein powder (I subbed 2 Tbsp. chia seeds for 1 serving of protein powder)
- 4 Tbsp. almond butter
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped dried fruit (I used raisins in one batch and cranberries in another)
- Process almonds and salt in a food processor until ground into coarse meal. Add dates and process until mixture is well-mixed and sticky.
- Add protein powder and almond butter and process until a dough-like consistency is formed.
- Pulse in the dried fruit.
- Press the mixture into an 8 x 8″ pan lined with parchment paper (don’t forget to line it so you can easily lift the bars out–otherwise you will have a sticky mess in the pan!). Let bars set in the fridge for 1-3 hours. Cut into 1-2″ bars and enjoy! Store in the fridge.
Note: These are delicious and super-crumbly–not the best portable snack unless you have a really well-sealed container (i.e. not a ziplock bag).
* * *
Maple Almond Butter Cookies (gluten-free and vegan!)
Adapted from this blog. I was pretty proud of these–they’re the first recipe I ever adapted to be gluten-free, and the flour combo worked!
- 1/2 cup natural almond butter
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 3 Tbsp. oil (olive or melted coconut)
- 1 tsp. almond extract
- 1/3 cup oat flour (I made mine by putting oats in a food processor until they were flour-like)
- 1/3 cup coconut flour
- 1/3 cup brown rice flour
- 1/2 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/2 cup chopped almonds or chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Combine wet ingredients–almond butter, maple syrup, oil, and almond extract–and mix well in a large bowl.
- In a smaller bowl, whisk flours, baking soda, and salt.
- Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring until just combined. Stir in additions. Let sit for five minutes. (If you have toddlers, this part is no problem.)
- Roll dough into balls, flatten to 1/3″, and place on cookie sheet. Bake 8-10 minutes. Makes 12-18 cookies, depending on size.
* * *
Almond Butter Cookie Dough Bites
- 1 cup almond butter (smooth, not chunky)
- 1/2 cup coconut flour (or 1/4 cup almond flour and 1/4 cup coconut flour)
- 1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 Tbsp. melted coconut oil
- 1 tsp. vanilla (I forgot this)
- 1/2 – 1 cup chocolate chips (I always over-chip)
Put all ingredients into a food processor, except the chocolate chips. Blend. Stir in the chips. Put spoonfuls into mini muffin cups (mine yielded 24 mini muffins). Freeze until firm. Store in fridge or freezer.
* * *
Berry Pie smoothie (adapted from Clean Detox Manual)
- 2 cups mixed greens (kale, chard, spinach)
- 1/4 cup pecans
- 1 cored apple, cut into chunks
- 1/2 cup frozen fruit (I used mixed berries)
- 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1/2 – 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp. ginger powder
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup coconut or other non-dairy milk
* * *
Carrot Cake Smoothie (adapted from Paleo Partridge)
- 2 cups mixed greens
- 1 cup carrot (I used baby carrots)
- 1/3 cup chopped apple
- 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 1/4 tsp. fresh minced ginger
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 pitted dates
- 1/4 cup pecans
I have tried to make some recipes, like “Black Forest Smoothie” or “Chocolate Mint Grasshopper Smoothie,” but the cocoa powder somehow doesn’t blend well enough for me–it tastes a bit chalky. Maybe you can find one that works for you–if so, let me know!
I used to hate Valentine’s Day. Really, really hate it. “Singles Awareness Day,” one of my former students called it. Even after we got married, I didn’t love (ha) the fact that I was supposed to make a show of my love and affection on a certain day, preferably with consumer goods.
And it is a show in high school. My female students who happen to be dating on February 14 come laden with flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, candy, and other tokens of their beau’s attention. It makes me cringe. (It makes some of them cringe too.)
What I have noticed recently are more concrete examples of True Love, which have nothing to do with perfumed, saccharine, Hallmarked romance.
- After receiving a call that our car was parked inconveniently too close to the front of his house, I went to apologize to our elderly neighbor. He invited me in to visit with himself and his wife, who is several years into Alzheimer’s. This tall, thin, gray, former Army man gently guided his petite wife into the living room, helped her into her cardigan, and sat next to her on the sofa with his arm wrapped around her shoulders. In telling me that he doesn’t read very much anymore, this man who loves talking about literature squeezed his wife’s shoulders and said, “I spend much of my time taking care of my favorite person.” And she smiled, eyes downcast. He eagerly invited me back to talk more about books, and the overwhelming sense I got from their home is the sacrifice that this man has chosen in order to care for his life partner and great love.
- Nicole helped our kids make handprints on a giant card for us for Valentine’s Day, with incredibly sweet messages from them. We are so lucky to have her.
- When my dad was here helping me while Alan was gone, the first of several blizzards struck New England. He checked the weather as often as my weather-nerd friends (you know who you are), and called my mom to check in, strategize, make sure she would be okay. Their neighbor across the street borrowed another neighbor’s snow blower and cleared my parents’ driveway for her.
- True love is lying in bed in the dark, holding hands with my husband and decompressing about a Saturday from hell with our kids a few weeks ago. Laughing about their over-the-top-ridiculous behavior. Letting it go, together.
- My kids have been into get-well cards recently. Whenever they hear about someone’s illness, Theresa usually suggests that they make the person a get-well card. Audrey made one for me when I was down-and-out with the stomach bug two weeks ago.
- We met a couple who delivered the boy-boy-girl triplets at 27 weeks by emergency c-section. The babies are in the NICU and doing okay for being so early, and the parents wrote a note about being overwhelmed by the support of friends and family, particularly in the meal department. They have not had to worry about food for weeks–as they should not have to, since they need to dedicate so much time and energy to supporting their babies. When I brought them soup and bread and other goodies, they were exhausted and exhilarated, and so grateful for the love that surrounds them.
- One of my students in The Girl Effect club will be showing this documentary next week. Just the backstory moved me to tears.
- This song from a Sufi chant:
The ocean refuses no river, no river
The open heart refuses no part of me, no part of you.
I am one with all that is, one with all;
All that is is one with me, one with all.
- One of my students told me about a life-changing revelation about their* identity–a revelation that changes everything about the way this student interacts with the world. To have this kind of self-awareness, integrity, and courage as a high school freshman is beyond amazing. I always thought this student rocked; now they have my even deeper admiration and respect.
- The e-mails of support and inspirational messages that have been sent back and forth among a group of college friends to bring light and sometimes levity to our suffering friend. We’ve had Isaiah, Shel Silverstein, Psalms, Rumi, an Irish prayer, and a song from a Belgian film called Broken Circle Breakdown. Our friend sent us back this Yeats poem about the love of old friends:
THOUGH you are in your shining days,
Voices among the crowd
And new friends busy with your praise,
Be not unkind or proud,
But think about old friends the most:
Time’s bitter flood will rise,
Your beauty perish and be lost
For all eyes but these eyes.
When I think about hearts, I think about my babies’ hearts. I check on my kids before I go to bed at night. Put a hand on each chest. Feel their heartbeats. I remember the first time I saw their hearts. I was 8 weeks pregnant, and there was a little clamshell in each sac, flickering its pulse. Tiny blips on an ultrasound screen.
Each of these hearts turned into Audrey, Theresa, and Jamie.
They will beat in that same chest for whatever lifetime they have.
I saw them first.
It makes me think about the truest form of love, which is forgiveness. Each heart is born with a finite number of beats. If we could see each other’s hearts and understood how many beats they have left, what would we do differently?
*Incorrect plural pronoun form used purposely to avoid gender identification. English so needs a gender-neutral personal pronoun.
Maya teetered on the edge of the Sea Ranch tide pool, the toes of her green Converse gripping the seaweed-covered surface. I squatted near her, not certain enough of my balance to be so close to the edge. The tide was going out.
We stared at the starfish in the pool, releasing tube foot by tube foot from the rock. The free arms dangled in the water. Eventually, the starfish would separate its last suckers from the rock and float wherever the tide would take it.
Who knew where it would go next? Who knew if it would be smashed against the rocks on the tide’s way out? Or eaten?
But it couldn’t stay, so it had to let go.
And it would be pretty and pleasant to think that once the starfish had released all its feet, that it would be Free and Floating and At One With the Ocean.
But the tide goes out. And comes back in. And the starfish will find itself on a different rock, on a different day, in a different tide. And have to let go all over again.
* * *
I don’t know what it’s like to be a starfish, but I do know what it’s like to have my world tilt sideways. Disoriented. In free-fall.
Just after my friend gave birth to her first baby, I wrote to her, “So much love to you as you wade through these unfamiliar waters, testing the currents, swaying with the waves, pulling yourself back to center, sliding your toes over rocks to see what the next step brings.”
Sometimes you step on a sea urchin.
Sometimes the water half-carries you where you’re supposed to go.
Sometimes I can bring myself to trust the tides.
* * *
Recently some of my dearest friends have experienced startling turns in their journeys. Unexpected. Unwelcome. They feel, perhaps, adrift. Unmoored.
Can I sit with them, feel their chest-tightness and heaviness, without force or avoidance?
Can we get used to the sea-change of relaxing into the unknown instead of fighting it? The sense of wading chest-deep in currents, trying to keep our footing on slippery rocks and seaweed, holding our arms out for balance as the waves buffet us?
I usually hold on with all my strength to what seems immobile and sure. But immobility leaves me high and dry, while the changing tides sustain and nourish me.
I am learning to trust myself, to trust others, to trust the Universe to make things right. To hold on when I need to, and to let go, over and over again. To surrender my need to be in control.
Let us go then, you and I,
to where the ocean stretches out against the sky,
where a starfish may detach, secure
in the knowledge that the tide will catch and carry,
light and strong as grace.
My beloved friend Patrick is undergoing treatment for a life-threatening illness. As his friends and family pray constantly for his treatment’s success, he maintains his usual optimistic attitude, exemplified in his writing about how his father Jim’s favorite song, “Accentuate the Positive,” has played on the radio at auspicious moments.
These guys know something about accentuating the positive. Jim was and Patrick is a formidable force for goodness, for justice, and for laughter in the world. They have experienced more than their share of tragedy, and have both chosen joy and gratitude in the face of it. They inspire pretty much everyone who has ever known them.
In this spirit, I humbly offer my recent accentuating of the positive:
- The man whose car I scraped while attempting to parallel park was so kind when he called in response to my note left on his windshield. As I apologized profusely, he said, “It’s not a big deal, just a paint job.” To end the conversation, he wished me “the best day it was possible to have.” Kind strangers rock.
- We now have all three children in underwear during the day, and one no longer needs pull-ups overnight. This feels like a huge milestone to have hurdled (nothing like mixing metaphors…).
- My children, while at times loud, unruly, shovers-and-grabbers, are developing such empathy and kindness, it makes my heart melt. Upon hearing that a different friend of mine was not feeling well, Theresa announced, “Let’s make her a get-well card! What animals does she like?” Nicole helped them create cards and wrote down what they wanted to say to her (some of which is hilarious due to its non-sequitor-ness).
- Nicole told me today how she had to explain to our kids and another girl at the park how the playground toys are for everyone, because this other girl claimed that the slides were “for girls only” and that “boys can’t use them”–which made Jamie seriously sad. We are so grateful for such a kind, empathic, and intuitive nanny who coaches our kids on lovingkindness when we are not there to do so.
- This post by Sarah Ruddell Beach about mindfulness. Yes.
- As a curly-haired female who has spent most of my life defending my choice not to straighten my hair (to my students, some stylists, etc.), I love this ad for Dove about loving one’s curls–not because I use their products, but because they are trying to do something about yet another aspect of perceived beauty that makes girls feel less-than, on-the-outside, not-enough.
- Alan leaves on Sunday for a week-long mission-of-mercy combined with work trip. But my AWESOME DAD is coming on Saturday to help out for the week, and my AWESOME MOM (who retires in June, woot woot!) comes on Thursday to round out the cavalry.