Growing Pains

Wildflowers

Watching a bumble bee make its way slowly around the late summer blooms, I absentmindedly wonder what it must feel like for that to be the only thing you really have to think about- in all your entire life.

Sustaining and pollinating.

Very important work-

Vital to the evolution of our whole organism, and yet, there really is no thinking about it all.

It’s instinctual.

It’s all about survival.

Weaving in and out of layered gardens, together with the bugs and the trees, my senses are saturated by the sounds of water trickling, splashing onto all the green and red and yellow. I run my fingertips through soft grasses and over velvet petals as I inhale the scent of growth and life, right here, right now, as my search for perennials begins. I carry a hope to fill up empty spaces in my garden but there is a yearning to fill a hole in my heart.

It’s been four years since I left the gardens and deserts that changed me, so utterly, completely, and profoundly.

Oh. How I miss them every day.

After we left those places, the longing became so unbearable, like that of missing a long lost lover who you know will never return to you, no matter how much time is spent in yearning and regret.

Some days, I could hardly breathe from the pain of it all.

Just to go back and plant my feet firmly into that brilliant red Earth- one more lazy Sunday afternoon to lie beneath the avocado trees that, every day at morning’s break, would generously nourish my child with his first foods.

Doubt and anger would regularly stream down my face as my heart kept breaking over and over- finding places I didn’t even know it had grown.

If you were to look up the definition of ‘homesick’ in the dictionary, there would be a picture of my soulless eyes staring back at you.

I felt like an alien in my own land- a stranger to myself.

I was afraid- and believed I was so very alone.

And as is the way of it, what I was most afraid of was what I needed most to do.

But how could I let Africa go?

If I let Her go, I was convinced, it would be as if the good parts had never happened. If I let go and settled HERE, it would be as if who I had become there, had never even existed. Like it had all been some distant, far-fetched dream.

I had completed my metamorphosis amongst the bright lavender blooms of the Jacaranda tree- I had arrived there a girl, but left a woman. I’d become a wife and a mother.

Africa gifted me with the opportunity to learn exactly what I was made of.

A fighter, a survivor, braver than any of my childish dreams.

If I wasn’t there, rooted in the richness and reality of those experiences- was I still really any of those things?

She had found me, I decided, so she could keep me.

I held on.

I resisted.

I relived the glory days- if only in my mind.

And as a result, I forgot how to grow.

Roots buried in a shallow surface of the past, I convinced myself that was all I needed. I figured out a comfortable way to keep lingering in a cracked pot of memories, because it was mingled together with the only African soil I had left. I refused to mix in any other dirt, as I was waiting for the time when I would be transplanted back “home”, placed in the garden I had conjured up in my mind.

The grass was so much greener out there in that other space. I was sure of it, because I had seen it with my rose colored glasses. I figured I could wait.

But while I was waiting, I slowly began noticing how dried out I was becoming, how limp and lifeless I was feeling. How parched and thirsty I was- for connection , for a place to lay down my roots.

I was withering away, in my broken pot, the fertile freshness of new beginnings all around, and still I refused to get out because I was just so overwhelmed and I guess, afraid-of the work, of the fear itself-of letting go.

My husband came to me one evening, and in the exhaustion that is left at the end of an evening full of stories and bedtimes and trips to the potty that were the result of limitless sips of water. He confessed to me, tears pooling in his eyes, that he could tell I was withering, and try as he might, he just couldn’t figure out how to keep me watered anymore. My pot, confining and ‘safe,’ was cracked to the point of no return, and everything he kept pouring into me was leaking out. Fear had left me too hard to absorb anything. Anger had fueled the energy to pack my roots together, leaving no space. Life giving water was just rolling right off the top, being wasted in a puddle on the floor.

So sweetly, so selflessly, he promised, “Whatever you need, wherever you should go, whatever you want to do- please figure it out. For me, for the kids, but mostly for you. We can’t watch you wither away….we need you come back to life, to grow- we need you to bloom.”

So, on a cold and sunshine filled March morning, I gathered with a group of women who were just like me, and completely different. We were a colorful array of cultures and races, life stories and experiences. We were there to learn about plants. We meditated in our teacher’s sacred gardens, spreading fingers and toes within the blooming life of chickweed and violets, singing heart songs, writing soul poems, mingling with the Earth, waiting for connection.

Together, we discarded the confinement of our damaged pots, using the cracked pieces to make a mosaic, reminding us of the hard times that had brought us to this place. We sought out growing spaces full of green, ready to be cultivated, waiting just for us, in the great bright Sun. Every month since, we enter the garden, together, with the plants, who are becoming stronger and brighter and lovelier, as they are fed and nourished by the Earth- the rain and the Sun….together, we are finding ourselves, each other, The Way.

I step back and survey the work that I have just completed- I’m digging around in blooming beds- I just planted a native Virginia Butterfly Weed, touted to attract winged creatures, striped bees and all the good garden kinds of things. The hostas are blooming, and the Motherwort is spreading like crazy, the tippy tops of her proud little head peeking out their new growth of lavender that I will soon harvest and make into a tincture.

As I rest beneath the shade of our giant Magnolia, I am struck by her fragrance and presence, solid and feminine, steadfast and present, always evergreen. I consider the power of acceptance in Nature, and think about a time out hiking, when we came across a tree trunk that had been forced to grow into a strange, unnatural U shape. It was amazing in its ability to adapt and be molded by its environment. It is survival at its best- becoming a work of art, as it had figured out how to grow around whatever had gotten in its way.

The tree never stopped growing, and although it took me some time to realize, as most things do, it turns out, neither had I.

Envisioning my garden growing, and what it would look like a few years from now reminded me that when we surrender and accept where we ARE, we suddenly realize where we are, is in fact, exactly where we NEED to be. And when we are where we need to be, we eventually understand that place, even if it is the furthest space from where we ever dreamed it, in the end, is all we really ever wanted anyway.

I miss Africa every day, but finally, with bare feet rooted in the Virginia soil, working alongside my ever patient husband, raising these two little beings so lovely and so loved, I can say, as I scoop that last bit of soil into my weary hands, I am EXACTLY where I want to be.

 

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The Pool Puker

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I knew we shouldn’t have left the house today- I just KNEW it. With the eclipse coming and all that pressure to not look up at the sky- I should have known better. In fact, after lunch, I even sat silent in contemplation, sipping my third cup of coffee trying to convince myself to get out and go, but my ‘Mom Gut’ (not to be confused with the belly I’ve developed from birthing babies and too much chips and salsa, but rather the space BEHIND all of that, otherwise known as ‘Mother’s Intuition’) told me in her most firm and unequivocal way, “NO. Stay home, let the kids binge on goldfish and Netflix. They will be ok. Today is not your day.” But then two shrieking creatures took over my living room killing any inner monologue or stream of consciousness that ever was, with all that screaming (what is UP WITH ALL THAT SCREAMING?) over a dumb game of ‘bird memory’ and I was like: HELL NO.

We gotta get out of here.

All is good and well- we’re splashing around, waiting for the eclipse, hanging in the sun. I kick the kids back into the pool and zone out, the two-foot depth just high enough to cover my butt and thighs, so you know, I’m feeling ok. My Girly Girl and I bob together in the water- it is hot out, but this moment right here, is as good as its going to get. Big Brother is off with his friends, ottering around, having presumably, a great time. I make a joke with another mom next to me, we cheer on the little guy who has just learned to swim. I’m congratulating myself for having the gumption to get out and go when I turn, and see him. He is frantically swimming toward me, lips pursed into a peculiar, yet somewhat familiar line. I vaguely recognize his movements and think, ‘I’ve seen that look before….???’ It takes me just the splash of a second, but I realize very quickly, with horror, as he hurls himself toward me, hands clasped over his mouth, freaked out eyes unblinking, dripping with tears:

Oh MY God. He’s gonna completely puke in the freaking pool.

As he gets to the edge and hurls his torso onto the concrete, I put little sis back down into the water and do the only thing that comes naturally.

I catch it.

I freaking catch it.

All of it.

In both of my hands.

And as I’m holding his lunch, I am simultaneously picturing all of these mothers who have planned their afternoons eclipse watching, snack serving and splashing with their tiny tots, slashing my tires as they are forced to drag their kids out of the pool, screaming and kicking, missing the historical solar event-a perfectly planned afternoon in shambles- pool closed because it’s policy, all because my kid choked on chlorine water.

I know, I know, it all sounds rather dramatic. And let me assure you, we swim with very nice people, even though I am imagining them to be total A holes. But that’s what embarrassment does to you, and well, let me just say, you weren’t there.

And I’ve got to be honest- the thought that people are seeing you and your mom bod in a swimsuit is always disconcerting.  Just like many of you, I’ve read all those ‘mommy blogs’ that send out statements of righteous indignation and declare the only sensible thing we can do is to Put on your damn swimsuit but I KNOW I’m not the only one who takes off my wrap, and refuses to make eye contact until I have made it thigh deep into the water. But, I can now tell you through today’s experience, that there are actually worse things than someone staring at you and judging you about your taste in a maternal one piece- and that would be you and your kid, at the center of everyone’s attention, top hanging out of your ill fitting swimsuit, standing on the edge of the pool, hands full of puke, trying desperately not to let it drip into the water, unable to adjust yourself, because…..OH MY GOSH. WHY???

WHY, WHY???

Why didn’t we JUST STAY HOME?

WHY did I even get out of bed this morning?

I finally get him out of the pool and see my friend across the water. “Erin, can you please help me?” I call out in the calmest of desperation.

And this.

OH, THIS.

THIS IS THE BEAUTY THAT BINDS US TOGETHER IN MOTHERHOOD.

She immediately goes on to conduct a 30 second assessment, sees my hands full of barf, my top half-exposed, and without blinking a sun-glass covered eye, swings right into action. Before I know it, Auggie is situated with a garbage can over in the shade, another mom has been located to watch Ebba Jane and a life guard has been alerted and is on his way, garden hose in hand.

Meanwhile, I’m like a hawk, guarding my son’s pile. No one better step in this and then get into the pool.

After all of this- the damn thing had better stay open.

“He just choked on some water…” I feebly offer an apology to him as he comes toward me with a hose.

‘Ugh.’ He says, gagging. ‘These things happen.’ He manages to let me off the hook.

Barf running down my arms, I awkwardly manage to haul myself over edge onto a clean part of the concrete.

As I walk the gauntlet of shame, ALL THE WAY TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PROPERTY, to the restroom, The Puker in tow- I feel my face burning, and I know, it’s not from the sun.

I can’t manage eye contact with anyone. They can’t manage eye contact with me. The collective sigh that is amongst them all breathes out one thought, and one thought only: ‘Oh, THANK GOD, that wasn’t my kid.’

As I stare at myself in the mirror over the sink, scrubbing the stink off my arms and hands, I briefly wonder if anyone will notice if I don’t come out to claim my children and just stay in the bathroom and hide.

Realizing this is not a viable option, I figure it’s now or never and I fix my swimsuit top, finally, make sure Auggie is ok, and attempt to invisibly walk back to my chair by the side of the pool.

A mom I’ve only chatted with on occasion leans over to me quietly and relays their puking fiasco a few weeks earlier. It sounds like it was horrible, but OH… the relief! We chuckle a little, and I thank her for telling me- it helps to know I’m not alone.

It takes a few more cleansing breaths, but I realize:

I’m not alone in the embarrassment.

I’m not alone in the work.

I’m not alone in the problem solving and the ‘crisis management.’

I’m not alone when I want to cry but need to laugh.

I’m not alone when my hands are full and I need someone to be another set for me.

As I watch Auggie sitting with all of his friends, post-puke, munching on a chocolate ice-cream cone, laughing in delight, the whole ordeal rightfully forgotten, I remind myself that catching every single part of him is what I signed up for. I’m a mom. I’m HIS mama. And although today it all felt really hard, I recognize the privilege of it all.

And as I look around and feel the support in friendship, the mutual understanding of this sometimes very literally messy thing called motherhood, I finally am brave enough to make eye contact.

I pull my swimsuit up, just a little higher…

And then, I begin to laugh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There

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My foot hits something hard and crunchy on the floor as I finish my breakfast. I look under the table and find several parts of dried up waffles littering the carpet. I’m ashamed, but only slightly. The little one swings her feet in summertime freedom as she munches her morning meal. I stare at the wall. My thoughts, they ARE there, hovering- it’s just so hard to harness them, as they swirl in and amongst the to-do lists, the constant demands and requests, the baggage of life. Motherhood. Survival. Which one came first?

Dishes clink together as they go into the sink. I take another long drag of cold coffee and lift my tired body out of the chair and nearly slice my left foot on a week of dropped breakfasts. I need to get the vacuum out. It sits in the middle of the living room for three whole days- a witness to my domestic failures, chastising me, at the end of every day, as if she’s keeping score.

And she’s not the only one.

I am keeping score too- of how many sacrifices I have made today, how many solo trips to the bathroom I’ve had. How many band-aids I’ve had to locate and apply, loads of laundry I have NOT done, how many questions about bats I have promised to YouTube…You see, I’m no martyr here. And I do actually think I’m kind of mad. I’m mad because I have things to create, words to write, important thoughts that need to be brought out into this world. “I have so much potential!” I lament outloud to the vacuum, as she and I stare at each other from across the room. Heavy sighs- those waffles are not going to pick themselves up.

I realize quite quickly that I really should vacuum more, getting lost in the monotone of the machine, more of a quiet roar than a hum, she blocks out every other sound or question that would demand I drop my immediate and fullest of attention. Here, in the song of the mundane, I can actually THINK, I discover, and be alone with the person I miss the most-

MYSELF.

Maybe, I’ve found a friend.

With uncharacteristic diligence, I clean the cracks and the corners, the stairs, moving to closets and behind furniture. The crackle of crumbs as they are sucked up into the device, become a rhythm, a beat, to which I am beginning to enjoy.

I start thinking about how difficult it is when your head gets out from below the surface of the waters of life. It seems counterintuitive because when you are in survival mode, that’s ALL you can think about. But that’s the beauty of it- and the secret to enduring it, I suppose. There is no space for thinking anything else other than just ‘Stay ALIVE!’ It’s fight of flight, at its most basic and domestic of levels.

But I’m not there anymore. The gulping and gasping for air has transitioned as the muck of babies and up all nights and changing dirty diapers has been replaced by a gentle bobbing, that in the end surprises me, as it proves to be more exhausting and ultimately frustrating, because I don’t feel like I am ever making any progress-I am just treading. In the gasping and grasping years, it’s enough success to just keep everyone alive and be able to say, “Hey, I got a shower today AND I brushed my hair!” That’s an accomplishment of extraordinary proportions when you’ve got babies.

But now, as the intensity is easing up, I realize:

I want more.

I am greedy.

Surviving just isn’t enough.

I want to get to shore. I want more than just to float and bob and tread in a big beautiful sea of blue.

But float and bob, I do. Going under from time to time, because I’m always in it with these two little people, who are genuinely trying hard to learn how to float by themselves, but quite naturally, just aren’t ready to swim out there on their own yet.

I wistfully wonder, looking around. When am I going to get there?

I see it- it’s so close, the shore, where I think I need to be, but my energy feels like it’s too far away. My body knows it can’t make it.

And what IS ‘THERE’ so to speak? And why do I want to get to it anyway?

The crack of something that shouldn’t have been sucked up, snaps me out of the water and back into my living room.

All this while vacuuming?

Last weekend, just as the sun was coming up, warming the Earth, in that end of summer kind of way, the four of us set out, doing what we love most in the world- hiking through trails of ancient leafy trees, along gurgling rivers, with the promise of a waterfall and a picnic lunch to end our hard work and beautiful day. Big Brother, unusually vocal about his dissatisfaction at his current situation, expressed the singular, most asked question echoed all over the world by traveling kids, set out to exponentially annoy their parents:

“When are we going to be THERE?’ He whined, draping himself over a huge moss covered rock. The river was rushing beside us, the ground was firm and beautiful beneath our feet. We were all healthy and strong, we had coffee and candy in our packs, and as I gulped in the fresh air and the smells that only Nature can make, I spewed out in exasperation:

“August. We ARE THERE. THIS. This is THERE, all around you. We are already and always will be THERE.”

He looked at me, didn’t say a word, made the decision to keep going, albeit begrudgingly, and kept walking. Typically, three minutes later he became distracted by the wonder of a millipede and excitedly called me over to look. Stooping down to inspect the crawling creature, I felt my throat close up with tears. I realized how he had just acted out what I do daily in my head.

My mental whining and incessant complaining: “When am I going to get there?”

Wherever THERE is.

When am I going to get to the point where I can really focus on writing or my career or figuring out who I AM or who I want to be, after trauma and survival, motherhood and other stuff?

When will I feel like I am swimming instead of just treading water all the time?

Making progress, headway….when will a full night of sleep be enough? When will I…….

The list is endless and not comprehensive.

And now, I’m sort of wondering, who ever told me treading water was a such a BAD thing? That it’s NOT enough. It’s exhausting, that’s for sure, but also toning and strength building, necessary for that EXACT moment in time, when they are ready to set me free.

Tears will mingle with the water as they use me to push off, and my hope is that we’ll all swim together, back to that ever illusive shore, laughing and splashing, capable and strong, because we allowed time to take what it needed to take, and I finally gave in, relaxed back into the water, looked up at that big beautiful sky, and decided to breathe.

There are places to go, but that is for then, and I’ve surrendered.

Here for now.

Contemplating my cleanish floors, I recognize, with satisfaction and understanding, if only for a single fleeting moment:

Keep treading water.

It’s worth it.

Because I am already there.

 

 

Healing

 

Sitting here, trying to be grateful for all of it, today.

But in the end, irritation prevails as my plans for work and escaping the house and never ending demands of motherhood have been thwarted by the most demanding of all, a vomiting toddler.

A good excuse to stay in and vacuum countless cracker crumbs up off the neglected living room floor while sick toddler and just fine older brother binge watch Netflix on this hot and muggy morning. At least I finally have that chance to clean those living room windows so I can actually see what’s happening out there in a world that I feel is spinning around at warp speed while this inner world which I have chosen seems to be standing still.

The struggle so many of us face. Those who have chosen this lifestyle, or maybe the life style chose us, yearning to be singing as Snow White in constant optimism of the most menial of jobs, but in reality acknowledging, as we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the hallway mirror, noticing we are wearing breakfast instead of eating it, that each day feels a little bit like all the rest, and wondering, when will we finally get a chance to write that short story that has been brewing for months in the back of our brains? When will we have the energy to finally read that book- or even just get through the first damned chapter without falling asleep? When will w find the time and energy to stop drinking white wine during the witching hour and finally lose that 10 pounds? When?

When will it get easier? This load of being constantly needed- forever wanted -always being touched?

Sometimes I think it actually hurts my body, all this constant needing. And just as I twist to work that kink out of my crooked and tender back, someone falls on the floor in a sobbing heap, or has drawn me the most prolific of pictures and my attention once again goes from my own aches and pains, sorrows and griefs to that of kissing boo-boos and knees, washing sticky fingers and retrieving yet ANOTHER snack as the afternoon gives way to another evening of warm and yellow summer sun.

I really should be more thankful.

The older one, crawls onto me as I am trying to settle in on the sofa, savoring the luxury of a second cup of coffee for the day, while the younger one is passed out, letting sleep heal and do its thing, sits up and runs his finger over the scar still healing across my neck and asks me if it hurts. Not anymore, I tell him, taking another sip.

He asks to hear the story of how he was born- inwardly, I know, as much as I am craving solitude and caffeine, these moments of connection matter, for me, even more than him really, and so I begin, searching my memory for the very abridged version, because he’s still too young to understand the meaning of time and how it heals, or at least this is my belief.

I refrain from telling him about the moment I realized I was pregnant with him only weeks after the greatest trauma I will ever endure, and how I didn’t think I could be a mother in the state I was in, but that motherhood, at that EXACT time, was indeed, and forever more will have been the greatest and most generous gift that has ever been granted me.

After a few memories, he finishes his own story of life by describing how he popped out of my belly and then the doctors stitched me up. I smile and leave it for another day. Seems about right.

Did having him pop out of my belly hurt? He asks.

Yes.

I tell him the truth.

It hurt a lot. But more than just the stitches in my tummy.

I leave that part out, only for me.

Knowing and so wise, his soulful brown eyes, I swear, could see, just for an instant, into my mother’s soul as he gently shook his head and answered:

It’s ok for things to hurt sometimes, Mama, they won’t hurt forever…it takes time, but things always heal.

Then he laid down next to me, and within moments, fell into a deep and delicious sleep.

I write this so I can remember. In case my mind betrays me someday and decides to forget. When I am hopefully old and listless, knowing I’m the burden instead of the lifter, I want to find a copy of this pasted inside my journal so I can remember the long days that belong to the short years, that the hours spent seemingly doing nothing, but in the space and time of watching butterflies dance and birds flit in and out, whiling away hours answering the same questions, picking up the same toys thinking the same thoughts…all of that time I wasn’t doing nothing-

All that time, I was just healing.