Under Our Umbrella, Eh Eh Eh (Our Rainy Canadian Vacation)

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Hello! This month marks five years since I began this blog, in a pumpkin pie coma and pregnant with my first baby, Anderson, as a platform to write more and document some of my stories as a new mom, among other parts of my life.  Two kids, two homes and several computers later…the writing below is my 60th published essay here in as many months. Thank you so much for reading and for cheering me on over the ups and downs I’ve shared in this space.  I hope you enjoy reading about our Canadian adventure below, and only roll your eyes slightly at my title Rihanna shout-out (I really, really couldn’t help myself…).

In celebration of five years chugging away (some years more frequently than others) at this crazy blogging machine, here are five weird facts about me, the blogger:

  1. I am an obsessive proofreader and typically read something I write no fewer than five times, start to finish, checking for spelling errors, grammar, punctuation…even spacing.  I’m a true grammar nerd; I inherited the gene from my dad (we were both UW journalism school grads, exactly 30 years apart).  Go Dawgs (though the spelling of that pains me)!
  2. I’ve written most of my blog posts at my kitchen counter or dining room table, often while a baby naps or late at night after the kids are in bed, usually in bits and pieces over several sittings.  I have memories of my early blogging days, with hands on the keyboard and one foot constantly bouncing Anderson up and down….up and down…in his bouncer as I clicked away, determined to get out my thoughts du jour.
  3. I am an entirely self-taught blogger, fueled by pure determination, aided by the user-friendliness of WordPress, much trial and error and a lot of time spent poking around for what I’m looking for.  If I can do it – anyone can!
  4. The embarrassing/vulnerable/awkward stories are ultimately the ones I’m proudest to have shared.  I’ve learned they bring out the humanity in me, and in people who read and comment on them.
  5. “Perfect is the enemy of good” has become my mantra for writing (and much of life!).  The biggest reason I go weeks or months without writing, is because I’m waiting for some grand lightning bolt of inspiration to strike.  As unparalleled as those rare moments are, sometimes writing is a grind.  This blog is a hybrid of the inspired, and the grind.  Also, like life.

Cheers to more years!

Now on to our family’s first international vacation…

Canada, eh?  The idea to foray into the great territory to our north came while sitting with Aaron and our friends, Brandon and Liana, at dinner during a Junior League of Seattle charity event last February.  In one of our more spontaneous decisions, we decided to bid on a 4-night trip to Whistler over Thanksgiving weekend.  It sounded like a festive way to kick off the Christmas season, and we’d never taken the kids out of the country.  What could go wrong?  We easily won the bidding without much competition, and in the blink of an eye – our first trip to Canada was cemented.

Leading up to the trip, my excitement was lukewarm at best.  I was nervous and somewhat regretful of our kneejerk decision to commit to this trip.  Among my chief concerns: Would our kids have major crying/screaming/whining meltdowns during the 5+ hour drive each way (answer:  OF COURSE!).  Par for the course with a 2- and 4-year-old.  No one with kids this age vacations for the drive, people.

Onward to the Thanksgiving Eve morning of our departure.  Naturally, Anderson finished “reading” all the books he had brought before we backed out of our garage.  Two drive-through coffees and a half hour later we were on 1-5.  The boys lasted 75 minutes before we broke out the Amazon Fire tablets, and a whopping 3.75 hours(!!) before we made our first and only pit-stop, for lunch in a cute little Canadian town called Lions Bay.  We ordered an Americano, London Fog latte and turkey and cranberry (me: “It’s like Thanksgiving!”) sandwiches.  I’m surprised they didn’t kick us out of Canada right then.

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Releasing the energy they’d pent up for hours, the boys ran around the small café and attached store, and Anderson did what big brothers do best by poking, prodding and generally annoying a shrieking Jude, whom I attempted to distract by letting him scroll through photos on my phone, at which point Aaron said, “Jude seems to be swiping left on you a lot, Anderson.  It’s his quiet way of saying no.”

With lunch and a mere 38-minute border wait behind us, we limped through the last 90 minutes of the drive, pulling into Whistler’s slushy cobblestone streets (most of the village snow would be washed away by rain during our stay…).  No turning back now!

The drives were the low points of the trip, but once there Whistler was more charming and expansive than I’d remembered from my last visit almost two decades ago in high school.  We filled our days with strolls through the village, snowball fights in Olympic Plaza, hot chocolate breaks, spaghetti and sushi dinners, and hours of Lego building back at the condo.  Jude was a little under the weather, so when we took him outside he resembled the kid in A Christmas Story who is so bundled up he can’t drop his arms to his sides.

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Our last full day there, we gave Anderson the option to take a ski lesson (his first) through the kids’ ski school.  He decided he did want to, and off he went with his Australian instructor (I swear half the staff we came in contact with hailed from Down Under…I don’t know why this is a thing??), and three other preschoolers.  The jury is still out as to whether we’re raising a future winter Olympian (averse to most new things, he currently claims he doesn’t want to go skiing again “for a million years!”), but he admits he enjoyed the mountain-side hot chocolate, and the pictures sure are cute.

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As cold as my feet were going into this trip, I’m so glad we did it.  Whistler did not disappoint.  You can just feel something special in the air there.  From the carefree sense of letting loose and adventuring, to the warm and cozy quaintness of the well-worn streets filled with people and languages from all over the world.  A world-class destination with a small town vibe.

You can bet we’ll be back.  I’d even bid on it.

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PS – I consider myself somewhat of a bakery fanatic, and Whistler has one of the prettiest ones I’ve ever seen:

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PPS  – As a very random and somewhat inappropriate aside, I just really love the tidbits of conversation one picks up at an après-ski fireside lounge at the end of the day, from its happy, unguarded, on-vacation and likely inebriated patrons.  Take this, for example, overheard as I paced outside said restaurant with a cranky Jude, while Aaron took his turn downing hard hot chocolate:

Woman: “Do you know what percentage of women enjoy being sent a picture of a man’s penis?  Zero.  Zero percent.”

Woman’s friend:  “That number seems high.”

I internally laughed so hard that I almost spit out my hot chocolate.

And with THAT vision of sugarplums dancing in our heads…Merry Christmas Season to all and to all a good night!

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When it’s Really Hard

I think I just had a true emotional breakdown. In car with Anderson. Not listening ad nauseam. Can feel my stress level reaching cataclysmic, desperate, absolutely miserable levels. I raise my voice, deep, gravelly, shaking – it doesn’t even sound like my own – desperately pleading with my 4-year-old to be quiet. I feel helpless and truly tortured. I have to leave the car.

We arrive at the park. I get out of the car, pacing back and forth in the parking lot, trying to pull myself together. I’m so thankful for my dark oversized sunglasses. I start sobbing, shaking, leaning against the car. I can’t pull it together. I can’t fake my way through lunch or the park. Thank god Aaron is there. He takes both kids while I sit in the car and force myself to eat a sandwich. Numb, depleted, in a haze. I immediately start googling emotional breakdown. Turns out the stresses of motherhood and added female hormones can be the perfect recipe for feeling emotionally flooded. Absolutely overwhelmed. Though I’m sure that emotional breakdowns aren’t limited to parents of young kids.

It’s hard to talk about, but I wonder how many mothers before me have reached this frantic, dizzying breaking point. How scary, how isolating to feel like you can’t even acknowledge your big overwhelming feelings, for fear of being judged, demonized, gossiped about, as less than “totally together”

Excuse my French, but F- that.

Sitting in the car, I text three people. My babysitter to help take the pressure of parenting duties off Aaron as I recover from whatever the hell just happened to me. My therapist, to get in to see her as soon as possible. And my friend who I know will always keep it real, will never listen to serious even scary problems I’m having and pretend she hasn’t been to equally dark places. So many people pretend…I’ve done it too. We listen to other people’s trauma and drama, we absorb the juicy details into our bloodstream like oxygen. We bury the most human parts of our selves that could actually offer true empathy in return – our own shame, our own fears, our own shortcomings.

We all have them. Why do we pretend?

I’m writing this because I refuse to feel like I should be silenced, or pitied, or outcast for having a very human, probably long overdue reaction to the mounting stress of parenting that can chip away at the fault lines of a parent’s spirit, until an emotional earthquake rolls over your entire body, your whole being.

I am a warrior. As is every hardworking, ground down parent out there. We would go to battle for our kids. Sometimes we go to battle against them. Today I encountered a battle that brought me to my knees, tearing off my armor, admitting defeat. The circumstances were nothing out of the ordinary, trivial, forgettable really. Potty talk and yelling and shrieking. But I just reached a breaking point. My soul was screaming for a break I couldn’t get. I couldn’t come up for air.

If that happens to you, tell someone. It’s ok to cry and it’s ok to load up your husband with all the kids and sandwiches and explain that you have to – need to – be alone. It’s ok to sit in the car and cry and dab your raw red eyes with Subway napkins and text your therapist and a good friend and reach out because we all need to be reminded we’re not alone. Young children have the ability to wear us down and chip away at us in a uniquely painful way that demands our attention and self-advocacy. We are no good to anyone else if we can’t at the very least acknowledge that.

I will be ok. Because I’m speaking up for myself, because I’m supported, and I have learned to have faith many times over in the resiliency of the human spirit. I do not feel hopeless in any sort of ultimate sense. Because I actually know, without a doubt, that many of you reading this will reach out to me to tell me that you care, that you’ve *been there,* that parenting is the hardest job on the planet and AMEN for admitting it gets the best of us and brings us to our knees once in a while. If you are a parent and have never felt it truly kick your ass or bring you to tears, I am happy for you. You’ve won a special kind of lottery. To the rest of us – be kind to yourself. Take a breath, insist when you need a break. You are doing the very hardest kind of work there is.

Race Day

The night before I ran 13.1 miles, I broke all the rules of carbo-loading, indulging in a pasta-less dinner at our fancy Southern hotel restaurant.  Many courses and two glasses of wine later (cheers to more broken rules), Megan and I returned to our hotel room where we carefully laid out our race attire, set alarms for 6am, and fell asleep to the familiar hum of HGTV’s Property Brothers.

I had set the bar very low for sleep on this trip.  Between a 7am flight out of Seattle, the 3-hour time change and a race start time of 7:30am (4:30am PST!!!), I was ecstatic to be merely present and vertical at the starting line.

Our Savannah hotel room had the advantage of being located directly along the race course,  nearly hovering over the starting line.  Over a room service breakfast of cold cereal, bacon and coffee, we took our time stretching and spying on the slowly accumulating cloud of runners chatting, shivering and stretching on the roped off street three stories below.

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Wardrobe-wise, we debated on which camp of people we wanted to fall into: those who are happy with what they’re wearing at the beginning of the race, or at the end.  We sucked it up in our sleeveless running tops on a chillier-than-normal Georgia morning, and chose the latter (the right decision).

I was informed that, as far as races go, this was a small one (about 1,200 participants, I would later find out).  Having nothing to compare it to, I enjoyed being able to casually join the cluster of runners in my estimated speed group, and was off and running within seconds of the start of the race.

In those precious few pre-race minutes, milling about in the street among a sea of spandexed women with bib numbers safety-pinned to their chests, snapping pre-race selfies and chatting excitedly before beginning a largely speechless journey, I soaked it all in.  I wasn’t nervous, anxious or worried about anything.  I was just so happy to be there, in this place, in this moment.  I was standing squarely in the intersection of dreams and their hard-won achievement.  Nothing that happened over the next 2+ hours could change that.  I had arrived.

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I can still feel the dissipating chill to the early morning air, as weak sunlight fought its way through the handsome and historic Georgia oaks, dripping with Spanish moss.  Their canopy felt comforting, nurturing and charming, and their shade would sustain me through much of the run.

The beginning of the race felt like a train slowly pulling out of the station, chugging along slowly and steadily at first, then quickening and strengthening as runners broke free from the initial swarm of people and found their own space, their own pace.  I was intentional to start the race at an unnaturally slow pace, so as not to get carried away with the momentum and burn out early (advice I’d received from seasoned runner friends and made myself listen to).  I knew my body and how it runs well by this point, and I knew what pace I could sustain.  I trotted along those first few minutes in a gradually loosening tangle of women, with the sounds of Jason Aldean’s “A Little More Summertime” coursing through my ears and setting my pace, establishing my intention.  I hadn’t really planned a song to start running to, but this one was perfect for me.  Lord knows all of us in the Northwest could use A LOT more summertime, and in a way, this experience felt like the official start of that season for me.

The song also deals with regret and taking hold of experiences while the sun is still hanging up in the sky…and I intended to do just that.

Miles one to three were easy breezy. If I’m pacing myself and not running for speed, I can run that distance and carry a conversation without a problem.  Around mile two or three is typically where I tend to find my pace, and things sort of get harder and easier at the same time from then on out if that makes any sense.. I always find there to be this certain “X Factor” with running.  Meaning, all else being equal, some days a run simply comes more easily and more naturally than others.  Thankfully, the X Factor was working in my favor this particular morning.  None of my long-fought worries came to light – no side cramps, no having to stop and pee, no sickness or starting the race on no sleep.

Early on, within the first few miles, I just knew I was going to easily exceed my goal finish time of 2:20-2:25 (about average for a women’s half marathon).  I mentally readjusted my goal to 2:10. My second big goal was to not stop at all, for any reason.  It’s a goal I had had early on in my training, but had let go as the weeks stretched on and the runs became longer and more grueling – I just didn’t think that goal was controllable or sustainable for thirteen miles and over two hours of running.  Nor did I think I could sustain my normal solo running pace of about 10 minutes/mile.

But I did.  I accomplished or exceeded both of my major goals.  I ran the entire way (even at water stations, I would only slow to a lesser jog, but never stop – yes, I was that sloppy, stubborn person sloshing red PowerAde all over myself in the name of not stopping).  I never stopped for a bathroom break, a walking break, or a water break for 13 miles.  I was pretty proud of that.

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I far exceeded my initial time goal, and missed my revised goal of 2:10 by 13 seconds (but didn’t beat myself up).  I had also managed to sustain my pace at an average of 9:57/mile.  There were two sources of time for this race – the huge banner/digital timer you run underneath at the finish line, and an electronic time “chip” embedded within your race bib.  Apparently, for this race at least, the chip was considered more accurate, putting my finish time at 2:10:13, while my clock time was 2:11:00.   And there’s more than you ever wanted to know about my personal race time.  😊

OK back to my experience mid-race…  Around the mid-way point I got a second wind and surprised myself at the number of people I began to pass.  It also definitely helped that the song that made me hands-down THE MOST HAPPY to run to throughout this whole race, came on around this time.  Please brace yourself as even I cannot contain my amazement at my level of sophistication and maturity at the mere mention of this beloved song:  Miley Cyrus, “Party in the USA.”

You guys, this song made me CRAZY LEVELS of happy.  I was 7-ish miles in, with my hands up, they’re playin’ my song… noddin’ my head, movin’ my hips. Like, yeah.    I’m not kidding.  Thankfully Megan and I had spread out by this point and she was spared  a lot of embarrassment.  Because that’s what friends do.

Post-Miley, I started to slow down a little and didn’t have quite the bounce in my step. You just can’t top “Party in the USA.”  Such a buzz kill.  I soldiered along for a few miles, and by mile 10 I needed that double-digit mental boost.  The 11th and 12th mile were hard-earned, and by the last mile of the race I couldn’t decide whether to attempt to somewhat sprint it or slow down even more for my sanity.

At that point, you are just putting in the time.

I paced myself pretty reasonably until the huge finish line clock came into view, and I saw it was already at about 2:10:40.  You better believe I ran my @$$ off that last 20-second stretch, with a last-ditch effort goal to beat 2:11.  I crossed that final, glorious line with tears in my eyes, a voice announcing my name and hometown in my ears, and two cowering teenage girls innocently handing out bags of snacks and water and hanging medals around the necks of haggard, delirious runners.  Speaking a mere “thank you” was all but out of the question as my muscles nearly exploded from the 2+ hours of exertion finished by an exhausting sprint.

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Crossing the finish line… 

I finished 333rd out of 1,210 runners.  (3-3-3, Dad!!  Can you believe it? Sorry, inside joke regarding my tendency to roll R’s.)

I stumbled down the sidewalk, reacquainting my quickly stiffening muscles with the slowed, easy pace of a walk.  I numbly downed an entire bottle of water and a banana, and focused on nothing more than breathing and pacing in circles for about 5 minutes.   My friend crossed the finish line a few minutes later.  We took some pictures to celebrate, and walked the length of the park, drinking more water and marveling at how weird it felt to not be running.

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The rest of the day was filled with pool time and books, recovery, beer, very greasy burgers, and karaoke.  I decided to retire my go-to Shania Twain karaoke song, “Any Man of Mine” after one last encore in Savannah.  I’m planning to use my birthday this summer as an excuse for a ladies’ karaoke night – please let me know if you’d like to be invited!

I just might sing some Miley Cyrus.

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“I Just Felt Like Running”

For almost three months now, I’ve been training for my first half marathon.  It all started with a good running buddy, a new year’s goal, and a LOT of Christmas cookies to burn off.

My friend Megan and I love a good travel adventure, and when we began tossing ideas around to do a race together (she’s done three halves; this will be my first), we immediately thought that making it a “destination” race would only make it *that much* better.  Work hard, play hard. Win-win.  Plus it’s added training accountability when there are plane tickets and babysitters involved.  No backing out now!

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Megan and me after a 10-mile run around the lake – my first time hitting a double digit run! 

So, in two short weeks Megan and I will be flying out to Charleston, then driving to Savannah, for the “Publix Savannah Women’s Half and 5k.”  You can check out a shot of the course scenery here, it’s just so pretty.

Prior to this January, I had never run more than 5.6 miles (two laps around Green Lake’s inner loop, for those who know Seattle) and rarely ran more than four miles at a time.

I absolutely hated running until my mid-twenties, when I somehow began to sort of enjoy it…or even if I loathed the process at times, loved how I felt when I completed a run.

In recent years I’ve ebbed and flowed with how often I run, casually and somewhat regularly at best, and not at all during either of my pregnancies.

The last couple of years I’ve thought more seriously about training for a half marathon.  I knew the length would be a true challenge for me, but doable.  Enter a fun and motivating friend and a perfect race opportunity in a city I’ve wanted to visit — sign me up.

So sign up I did and over the last 11 weeks we’ve gradually increased our “long” runs, from 2.8 miles around Green Lake, to 6.2 around Lake Union, 9+ along Alki and, finally, just this past Monday, about 11.5 miles from Gas Works Park to Golden Gardens and back.

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It was cloudy and only raining a little on this part of our run, passing under the Aurora Bridge.

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Pausing to admire this gorgeous mermaid I made in 4th grade, installed in a tile work path at Golden Gardens. ; ) 

One might question my judgment to choose the months of January, February and March to train for a race.  In SEATTLE.  Lately our running forecast has basically looked like this most of the time:

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I have run in absolute soaking rain (once for almost two hours), in falling snow and over crunching ice, in freezing sub-thirty-degree temperatures, and on exactly one gloriously odd occasion while in the San Diego area for my son’s birthday, in this:

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Cue angels singing.

But more often, when I’ve finished a run, I’ve peeled off a sweatshirt that feels like it weighs about 20 pounds in water weight, like this:

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You really can’t tell HOW SOAKED I am there.

I am confident I would not have made it this far, through this many miles, in the CRAZIEST weather, without the motivation of my faithful and fun friend and running partner.  So thank you, Megan!!

Keeping with the work hard/play hard mantra, we decided to do our post-11 mile stretching at a bar, in a booth, over beer and happy hour food.  Inspired by Big Little Lies.  🙂  I’m sure we smelled AMAZING.

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Oh, and we cross train with yoga, stroller walks, and our 1-year-old sons’ “Little Gym” classes.  Sorry people, those are all the tips I have.

Oh, and Girl Scout cookies. You deserve ALL the Girl Scout cookies.

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Here’s to many more stories shared on long runs, celebratory beers, setting goals and seeing them through.  Crossing that finish line in Savannah will feel oh so sweet.

And it’s only fitting that much of Forrest Gump was filmed in the South Carolina/Georgia area where we’ll be.  What better setting than that of a movie about a man who set off to see the country because he “just felt like running?”

YOLO.  That’s reason enough for me.

My First Year with Two

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What will I remember in the long run when I think back on my first year as a mother of two?

I wonder if I’ll remember the nap schedules I have meticulously planned life around (I doubt it), or the silky soft baby thighs that jiggle like under-set Jello (I hope so).  Or the countless times I’ve joked that I need a black and white striped referee’s uniform and the word, “GENTLE” tattooed across my forehead, as I’ve all but ground down molars watching my older son eagerly explore big brother terrain.

I wonder if I’ll be able to vividly recall the frail, nauseating, mind-bending pain of rock bottom sleep deprivation.  Or if I’ll just laugh and brush off those “sleepless nights” as something I vaguely remember, or even merely assume that we went through (because every parent does, right?), when I think back years from now.

Perhaps I’ll have trouble recalling what exactly it was we did with all the hours in the days we had together, me on my own with a baby and a toddler.  The 80 pounds of double stroller and kids I pushed up and down hills, to parks and the library and Starbucks. The hundreds of times my older son made the younger one laugh…and cry…and everything in between.

Will I remember the precise strategy involved in a trip to the grocery store with two kids?  The careful order in which I unbuckled each car seat and somehow maneuvered myself, two little humans and a shopping cart safely in and out of stores, elevators and parking lots with the nuance of navigating a corn maze?   I’m sure I’ll never remember details like that.  I’ll just lump it all together as a “busy time.”

Will I be too hard on myself and feel guilty for the missed opportunities to “be present” with my kids?  Will I wish I ignored dirty dishes more often to slam little cars together on the floor with my preschooler when he asked me to?  Probably.  Will I wish I more fully embraced nursing the second time around, instead of counting the days until I never had to lug around a breast pump or be awoken from the discomfort of engorgement ever again?  I’m sure hindsight perspective will be 20/20.

I wonder if I’ll close my eyes and be able to picture Jude’s wispy “clown hair,” as I call it, and the pink rough patches of eczema that persistently marked his little cheeks that first year.  They’ve become endearing to me now.

Will I one day break into laughter when I remember, for the first time in years, how I once said that Jude’s crazy hair and sparsely gapped teeth as a baby caused him to somewhat resemble Sloth, the chained, monstrous-looking brother from The Goonies? 

I hope I am never delusional enough to pretend this year was photo-worthy or pulled together all – or even much of – the time.  Much of it was spent simply feeling spent.  Tired.  SO. TIRED.  Unbalanced, frazzled with responsibilities and people and things to tend to and please.  Used pumping parts sat unwashed on the bathroom counter sometimes for days, until I felt like I could catch my breath and stand still for the 90 seconds it took to wash them.

Emails and bills piled up by the dozens, my hair was rarely worn down or styled in between my bi-monthly hair appointments.  I let Anderson watch way too much TV that first summer I had both kids at home, and eat far too few vegetables.

I was consistently imperfect, and I always had a constantly-growing list of goals and “growth opportunities” turning over and over in my mind.  It was relentless – the striving for balance, the longing for acceptance of the present moment, the uncomfortable urge to propel time forward and move past whatever hard thing at the time felt like a weight holding me down.

I hope I remember that I was a good mom.

I hope I remember how some of the sweetest moments of my life were reading my kids bedtime stories when they were young.  Or smelling their hair after a bath.  Or bundling them up and strapping them in side-by-side in their orange double stroller on one of our many neighborhood walks.

I hope I remember how Anderson proudly ran to his brother waiting in his stroller in the hallway each day at preschool pick-up, and how, as the older brother, he embraced the nicknames “Judy” and “Jude Bug” more proudly and enthusiastically than any of us – practically singing them each time his brother re-entered his line of sight.

This past year I learned how to be a mom to two entirely different people. Edit that – I’m still learning and probably always will be.  I’m reliving what it’s like to parent a baby, while continuing to celebrate – and survive- all the “firsts” my 3-year-old hurls my way.  I would, hypothetically, find myself pausing to enjoy the confidence that comes with parenting a second time around, but I’m too busy to bask. I’m too tired.  I give Google fewer anxiety-ridden questions at 2 a.m., but it’s a trade-off for having two mouths to feed, two schedules to juggle, two young minds to engage and entertain for all our waking hours.

This has been the year of potty-training, big boy beds, temper tantrums…sleep coaches, nursing issues and learning how to be the mother of siblings.  I feel like I’m a more polished and prepared parent in some ways, a more spread thin and rundown one in others.

It’s a “new normal” I tell people, adding a second child to the family.  The first six months I often felt like I was underwater – utterly floored by the disorienting, head-spinning busy-ness that comes with adding a new baby to the mix.  The second half of the year I started to find my footing again.  We got through the worst of the sleep stuff, our older son turned three and became more independent, we established a bedtime for the baby and got our evenings back as a couple.  After months of what felt like holding our breath and keeping afloat, we finally began to exhale.

One of the truest things I’ve ever heard about parenting is that while the days can pass by so slowly, the years fly by fast.

Happy Birthday, Jude.

And happy one-year anniversary of “the new normal” to the rest of our family.

Remind me to toast to that. heleyna-holmes-photography-0168

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…And I’m Feeling Good

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I’ve been feeling really good lately.  Like, sincerely happy.  Thankful for each day.  Content.

I don’t know if this has to do with the transition back to school, the start of my favorite season with its magnificent colors and crispness to the air, or just arriving at the final portion of a year where I’ve been stretched and stressed and challenged a lot.

I feel like I can breathe more deeply and see all that’s in front of me with more clarity.  I’m a wiser and slower and more thoughtful person than I was a year ago.  I have better perspective.

This year was hard in many ways – round two with a newborn, plus a toddler was more of a mountain to climb than I ever anticipated.  Add marriage stress that comes with the crazed, exhausted parent territory, and turmoil in other relationships, plus an unexpectedly busy summer with preschool camp plans evaporated and both kids home full-time – 2016 has been a doozy.  When it rains, it pours.

But I’m kind of done talking about hard.  I’m just kind of over it.  My skin is thicker, my sleep requirements a little lower and my time management skills sharpened after the year that I’ve had.  I know more about myself and feel the need to explain myself less.  I’ve done a lot of explaining this year.  I’m kind of over that, too.

I was talking with my sister-in-law recently, who always seems happy. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever heard her complain, or nag, or see any given glass as “half-empty.”  She asked me at a birthday party recently how I was doing, and I said, “Really well.  I feel like I’m just in a really good place.”  She was happy for me (as she always is), and said things were good for her, too.  I asked if fall was her favorite season too, as it is mine.  She replied that not really, she’s happy with any season, and any day, even the dreary middle of winter, she honestly enjoys.

The way I’m describing my sister-in-law’s outlook may sound trite, or superficial.  But I assure you, it’s not.  She’s just one of those aware, determined-to-be-happy people.  I have seen her in situations that would be devastatingly low for most people, and she is doggedly determined to be grateful and press on.  Always.

So I’m someone who believes all feelings are valid.  We should never feel pressured to say we’re better or worse than we really are.  If you’re in a bad place – by all means, talk about it.  But if you’re in a good place, talk about that, too.  We all want to be there, and we want to know what’s working for others to bring balance, contentment and joy to their life.

For me, I’m remembering time is my most precious commodity.  Am I spending it on the people and things that matter?  When my head hits the pillow, what are my biggest “time drain” regrets?  What really mattered about my day, and made a positive difference?  What didn’t matter, or took me back a step from where I want to be?

A lot of the time it’s the routine, mundane days that make me feel best.  Days I spend relatively “unplugged” from the noise of TV, social media, shallow banter and clutter – tend to be some of my favorites.  Getting into my groove with how I take care of my home, keep up on my responsibilities, maintain a good rhythm and routine for my kids, check in with my husband throughout the day.  Those patterns, those little things done over and over – those make for good days.

Nothing revolutionary here perhaps, but it just feels really good to be in a good place in my own little corner of the world.  So much good can come into our lives if we simply commit to being aware.  Aware of how we spend our time.  Aware of how we speak of others.  Aware of our own feelings.  Aware of how we treat our spouses, friends, kids.

Aware.

What has caught your attention lately?  What needs more of it?  I hope you feel more good than grief when your head hits the pillow tonight.  And if you don’t, think about how you can feel better at the end of tomorrow.

I have always appreciated these words by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and have maybe even shared them on this blog before.  I keep meaning to frame something like this and put it next to my bed…

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Back to School

 

 

I can do this.  I need to do this.  I am excited to do this.

It was advertised as an evening class, once a week for six weeks from mid-July to mid-August.  An essay-writing course offered through Hugo House, a nonprofit resource for writers offering beginning- to advanced-level writing classes, workshops and other events here in Seattle.  I first became familiar with Hugo House when I was an editorial intern at Seattle magazine, and this year, I finally decided to become a member and take my first class there.

I hadn’t stepped foot in a conventional classroom since my senior year at the University of Washington in 2005.  At that point in my life I was ready to be done with school — the heavy book bags, the homework always hanging over my head, the stressful nights and early mornings at various U-District Starbucks spent cramming for tests and pounding out essays left to the last minute.

Contrary to my classes of dozens if not hundreds of people at UW, this class at Hugo House was an intimate size of 10 students plus one very encouraging, laid-back instructor all huddled around one large makeshift table, the combined total of four smaller tables pushed together .  Each Monday evening (minus one on vacation) for six weeks I battled west-east traffic to First Hill, took my seat in this small, spare, non-air conditioned room, and was immersed into wonderful, stimulating conversations with a truly great group of people whose life experiences almost couldn’t be more diverse.

That diversity of lifestyles and experiences is what I found most refreshing about this classroom environment.  People wrote and shared about animals in Africa, battling illness, the art and science of ballet, sexuality, relationships, being single, and learning to embrace their ever-changing identify.  It was eye-opening to realize how narrowly immersed I’ve become in the world of parents-of-young-kids in recent years.  So much of my life, social circle, volunteer outlets, the language I speak, activities I attend, vacations I’m drawn to, articles I read,  etc… revolve around babies and young kids.  Understandable, but narrow nonetheless.  Neurons were firing like fireworks as my brain was immersed in these stories of things so unlike anything  I come across in my everyday life.

Throughout the course each of us – male and female, ranging from our 20s to our 50s, world travelers and native Seattleites – wrote about our own life experiences and read about each others’.  Several of  us, myself included, wrote about very private, intimate topics that we felt more comfortable sharing among a group of encouraging strangers, than within our own inner circles of folks who know us all too well.  It was liberating to put things on the page that are seldom said out loud, and I know others had a similar experience.

I also was once again reminded how much I need accountability to keep up with my writing, lest it get buried forever under piles of laundry, dishes and Hot Wheels.  Not only did my classmates read my writing, but they put it under a microscope and dissected every part for what worked, and what needs work.  It was an honor to receive such thoughtful feedback on such a personal part of my life, and to delve into such profound stories from theirs.

I can’t wait to sign up for another quarter of classes.  It felt good to be back in school.