Working My Way Out of Sadness

I was full of sadness this morning.

I had planned on going with Kendell to his INR check and then running home, but my knee was unhappy, so I didn’t. I waited outside for him, though, and the air smelled so fresh and felt so cool it made me distrust it. Like it might be the last good thing I could remember before something bad happened.

We went home and I listened to a little bit of the news, and then I read again about Emmett Till to refresh my memory of what happened to him, and while I tried to read it out loud to Kendell I started crying. Why are humans so awful to each other? Why are cruelty, meanness, judgment, racism, violence our first responses? Why is the world so ugly when it doesn’t have to be?

Next I cleaned the kitchen and I texted with Nathan and I started crying all over again. Not only because I miss him—I miss him, and I thought while I stirred up some protein pancakes about how he is so good to me, how he is sort of my Person, in the sense that he tries to understand me and is gentle and kind to me and takes me for who I am, but how that isn’t fair to him because his Person should be his one-day spouse—not only do I miss him, but because of how his absence is a symbol for how everything changes, how I am at the cusp of not having any kids living at home, and how I want that to be a good time in my life, how it can be good, but also how I miss it when everyone was still at home.

While I ate I read some poetry and this line made me feel a little less alone, from a poem by Oliver de la Paz about small towns: “as though//the little things we tell ourselves about our pasts stay there,/rising slightly and just out of reach.” I had almost skipped reading this poem when I turned the page because it is long, but I read it and it both devoured and fed me. Fed because yes, I too will never be done being haunted by the little town I shook loose from and I thought it was just me but of course it isn’t. Devoured because the poem is so good, and I want to write good poems but I’m not sure I really have the capability or skill or talent or ear.

But I took my drink out to the porch and tried working on a poem I have been working on for weeks now, a poem about finding my own voice, and I got stuck at the same place I always get stuck in this poem, which is the transition between the persona in the poem listening to others and then deciding to listen for her own voice instead. In my real life, this transition was marked by so many things, too many to cram into one poem—the Kavanaugh hearings and the way the Mormon men upheld him, my growing understanding that the bridge between my mother and me was starting to burn, her illness and the way my inability to help her the way she thought I should was a match, a thing to see with briefly but then a thing that started the fire. It wasn’t one thing, it was a process, it was a slurry of things, a flood, and I had always been living in a flood I just hadn’t noticed how hard I was trying to stay on top of the water. All the things that had kept me floating before were punctured. And in the poem I want a line that captures that transition. I have the beginning and the end, but not the transition.

So I sat on my back porch with my orange notebook and my “feminist” mug and I tried to figure it out. The air was still deliciously fraught and then, very gently: it started raining. A delicate rain, consistent enough I had to move back under the overhang so my notebook didn’t get wet. I smelled the air and worked on my poem and sipped my drink.

I didn’t figure out the transition yet.

I didn’t write a good poem.

I couldn’t hug Nathan, or run downstairs to see Haley working on homework somewhere. I still don’t know how to help Jake or what path Kaleb will find.

My house is still too empty and at the same time I want it to be completely empty. I crave solitude but I am lonely.

But as the rain fell my heart lifted. A little, a little. The smallest bit of hope crept up as the rain tickled my toes. Maybe I won’t always be lonely. Of course Jake will figure out his life. How can a world that smells like that—petrichor and water and petunias and the green scent of the catalpa leaves giving off a little bit of their summer heat into the cooling air—only be filled with ugliness, despair, and violence? It’s not. There is good here, too. Even in my little corner.

I smelled the air and then I turned back to my notebook.

Maybe there is a good poem in me, too.

This Girl

When I was pregnant with Haley, right at the end there was a little scare where the doctor was worried that her growth had slowed down. A few stress-tests and ultrasounds later, he decided that everything was probably OK but that an induction would probably be best. (I have to add that I’m grateful I had babies when the philosophy was “let’s induce!” instead of how it is now, which is “wait until you’re 57 weeks pregnant and then we’ll think about it.” I would be pissed if I were some of my friends, who’ve had enormous, 11-pound babies. Kaleb, at almost 9, was a struggle to deliver and my body has never been the same.) When he was looking at his calendar, he said “what about Thursday, April 20th?”

“That’s my birthday,” I said.

“Oh, that would be so cute!” the nurse said. “She’d be like a birthday gift for you! And you could share your birthdays your whole life!”

But I already had a strong sense of who that baby would be. I had a feeling that she would want to have her own birthday. So I disappointed that nurse (who really: she was beaming, she loved that idea so much) and said “No, let’s do it on the next day if you can.”

The doctor had space that day, the nurse stopped beaming, and I had my daughter the day after my birthday.

1995 haley newborn with amy 2 4x6

She was still a gift, though.

One of the things I have loved about seeing my kids grow into adults is witnessing them becoming people. With each of my pregnancies, I had that same strong sense of each of their personalities, and in general it has proved true. But how they use those personalities has been so amazing to watch.

1996 easter haley and amy 4x6

That feeling I had about Haley was partly the idea that she would be independent. An adventurer. And that has been the case. She was never a clingy baby who couldn’t be away from me. She could play on her own; she was happy to be held by almost anyone (but she rejected any form of snuggling; you could hold her but she wanted to see what was going on) and she never seemed afraid of anything. When she was barely two, Kendell and I went to Hawaii for a week; she stayed with my mom and my mother-in-law and was happy and never cried about missing us.

Independent. Confident. Strong. An adventurer.

2002 mothers day haley and amy 4x6

Now she is having another birthday. Now she is in her twenties and living her life fully. She thrived in college, where she worked nearly full-time and still graduated with two majors and three minors. She is a great employee, even when she had a sexist and demeaning boss. She is passionate about her causes. She is a feminist through and through. She is smart—so smart. And she loves to travel; so far in her life she’s been to Canada, Mexico several times, Florida, many of the cities on the east coast, and Europe, including a semester in Spain.

IMG_5177 haley amy selfie

I still remember her face, though. Her face when they handed her to me, her baby face, her toddler face surrounded by her blonde curls. Her smile before her braces, her smile after. I will never not feel that same feeling I had at her birth: awe and gratitude and excitement at her existence.

I’m glad I followed my gut all those years ago, even if I disappointed the nurse. It was one of my first decisions as a mom, and while I’ve made many mistakes with other choices, that one was right. She needs her own day. I'm glad our birthdays are so close, though. I love that we can celebrate during the same weekend.

She will always be a gift in my life.

Thoughts on Gardening

When I was growing up, my dad made us a beautiful yard. There were flowers and roses, gardens marked out with stones, a maple tree, a locust. We had a vegetable garden and a peach tree.

Being outside in that yard made me happy. Even when I was angsty and bitter as a teenager, I’d still sometimes sit out in the backyard, surrounded by the beauty my dad made, look at the mountains and feel a sense of peace.

But I never once—not once—helped him. I didn’t mow the lawn, prune the rosebushes, pull weeds, rake leaves. It was all my dad’s project, and I can’t help but wonder why. It’s not even that he asked us to help and we grumbled about it. It was just never a thing we did. Never a thing I even thought about doing.

But one of my greatest joys in my adult life is having a house with a yard.


If I could have 8 back, or 7, or 12, or 15, here is what I would do: I would ask my dad if he had another rake. I would go out to the backyard, under the honey locust tree, and I would rake leaves with him. Maybe we would talk. Maybe we would work silently. Maybe I would ask him: How do you feel about this space? Do you love it or resent it? Do you wish we helped you, or do you like the solitude?

Tell me how to prune the rosebushes, I’d ask him.

Tell me how to keep the trees healthy, the lawn green, the daffodils still blooming every spring.

And if I had my 20s and 30s back, I would do what I did with my own children, except more often. Let them spill outside into the warm spring air, the chilly fall light, the heat of summer. Give them a little trowel of their own, teach them what is a weed and what is a flower. Call them over to admire a potato bug or a spider, let a worm crawl along their palm, celebrate the random surprise of a garden snake or too. Listen to them laugh, run, play, or just sit in the shade of the trees while I worked.

I loved those days—days they have all grown out of. Now, Kaleb mows the lawn but he grumbles about it; he rakes the leaves and picks up the apples but with deep sighs and not a few eye rolls.

Each of my kids have reached, eventually, that age when they’d rather be anywhere else than helping mom in the yard.

And maybe I can’t understand it because I didn’t ever have to do it when I was a kid. Maybe because it was always a choice rather than a chore for me, I can’t understand the annoyance.

Because for me, working in my garden hasn’t ever felt like actual work. It has always felt like a sort of relationship, a way to tell the world I love it. And a way it tells me back, too; the roses aren’t just roses to me, but a sort of friend. I prune them and fertilize them (and yes, sometimes I talk to them), and they take care of me by giving me color and fragrance.

It is about memory and connection to those who are gone, too. My dad gave me two of my rosebushes, and my dark-blue irises. A different rose bush, the one I planted near the maple tree just a few weeks after Haley was born, I chose because it smells and looks just like one my grandpa Fuzz had. I have purple pansies because one grandma loved them and a patch of purple vinca because a different grandma had them in her garden. Zinnias for Haley’s childhood, hostas for Jake’s; orange California poppies for Nathan and little purple snow crocus for Kaleb’s.

Sweet William and hyacinths for mine.

It’s a sort of alchemy, gardening. You start with seeds or bulbs or roots, add patience and sunshine and water, and then: color and fragrance, a thousand different frilly shapes. It takes work and attention, but it’s a joyful sort for me. I thought flowers were magic when I was a kid and deep down, I still do.

This weekend I spent some morning hours in my yard, raking leaves. I trimmed out the dead asters, I encouraged my poppy which might just bloom a second time this year. I deadheaded a bit. I thought about myself, when I was five and six and loved picking all of the rose petals off of Grandpa Fuzz’s flowers to make cakes for fairies. They aren’t people, of course. They can’t love me back or tell me their stories with words. But they lift my heart—my trees, my flowers. They give me hope. They remind me that there is beauty still left in this world for now. It’s November and some of them are still blooming and I know that is evidence of the way we damage the world, but what can I do? Besides mulch, besides yank away the bindweed, besides stop and appreciate the sheer, remarkable beauty of light through a petal. Besides care for my tiny piece of the world, and relish the care it returns to me.

I always want flowers.

A Numinous Morning at the Library

Some days, my work feels mundane. I love what I do, of course, but the negative of working somewhere you love is that the place loses some of its magic. This afternoon, for example: I spent time reordering damaged books, pulling new teen books for a YA display, and talking to patrons. Good, happy work, but what is usual. 

But some shifts feel numinous, somehow. The library can never feel for me the way it felt before I worked here (I can't smell that library scent anymore, for example), but as I come to understand the library's moods, its weather patterns and shifting people, I find a deeper, more connected sort of magic. That is how this morning felt, so here is a story told in vignettes​ that perhaps will mean something only to me...

Before the library opens, I take thirty seconds to stand at the tall windows and look at the mountains in the morning light. The air is finally starting to get a little bit clearer here, and the middle parts of the mountains are starting to turn orange in spots; this view of Cascade framed by the library windows is one of my favorites. I turn on computers and set out newspapers and wipe down keyboards. Then I clean up the blue toner powder that someone must've splattered last night onto the black-and-white printer, and then I unlock the doors.

It is a Friday morning, so my father's old friend Craig stops by. We talk about hiking, and of the peacefulness of being in mountains that no one goes to. He tells me, as he does every Friday morning, how he misses my dad and wishes they could go on a desert walk with him again. "Of course, we were always looking down at the ground, watching for flakes of arrowheads," he says, because twenty years ago you could wander the Utah desert and find arrowheads. "I know now it's illegal and wrong to take them," Craig says, "so now I leave them. But when I find one I always think your dad lead me to it." I think about the morning we buried my dad, when I didn't want him to go into the dark without anything but his clothes, so I put one of his illegally-procured arrowheads in his pocket, and how the muscle of his thigh was also a stone. For a moment it is entirely absurd that my father's friend Craig, walking carefully and slowly with his cane on his stroke-twisted legs, is here in the library talking to me about books, hiking, and arrowheads, and my dad is...where, I don't know for sure, but his body is in the ground and in his pocket there is a stone.

I help an older woman learn how to download e-books onto her iPad. At first she is unsure but as we move through the steps she starts to understand. I think about how baffling our world can be to someone raised in the 50s, when refrigerators were finally affordable enough that middle-class families could have them, washing machines were becoming popular, and the credit card was just becoming a reality (but only, of course, for men).  Our technology now is nearly don't really hold​ an e-book, you never touch an e-audio book, but it still gets you to a story. I can't help wondering, every time I help someone who is initially baffled by—or actually a little bit afraid of this technology—what the world will be like in another twenty or thirty years. What else will we invent before I am dead? And will I be the brave sort, always trying new things, or the kind who is afraid?

I help another older patron who tells me that she hates fiction, especially that "wild, made-up sciencey stuff" but she wants to read something from the Great American Read list. (Which doesn't have any non-fiction.) After we talk for a little while, I get her three books in large print: Anne of Green Gables, which she'd never read but enjoyed the movies, To Kill a Mockingbird, which she'd read "years and years ago" but would really like to read again, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, which she'd never heard about but agreed sounded like something she would love. I always ask the patrons on crutches or with canes if they'd like me to get their books for them, and she says she would love that. I do this to help them, but also as a sort of good-karma thing for myself, as one day I will be an old woman but still need books, and hopefully there will be someone in the future who will help me access them if I can't get to them myself.

I check people in to use our study rooms, I help a woman figure out how to see the order of a series, I tell another woman where to find Colleen McCullough's novels, and I walk an elderly gentleman over to the biography section. I have a conversation with a man who has the same name and spelling as my husband's deceased brother; we talk for a bit about how much more difficult it is to trace back Scandinavian names as the change from -sen to -dottir and back again through the line. I confess I don't know as much as I should about my husband's line, but I can trace my McCurdy line all the way back to the Scottish MacCurdy clans. 

I read my email and get caught up on book group reservations.

A small blond girl in a pink dress, perhaps two, has wandered over the bridge to my side of the library, without her mother. I watch her for a minute to see if anyone is coming to look for her. She stands calmly by one of our sculptures, which is of a crouched man. Done in alabaster that looks like the flesh of raw muscle, this sculpture is either terrifying or fascinating to our little patrons. She just stands and looks at it, carefully touching the ear. I walk over to her and ask if she knows where her mom is. She pops her binki out of her mouth, shrugs, and says "nope. Let's go find her." She puts her binki back in her mouth and reaches up to hold my hand. Her tiny fingernails are painted turquoise. We wander over to the children's section and in a few minutes find her mom, who didn't realize her daughter Kate (she told me her name with another quick binki removal) was missing. As I walk back to my desk, I remember my own days of bringing my kids to the library. I can almost feel how it felt to have their little hands in mine, and the sound of their voices, and the deep, lovely exuberance they brought to finding books at the library. For a moment I feel like all of my life has already been lived, and that every sweet, gentle moment is behind me; I swallow that familiar lump and get on with it, as there is no crying at the reference desk. (Except I cry all the time at the reference desk. Reticently.)

I go to the circulation office to see if there are any books to take downstairs with me. One of the librarians there tells me that she just last night read my essay in Baring Witness . She tells me that it's as good as anything she's read by Toni Morrison or Annie Dillard, which makes me laugh because of course it's not, but I am flattered anyway. I think about the night I did a reading with other writers whose essays are also in that book, and the way I got to a part of my essay that at first seems funny but then turns dark, and how the audience laughed and then went silent, how I felt them turn with me into the darkness, and how exhilarating it was to be, just for that moment, a person leading other people into the darkness of human nature, and how that is the one time in my life I have really, really felt like a writer.

The general reference desk is usually a little bit quieter than the fiction desk, and this proves true this morning. When I switch desks there is a barrage: two guest passes for the internet computers, one patron needs help with printing, another can't find Fahrenheit 451 even though it's supposed to be on the shelf (it was; she thought it would be thicker so she didn't notice the slim spine), another can't decipher her own handwriting and wonders if I can figure out which author's last name she wrote down (we finally figure out it was Wingate, Lisa Wingate...I'm not sure I could recreate the steps it took me to get there). A patron needs headphones, another is turning in her headphones, another tells me her story of being annoyed by the process of getting a Utah driver's license. Two different patrons ask me where the YA section is, and another can't find the Brandon Mull book he's looking for (it's upstairs in the junior novels). In an hour I don't get any work done, other than helping patrons, which is fine because that's the point.

Just before I leave for lunch, a teenage patron comes to the desk. She should be in school right now, but instead she's here, asking me for a book. "A good book," she says, "but it can't be all cheery and happy and hopeful." She looks, walks, and dresses absolutely nothing like I did at her age, 16 and feeling like the world made no sense anywhere, but a little bit of sense (and peace, and streaming light, and quiet, and books) could be found at the library. But for just a second I am looking back through time at myself, angry and wild and rebellious and always wearing black, so I show her some books that I would've liked when that was me (The Infinity of You and Me, And We Stay, Belzhar, and The Carnival at Bray​; good, but not happy). I think about how long the library has been a place of solace for me, a place of framed views, of artwork, of quiet, of refuge. A long time; perhaps all my life, or at least as long as I can remember. And today I also remember this: it is a place of connection, a place where the layers of time slip a little, when all of my ancient Scottish ancestors catch a brief glimpse of the old woman I will become in the future, when my dad's hand holding an arrowhead reaches out for my teenage wrist with its ankh bracelet, where I can see my daughter's small fingers, nails painted pink, pulling a book from the shelf, where nothing is commonplace.
A place where magic happens.

on Dreams, and Secret Rooms, and Longing for the Past

Before Haley and Jake graduated from high school and went off to college, I had a reoccurring dream. I’d be doing laundry and look up and realize there was a door hidden behind the spot where I hang clothes to dry. I’d part the damp clothes (a little bit Narnian, yes?), open the door, and discover a previously-unknown bedroom. A rush of relief would come over me: this new bedroom would mean no one would have to share a room, and that there’d be an easing in the space everyone used in our house, so fewer sibling tensions.

I always laughed a bit when I woke up from the dream, because it was such an obvious message from my psyche about the things I was worrying about—my kids being happy and having the space they need to explore their identities, as well as my frustration that I couldn’t find the answers I needed through the normal routes. Only magic or secret bedrooms would help, and as I didn’t have those, I continued being frustrated, wishing I could fix things but never finding the unknown door to answers.

I had that dream a few times after Haley moved out, but I haven’t had it at all since Jake moved out. We have plenty of space now, and while it is painful and diminishing in a very specific way, having your kids leave—I miss them quite a bit—it is also sort of…rewarding, I guess. To see them move forward and begin to figure out their lives on their own. To watch them form their own spaces, as it were.

Last night I had a sort-of similar dream that helped me recognize something I am feeling right now in my life.

In this dream, I was again standing by the just-remembered door in the laundry room. When I opened it, I discovered that the hidden room held a bunch of boxed-up treasures. All of the clothes I wore as a young mother, favorite sweaters that had been lost or worn out, my pink flowery capris I wore until they fell apart. My kids’ baby clothes, the tiny newborn gowns, their favorite toddler outfits and first-day-of-school T-shirts; Jakey’s “basket shoes,” a tiny pair of Michael Jordan’s that he loved more than anything, Nathan’s favorite belt, all of Haley’s spinny dresses, Kaleb’s beloved white blankey. Boxes of all the crafts I’ve ever intended to make but haven’t gotten around to, Christmas gifts and Mother’s Day gifts and birthday gifts now crafted and stacked next to appropriately-sized and themed gift bags. Quilts that I have imagined in my real life but never finished, entirely finished and obviously bound by me (I always have one wonky corner). Photo albums, with pictures neatly arranged in plastic sleeves—beautiful photos of all of my kids, alone and together, photos of them with their parents and friends and siblings and cousins, each one perfectly composed and crisply focused, with depth of field that made me weep. These were all photos I had never seen and didn’t remember taking, but they brought me to memories I cherish (in my waking world, I mean, not my dream one).  I also found a box with scrapbooks I had forgotten I had made, and these were all about how I felt through all of my various stages of motherhood, from my first pregnancy to our most recent vacation. There were kids in the layouts, but the pages themselves were about me, my joys and frustrations and treasured moments, a record not of their lives but of mine as their mother.

My own little Cave of Wonders, except not jewels and gold, but wealth of a different sort. A gathering of objects that, when touched or looked at, could remind me more clearly how it felt to be that person I used to be, when I wore or made the object, or when it was loved by the people I love.

I did laugh, a little, when I woke up. Those photos were so beautiful. But it was a teary sort of laughter, informed by self-realization. I remember once, when I was in the thick of mothering little kids, my mother told me that the happiest time in her life was when we were all little. Her comment both reminded me to savor those days, instead of complaining my way through them, and made me a little bit sad: is that really the only happiness we get? The sweetness of little children? Isn’t there sweetness as they grow and become adults?

I am discovering that yes, there is sweetness. But it is a complicated, layered sweetness, like an extra-dark chocolate filled with a rich salted caramel. It is delicious, but it is not simple anymore. I love my children so much, all of them. I love seeing them find their way in the world. But this phase of my life isn’t easy. Of our lives; life isn’t simple—for me, but especially for them. There have been injuries and bruises and lingering scars and we have all been changed. We will all continue to change.

So I curled in bed this morning, remembering my dream. Thinking about how clearly my psyche was saying take me back. And how hard I wish my waking self could remember exactly how that felt, to have the simple, uncomplicated love of young children surround me every day. I am not wishing away my right now, yearning for what used to be. There is only forward. But clearly, my dream told me, clearly I miss it. And I am afraid of losing those memories, afraid I haven’t written enough down, snapped enough photographs, saved enough used-up objects.

Clearly I would like to revisit it somehow, even though I know that room doesn’t exist. It’s just empty wall behind the drying laundry.

I can’t believe my mother was right—that all of my happiest days are behind me. I know there is joy in the future, too. There is joy right now. But, as we face yet another new school year starting, Nathan’s senior year and Kaleb’s first in junior high, I am feeling nostalgia for what-used-to-be. I am wishing I could revisit and maybe revise, maybe somehow get things right, ensure fewer bruises, fewer scars. Or even just scoop one of my children up again, in their chubby baby selves, and hold them close, and know that simple love again.

Even though I know that is a locked door that is lost forever.

Mornings Like These

Sometime in the night, it started snowing. I wish I would have witnessed it—the snow falling in the dark. Sometimes that hush wakes me up, but I slept soundly last night. It came silently and we woke to snow. Not an enormous storm, just three or four inches, but enough that we needed to shovel. Kendell needed to be to work as early as he could, and Nathan had an early-morning PT appointment, so I hurried through the breakfast prep and then bundled up to shovel.

It was still falling, just a little, and the light was just on the brink—somewhere behind the clouds, the sun was just about to rise, but it was still just a little bit dark. Just enough that the falling snow could still sparkle in whatever light it could find.

We shoveled silently together, Kendell and I. Just the scrape of the shovel and the very faint sound of snow hitting my coat. I was thinking, while we worked, of how good a simple pleasure it was: shoveling snow. Breathing in fresh air, working our bodies, doing something productive. Being here, taking care of our own place that we love. This place with so many memories. That moment: that is love to me. That is what matters.

Then Kendell said “I want to move somewhere it never snows, this is miserable.” And I laughed long and hard, because that is our relationship, right there. Me trying to savor and find something lovely, him being practical.

Shoveling snow

We finished the driveway and the sidewalks (we live on a corner lot, so we have a lot of sidewalk). We cleaned off Jacob’s car, and then Kendell took Nathan to PT for me, so I didn’t have to drive in the snow. Kaleb came out, dressed (in shorts, I’ve given up that fight!) and ready for school, but more than a little bit disappointed that all of the snow was already shoveled.

So I gave him the other shovel and we cleared off our neighbor’s driveway and sidewalk. We talked while we worked: about the girl he has a crush on and how he found out she is adopted, so then we talked about adoption. We talked about spelling words and his essay for social studies (which he had to re-write after the school computer he was working on crashed) and how sad he was that he won’t be able to play soccer at recess today (too much snow).  We talked about some friends he’s been having friend trouble with.

We talked about how to shovel snow.

We finished up the neighbor’s yard just when Kaleb’s ride to school got here, so I hugged him goodbye and sent him on his way.

Mornings like these: this is what I love. This is happiness. Just spending time doing something with my family. This is what I want to savor. This is what I hope I always remember. This, to me, is the very definition of a good life.

Sometimes when I find myself in the middle of such happiness, I get a little bit afraid. I worry that it is the calm before some dreadful storm. But then I take a deep breath and remind myself I can’t control the storms. They come, silently or ferociously, and all I can do is deal with them. All I can do is keep looking for and savoring what is lovely, no matter the storm. All I can do is talk, or work in companionable silence. All I can do is love them as much as I can, these people life has given me.

"I'm so full of love I could barely eat"

It’s been a good week.

Well, of course, some strangeness and problems. My hamstrings have not been doing well; I’ve been exercising anyway but I’m hobbling instead of walking. I seemed to have developed a new stalker at work, and there’s this other patron who comes in to use our computer, who entirely creeps me out on a good day, but I had to get a little bit fierce with him this week to keep him in his place. (If ever there were anyone who would go postal in our library, it would be him. He makes me nervous.) I’m completely off the no-sugar wagon and have given up until after Mother’s day when I plan on starting again. I was up all night last night with my mom, who is back in the hospital with pneumonia. Oh how terrifying those 1:17 a.m. phone calls are! When Kendell’s phone rang and we startled awake, he said “That’s your sister calling, it can’t be good news. Are you sure you want me to answer?” and I was still sleep-groggy enough to think, just for a second, that not answering the phone would keep the bad news from being real. At least it wasn’t devastating. At least she’ll be OK.

Plus I’m fairly mad at the Gray’s Anatomy writers.

And then there was the vandalism incident with Kaleb, which is a whole other story.

(I always have to preface happiness with hardness, like it is a talisman or a sign to The Universe: I’m not too happy that I need to be reminded of anything.)

My good week started last Thursday, with a reunion of sorts. (I’m sorry…I’m going to be vague because I am not ready to blog about it yet.) I have wanted this thing to happen for decades but I couldn’t ever be certain it would. It is the answer to many hopes and wishes. One of the things I didn’t expect from this experience is how it has also reunited me with some lost parts of myself that I thought I had to put away in the name of adulthood, but maybe I didn’t. Plus the knowledge that sometimes, hard choices turn out better than you could imagine when you made them.

Then Haley came home for a few days, after she finished her finals, so we could celebrate her birthday. It hit me at her party: now that she’s twenty, I will never again be the mom of three teenagers. I should perhaps be melancholy about the passage of time, but instead I feel glimmery—I am excited to see their futures unfold.

turning 20
(awful photo captured from Snapchat. awful quality, adorable image.)

We had dinner on Sunday with my mom (red bean burritos because Haley loves them and they’re one of the only vegetarian meals I make), who wasn’t sick yet and is doing remarkably well as she continues to heal from her back surgery.

I had some good and very needed conversations with all of my Bigs. There were a bunch of little things that happened that reminded me how much I love each of my kids and how blessed I am to be their mom. We listened to Hozier all weekend. We had some kitchen dance sessions and some interpretive rain dancing. We laughed and told jokes and stories, we had French toast for breakfast and midnight snacks of Scor cake.

Haley and I went to lunch and did some shopping (new running shoes for her birthday). She is turning into a grown up. We agree on many things and disagree on others, but it feels like our relationship is shifting in positive and healthy ways. More, it’s just good to see her living this part of her life with such determination, courage, and happiness.

I did a little bit of scrapbooking and my massive, ruthless reorg/purge of my scrapbooking supplies is coming along nicely.

Plus it has rained all week.

And when it wasn’t raining I was working in my flower beds, planting the rest of the astilbe, ferns, and hostas I’d bought awhile ago.

Perhaps from that reunion on Thursday. Probably, in fact. But also because of feeling surrounded by my family, by being able to see and feel and know how much I love them and that they love me back. For many reasons, this week I have felt such lightness. Light in the sense of not dark. Open and hopeful. The opposite of how I felt in January and February.

And as much as I am willing to acknowledge what is hard, I wanted The Universe to know I know: it was a good week and I am thankful to have received it. 

Wading in the Merced River (a DBAY post)

English geek dbay

(Every year, I have topics that I totally meant to blog about, but then time passes and I don't, and then it feels like too much time has passed​, so then I don't blog about them. Even though they were important. So I made up an acronym and this year, I'm going to finish out December with some DBAY posts for 2014, so I get everything together at least in the year when it belongs.)

Today I've spent a ton of time processing many of my Yosemite photos, for a Christmas project.

On top of half dome cairn 4x6

As I've revisited those images, I've been amazed at how they've reminded me of how those few days felt, specifically the mountains' spirit. The atmosphere is different there, in the Sierra Nevada, and that made it both like coming home (because mountains are my favorite place to be) and discovering something nearly-entirely new.

I loved that feeling.

Flowers on top of Yosemite

Our trip to Yosemite felt to me like it was sort of magical. Too good to be true, really. (I was almost afraid to go home, because I worried that everything would completely fall apart after such a perfectly-timed experience.) Just winning the lottery spot for the Half Dome hike was amazing, because seriously: I never win anything. I enter contests and raffles just to make sure someone else wins. I almost didn’t even put my name in for the lottery, on the day I decided to do it which was the very last day you could enter, but there was something in me that said I needed to take that trip this summer. So I registered—and got in.

But the good luck didn’t stop there. First off was the traffic on the drive. Many people had warned us that the route I had planned—State Route 6—was problematic because if there was any construction, the traffic would back up for miles. But aside from one tiny little delay (like…maybe three minutes) right when we got off the Interstate, there was zero construction and, in fact, that road was one of the highlights of the trip for me. (Hopefully it will be another DBAY post.)

I had reserved us some tents at Curry Village, but when we went to register, the guy at the desk upgraded us to a cabin. No, seriously: I haven’t ever been upgraded to anything, ever, not even once, and as I was worried about the tent (I don’t do well in tents at all), this really was like magic. The cabin was pretty small, and it had double sized beds instead of queens, but who cares. It had four solid walls, carpet, a toilet, and a shower. So perfect.

I still don’t entirely understand why, but Yosemite in the summer of 2014 was a trip I needed to take.

Nevada fall from John Muir Trail

But despite all of this planet-aligning magic, all did not go entirely smooth. Because the day before we left, I started getting sick: a sore throat. And I decided that I just didn’t care. I was just going to ignore my cold and go anyway. And the ignore-the-cold tactic worked pretty well. I drank a lot of water during our drive to keep my cells hydrated, and loaded up on the vitamin C, and just kept thinking positive, healing thoughts. When I woke up on the morning of our Half Dome hike*, I didn’t feel 100% my normal, energetic self. But it wasn’t too bad—until we were about half way down. When we got off the wooded slope that is behind Half Dome, just as we entered the Little Yosemite Valley, those healing, positive energies just vanished and I started feeling fairly tired. It was hot, and my burning throat was doing that thing where even though you’re swallowing water it feels like the liquid doesn’t touch it, and I was starting to have that all-over body ache, and my voice started going out. But of course I had no choice but to continue hiking!

The Little Yosemite Valley is the flattest part of the entire trail, and the Merced River runs right next to the trail. One of the guide books I’d read insisted I must stop and wade in the river. So, while Kendell and Jeff were talking to a trail guide, Lenna and I took off our hiking boots and waded into the water. I was expecting it to be fairly tepid, as the current was barely moving, but it was cold. Part of me wanted to just dive in, but I also know how grumpy wet clothes make me, so I just went in to the very bottoms of my shorts. Lenna was dying for the bathroom, which was about a mile down the trail, so she left. I confess: I was so glad I was alone for a few minutes. I stayed as long as I could in the water, just taking in the beauty. There is walking next to water…but there is also being in the water, and stepping into the river was a way of fully immersing myself in the Yosemite experience, even if I didn’t get entirely wet.

It was one of my favorite moments of my life.

IMG_3792 merced river 4x5

Not too long later, Kendell came and found me. I waded over to a rock near the bank and took my shirt off. Then I sat on that stone, in just my sports bra, and used my shirt to dry my feet. Kendell handed me my socks and then my boots, one at a time, and then I stood up on the rock, already dry—but completely, entirely refreshed. My tired feet were made deliriously happy by their cold soak. It renewed my flagging energy and let some of the healing thoughts flow back in—at least until we reached the bridge over Nevada Fall, when my fever hit me. (The last three miles down the John Muir trail were pretty brutal for me.)

But that isn’t this story. This story is the one about the day I stood in the Merced River in the Sierra Nevada. It’s the story about how happiness finds you in unexpected ways. It is, really, about what happiness itself is, those numinous moments when things larger than yourself bring you to a place you couldn’t have imagined and then give you exactly what you didn’t know you needed.

After a Hard Day there is Usually a Good Day

October 29 is a door. It’s an anniversary of sorts for me. The date, in many ways, my adult life began. When October 29 arrives, I am both filled up with melancholy and made grateful by the hard thing I did 24 years ago. Isn’t that strange—that one of my life’s hardest things is also joyful, because it changed everything and helped other people and helped me through innumerable other hard things.

It is a door because it is the start of this season, the fast downward spiral of the year: Halloween, then Nathan’s birthday, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then Jake’s birthday. The last of the warm days, the last of the autumn colors, the start of coldness. Perhaps even snow, if we are lucky.

This season that also makes me feel both happy and sad, because if it arrives it is here but it is also ending.

Everything is ending, right now, and if October 29 was an end of something hard and sad and joyful, it is also a reminder to hold on even though no one can hold on, to time or moments, even with pictures, even with words.

IMG_4504 autumn violet

So I am thinking about the value of individual days.

Sunday was not my favorite day. Kendell and I argued—hard. About the dumbest thing, the hamburger I put in the fridge three weeks ago and then forgot about. We argued because beef is expensive and because I am not always what he wants me to be and because I resist it. Resist trying to change my essential self. We fought because the slimy green mess of sour meat was only a spark for all the sadness married people toss at each other, and because marriage is hard. We think it is only about making a life together, but it is also about keeping the life that we have within us alive, the life that’s separate from the one we live as somebody’s spouse.

So even though we made up and got over it, I woke up on Monday a little bit battered. Heartsore. And I prayed for a good day.

And then we had a good day.

Kendell had the day off and we just hung out together. When the kids got home, we worked in the yard. Kaleb, whose perpetual yard job, as the youngest, is picking up the apples (yes! still!) said, “mom, I can’t believe how much you like picking up apples. It’s good but strange.”

I asked him to explain so he said, “whenever I’m picking up the apples you always come and help.” So then I explained that I love being outside with my kids, working in the yard. Mostly the kids play in between the work, but that’s OK because in the end we get it done together. I told him about how, when the Bigs were little, in the warm months we’d do yard work together all the time, and how happy it made me, and how it still makes me happy even though kids complain.

Then Kendell and I went with Jake to get something fixed on his car and new keys made since he lost the spare. The woman at the key-making machine was joking about me letting Jake drive in the first place and I had one of those moments when you look at your kid and you see him as a person. Not just your son but the totality, for just a tiny second, of everything he is, and you realize (again) just how real and alive and here with me right now he is. (A moment intensely tied to October 29, every time it happens.)

Both of the new keys worked just fine.

Instead of the beef stroganoff and curried green beans I had planned, we decided to go to dinner. We ate pizza and pasta and we all laughed together and it could’ve only been better if Haley were there. We told old stories and new stories. We were together.

And that’s just life. Bad days and good days. Battered heart, heart brimming with the sheer, simple goodness of right now. Hard things that continue to ache and bring happiness all at once.

October 29. The door is opening. I’m stepping through to grab everything, the joy and excitement and stress and beauty and coldness and warmth. The smell of the heater the first time we turn it on, the last of the pumpkin-spice candles, the first whiff of pine. Whatever is hard or good, I am ready to have it now.

The Week it Rained Every Day

Last week I sent all three of my boys off to their first days of school.

_MG_4083 kaleb fdos 4th grade 4x6

Kaleb's first day

_MG_4102 nathan fdos 9th 4x6
Nathan's first day (It was raining when he went to school...I didn't get many good pictures, and caused a mini traffic jam getting this one by shooting through the car window while in the junior high drop-off loop)

_MG_4096 jake fdos 11th 4x6

Jake's first day of school...he gets to drive himself this year!

I argued with Nathan's counselor. (The problem with his schedule is still not resolved.)

I listened very solemnly to Kaleb talk about how he is different now he is in fouth grade (he doesn't "play" anymore, he "hangs out," and he needs to read "important, hard books," preferably about monsters).

I shopped a great sale but bought myself nothing.

I ran 14-ish miles, some sluggish, some blissful, a few that felt entirely effortless.

I finished Tell the Wolves I'm Home and it made me cry. I started The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry and it made me laugh.

I got to see Haley.

_MG_4091 kaleb haley fdos 4th 4x6
(She drove Kaleb to school on his first day, per his request.)

I talked to my husband. I laughed with him. I came home to find him painting the trim on the garage. I also argued with him and wished I wasn't. I wished I could make things better somehow.

I spent hours talking with Jake. There—I also wish I could make that better. That hardness he is going through. Some of it is my fault, some of it his, but he is in a hard place he doesn't know how to get out of and all I can help him with is words.

I talked to my mom. I texted with my sister while she drove to California. I talked to my other sister on the phone.

I prayed. I laughed. I cried.

I made chocolate chip cookies with Nathan, and potato salad, and confetti rice salad, and roast beef with balsalmic vinegar.

I ate one of the most delicious watermelons of the summer.

There was rain nearly every day, which was like a sacrament. There was morning snow on my favorite mountain. There was a rainbow tonight that was so beautiful I made my neighbors come outside and admire it with me.


Tonight, I felt like something I've been struggling with was finally righting itself, and for one good, long hour I could breath deeply. I felt, if not exactly free, then lightened of my Atlas stone. When it turned left, the resettling of weight was almost unbearable, but then I told my friends the story of the day I lost my temper with my classful of 4th-period hooligans and shouted the F word at them, and then we all laughed together and the weight readjusted itself to a more bearable spot.

And then, just now, because I couldn't sleep and he wasn't asleep yet, Jake and I went outside (after midnight in the pouring rain) to put out the drain spouts together, and then we rain in the drenching storm, and the cold didn't make us go inside, or being soaked all the way through—but eventually the lightning did.

It was a good week and a hard one. It was usual for my life right now, and I know one day life will change and I will miss these days (as I miss other days) so I am making peace with the hard and savoring the good.

How was your week?