Dec 30, 2015

Hold Dear


 "Hold dear to your parents for it is a scary and confusing world without them." 

Remember that far back? When you were only 5 or 10? Your parents were still all-knowing, mostly without flaws, and you were pretty sure they didn't actually exist as people until you arrived- the thought of them having any other roles besides Mom and Dad was such a strange concept that it never crossed your mind. God put the two of them on this earth for the sole purpose of raising you, and maybe a sibling or two down the road, inconsequentially. You relied on them for everything you wanted or needed, but you dreamed of future independence.

You knew adulthood would be glorious. So much freedom. No answering to anyone. You'd have a fun job, a cool car, and spend your time eating ice cream at 2 am, staying up to watch David Letterman, or whatever it is parents do after your 8 o'clock bedtime. But you would never do things like them, or utter the words "because I said so", or even be corny enough to be a parent in the first place. You'd be your own person.


And then it happens. Parenthood lands in your lap with a thud, a wide-eyed, cooing baby looking at you the way you must have looked at your parents. Suddenly, you feel smaller, and maybe even more childish than before you met your own child. How is it that you are supposed to raise this little one for the next eighteen years and not make a complete mess of it all? Almost instantly, you understand your parents- everything they said to you, you want to repeat to this little child. Be careful driving in the rain- it's slick out. You're gorgeous on the inside, and that's the most important thing. Don't date that boy. Don't do something you'll regret. Clean your room.

Then you make phone calls for that Christmas cookie recipe, for ideas to soothe that baby crying in the middle of the night, for questions about your childhood. You realize that they really do know everything, or nearly, and that they are flawed because they're real people with deeply interesting stories- some that you've heard fifty times over, and some you've never heard in all your 31 years. You want them to tell about your story, but even more, you want to hear their own.

You realize they parented without Google and feel amazed that they were so capable, that they planned vacations with brochures and phone books, that you're actually jealous of that Pontiac station wagon with the faux wood paneling, and that, somehow, they didn't poison you even though they couldn't grab their phone and look up the correct dosage for children's Tylenol at 4 o'clock in the morning.

And if they don't live in the house next door, you miss them, though you tell them this about once for every thousand times the feeling passes through you, or maybe you never tell them at all. After all, you still put on a show about being an adult, when all along, you know that you may be able to fool some people, but never them.


We always think we'll outgrow our need for the people who brought us into the world. But the secret truth is that we need them always, and in some ways, even more than we did when we were 5.

Or maybe it's just me.

Nov 17, 2015

Saving the World

 
"It's funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools - friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty - and said 'do the best you can with these, they will have to do'. And mostly, against all odds, they do." 
— Anne Lamott

As I poured a second cup of coffee, swirling the cream around with my spoon, it suddenly occurred to me that it's already mid-November. I looked out the window at the rain coming down in sheets, loud and insistent, at the leaves covering the ground in mix of bright yellows and dull browns. It's nearly the end of the year, and like every year, I wonder how we got here so quickly.


Immediately after those thoughts, another thought came: Paris. I keep coming back to it, like so many others. Somehow, I'm still a little surprised each time things like this happen. I've been reading profiles of the victims, imaging the families who lost someone, trying to make sense of something that will never be fathomable to sane people. Tragedy after tragedy we jump, from one breaking news story to the next.

The end of the year is upon us, and it is too easy for me to look at those stories and sum it all up in a defeated sigh. It's been a hard year in many other ways, too. A friend I've known since I was 5 years old had twin baby girls born prematurely, and while one is still in the NICU, I attended the memorial service for the other. As I sat in the wooden church pew, looking at her sweet picture, my tears fell as much as in anger as in sadness, because something like that isn't fair, and shouldn't happen. Paris shouldn't have happened, nor should the hundreds of other mass shootings this year, every year. My health has been a bit of a mess lately, and it pales in comparison to what others I know are struggling with right now. Our state is six months into the fiscal year without a budget, without heating/electricity assistance for the poor, with people losing jobs, with no help for disabled and elderly people. As all these thoughts circled in my mind, I had to put my mug of coffee down and wipe my eyes. None of this makes sense. It doesn't even feel like a reality.

I looked up at Millie and Walter. Someone is dancing and singing on Sesame Street, and they're giggling and paging through books, oblivious to all I'm worried about this morning. I'm constantly astonished at how beautiful they are, and how beautiful people like them can even exist in this kind of world. Sometimes it feels like God is reminding me of what I have to be grateful for, because their light shines through the bleakest times.


At age 31, I have so much yet to learn. One thing I am learning, perhaps the hard way, is that I have to count my blessings where I can. Not in a blindly optimistic, Pollyanna way, but in a deeply grateful, even reverent way. In a way that clings to everything I've been graciously given because those things are little life rafts from God in a wildly stormy sea. Because I think that's the only act of defiance I have, and maybe how good wins in the end. To sing "It is Well" despite it all.


So here I am, clinging to the life rafts of those two little souls, of a husband who lets me order pizza when I feel bad, of this small miracle of warm coffee held close to my chest, of Sunday sermons, of good books. I'm clinging to the last flowers of the year my dad gave me from his garden, a big bunch of green with yellow and orange blooms. I'm clinging to the visit from my mom soon, and how we'll laugh until we cry next to the glow of a mismatched, multicolored Christmas tree with an angel looking over the whole room. I'm clinging to Walter's hugs and whispers of "you're my sweetheart" from this blonde little boy with the widest blue eyes I've ever seen. I'm clinging to Millie's excitement after choir practice, and how smart she is, how it blows me away sometimes. I'm clinging to the sight of her shaking an elderly man's hand and thanking him for his service in the military, and a beautiful song that I can't stop playing. I'm clinging to the smallest of things, like the soothing, sweet smell of a candle burning steadily, and how smooth my sheets feel when I finally wrap up in them at night, and the dance party that's happening in my living room right now.

Will dance parties and soft sheets and flowers save the world? No. Not really.

But maybe, just a little. Maybe it's enough grace for the day.


And when I slow my breathing and inhale the good for just a moment, I realize that grace for one day at a time is really all any of us need. One day after one day after one day at a time, the world is saved.

Oct 23, 2015

Empty Spaces


"You've walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You've traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the upstairs
window. Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied
of expectation. Relax. Don't bother remembering
any of it. Let's stop here, under the lit sign
on the corner, and watch all the people walk by." 

I turned onto the main road as I was telling him about it, little yellow leaves trying to keep up with the tires for a brief moment, before they sighed and settled onto the street again. "I picked up some Christmas presents at a lady's house- did I tell you about that buying co-op I recently joined? They had Melissa and Doug toys on sale?- and anyway, her house was big and impressive looking. You know, one of those typical subdivision houses that cost a few hundred thousand and have no shade on the street because the trees are so young?"

My dad nodded from the passenger seat. We have similar taste in houses.

"So I get there, and pick up the boxes that were sitting in her living room, and I realize there is nothing in it but stained carpet and a couch. The next room was just as bare. It was really strange."

Dad chimed in. "I saw the same thing on calls," he told me, referring to his firefighting. "Big, fancy houses that looked impressive, but they couldn't afford a stick of furniture." We speculated about how many had likely gone into foreclosure. So much show in a house, but no comfort of a home. Empty spaces with a sorrowful echo inside, but their stately appearance outside fooled the rest of the world.

And then, this morning, I saw another empty space that made me gasp.

Just across the hall from where we live now, another apartment is familiar, too. It's the one Sky and I lived in right before Millie was born. The most recent tenants abruptly (i.e., sneakily) moved out early last Saturday morning, leaving a few belongings, some empty boxes, and a huge mess for the landlords. I heard them cleaning it this morning, and watched their pickup rumble down the street toward a dumpster.

Instantly, something in me was curious. I opened my front door, staring into the other apartment where that front door had been left wide open. It smelled dirty, the carpet was a mess, and yet I was tempted. I looked around the hall, and stepped two small steps into our old place. I stood there for a moment and surveyed the past.

Empty and silent, with windows open and sun shining through. I thought of all the arguments that had tinted those walls, how there were stains of the our history that I'll never quite be able to scrub clean. If walls could talk, ours would have sobbed, most likely. I thought about how we left for the hospital right before midnight on a Thursday, how Millie was born on a Saturday, and how she was carried over the threshold on Monday. I thought about the lonely nights I spent with just her there, crying every few hours to be fed, or to be held, and how I would cry along with her. I remembered the awkward visits a therapist would make, sitting on the loveseat while I sat with Sky on the couch, trying to bravely say how I felt until I would dissolve into a mess of anger and heartbreak. I thought of the time I made a lasagna, only a few days after moving in, and left the house for a a half an hour as it baked in the oven, returning to blaring carbon monoxide alarms that forced the whole building to evacuate while the firemen roamed our apartment until it was safe. With all the betraying, fighting, and blaming in that apartment, it was never safe. As we slowly added pieces of furniture to the rooms, we also added resentment, pain, and scars.


But this place, just across the hall in the same building, trudging up the same staircase every week to put away groceries? This place is going to be different. While outside, the bricks blend in, looking like any apartment building on the street, the inside is full to the brim. We'll have a life to pack up when we move out- the two sets of chipped white dishes, minus one cracked bowl that recently landed in the trashcan. We'll have scribbled artwork made with Crayolas and chubby, little hands. We'll have a lot more books than we even started out with, which is shameful and glorious all at the same time. There are old quilts folded up in the closet, old dishes hanging daintily on the wall, and old journals stashed under a bed. There are seldom used kitchen supplies packed in shallow boxes, last season's clothes tucked away for the year, and childhood mementos that I can't part with just yet. Mismatched, decorated with clearance Target furniture, and usually covered in small fingerprints, our home is nothing to the world, but it is full to the brim of these memories. 

When we leave what we have here, it will be for a house, maybe one with a vast yard for the kids and a big, shady tree or two for me. But this place won't be empty. If these walls could talk, they would tell you of the hurt that moved in, and the hearts that painstakingly took one step forward and two steps back until they finally had enough strength to outrun old ghosts. They would tell you of hurried mornings before church on Sunday, and quick dinners before choir practice on Monday. It turns out that the natural, easy pace of children growing is actually a messy, heartbreaking, intentional, day-in-and-day-out task, and this little apartment is full of that. It's full of these first days of school, of trying new recipes, of growing waistlines. It's full of Christmas presents hidden on a high up shelf, and board books abandoned across the couch. It is where we brought another small one over the threshold. In a few years, we'll pack everything and load it in a truck for a new destination. Yet I have a feeling it won't be as empty as when we moved in. 

There is so much here, in the air around us. While the weather turns chilly, our home is staying warmed, a refuge. And when I shake out the rugs, sending out specks of dust to turn into brilliant sunbeams, I wonder if the soft, filmy glow is what we'll leave someday.

Sep 24, 2015

Things and Stuff


"Autumn is the mellower season, and what we lose in flowers we more than gain in fruits." 

Hey, I'm a bit under the weather today, okay? Not every title can be poetry.

Yesterday was the first day of fall. My birthday was a few days ago, but I feel the same excitement on this day each year. It's become a stereotypical, Pinterest-y season that has everyone talking about Starbucks and plaid, leaves and boots, pumpkins and apples. But it's a stereotype I'll gladly own, because fall has always been my favorite. It feels new to me in a way that even spring can't compete with, and it never ceases to inspire me. Fall is for back to school, cardigans, and baking, but most of all, it's for writing.

My birthday was my 31st. Last year, I felt a sense of bewilderment at how I arrived at 30, and a sense of relief that beginning this new decade didn't mean my life was basically over (which is what I assumed of my parents, because 30 might as well have been 80). This year, I checked to see if my face was wrinkly, and promptly forgot I had a birthday at all. Old age will do that to you.

Everyone took the same picture, but I love it anyway.
Life is fast paced lately. The calendar is filling up quickly. Busy can be good, if done the right way, but I'm having to remind myself of that when my introverted soul would much rather be safe at home. Home, however, has become a busy place itself; Millie and I are in our first month of homeschooling. The mornings are beginning to settle into a bit of a routine now. I've planned very lightly themed weeks- this week is apples. Right now, we're focused on learning better to read and write, which makes up arguably the most important part of kindergarten. We're also doing math in simple ways, like learning the value of coins, understanding the calendar, etc. And while we're on this subject, I just need add that I don't know how my mother homeschooled without Google. I've already had to look up a couple science questions that a five year old asked me. 

Checking into the hotel for our quick Indy trip
Walter is having some two year old stubbornness, but he is still a sweetheart who loves his mama. It's amazing, and a little sad, to observe the way his speech is progressing into longer sentences and bigger vocabulary. He's always been an easy baby. This age, though, is the sweet spot, I think. Even though I desperately miss his early days, I love that he's old enough to tell me some of what he wants or needs, but young enough to still feel small and snuggle on my lap with a book about trains.

Marriage is still going well- really well. However, with that goodness comes fear. With a past like ours, I worry that things will come crashing down around me at any moment. Happiness doesn't come easily in some cases. It has to be learned, too. I'm trying to memorize that feeling and trust it.


We've started attending Wednesday night Bible study at our church. I'll be honest and say that this is very hard for me when it comes to the social aspect. I feel so drained at the end of it. The speakers are thought provoking and interesting, but the second half of the night is a small group. It's like a miniature party full of women. Most women seem to enjoy chatting in a group like this, but it is not so pleasant for a girl like me. I try to smile and not look mean, but spend a lot of time staring at my hands and paging through my book. The first week, I texted Sky (who was in the men's group down the hall) and told him I wanted to leave, because I'm mature like that. Last night went a lot better, mostly because I clutched my caramel apple cider like a security blanket, and curled up in bed when I got home.


Millie joined a children's choir here in town. While I'm as introverted as they come, Miss Amelia Kae is the absolute opposite, and I'm glad she has an outlet to make friends and have a little spotlight. They'll have a winter concert near Christmas and another concert in May. I can't wait to watch her on the stage.

Speaking of Christmas- my Mom is coming to visit again this year. I haven't seen her since last December, and that's hard when she's one of my favorite people. We're already planning to bake (i.e., she shows me how to bake) and enjoy Christmas-y things together. The most exciting part of her visit is that we're driving to a Chicago suburb to see It's a Wonderful Life in a theater, and meet the actress who played ZuZu, Karolyn Grimes. It's incredibly significant to me, and not just because it's my favorite movie in the entire universe ever of all time. She and one of the other "Bailey children" are the only actors from the movie still alive. Meeting someone who has been on camera with Jimmy Stewart is going to be amazing. Typing that probably makes me 71 instead of 31.

Millie might be having fun
And last, but not least? I had the privilege of meeting Kim from She is Fierce, and her awesome family! You can tell from the photo that Millie had wonderful time, too. They came through Champaign last week, and were gracious enough to spend time with us one night. We talked about Canada, I moped about being American, and it was lovely. For some reason, meeting bloggers is easy for me- maybe because, unlike my church group, I've felt connected to so many girls for so many years, it's as if I already know them well when we first meet. I guarantee that the 5 or so people who read this blog know me infinitely better than nearly everyone in "real life".

That about sums up my world right now. I thought about writing a prettier post, but realized that so much has been added to my life lately, I should probably explain some of it before I tell you how I feel about it. Soon, I'll wax poetic about everything autumn, but for this afternoon, we'll catch up like the old friends we are. Sit down with a cup of something hot and tell me how you've been.

Aug 24, 2015

An Open Door



"Happiness is something that comes into our lives through doors we don't even remember leaving open." 
— Rose Wilder Lane

They would haunt me nearly every night.

No matter how happy the day, the sun would set, the moon would rise, and all that has happened before would rush into the room. A weight would settle on me, pinning me down to grief. I could hear his breaths from the pillow next to mine, and instead of feeling gratefulness, I felt bitter that I was forced to relive the unhappiness night after night. His dreams were peaceful, but mine would not let me forget, and I woke up crying so many times. How could I let go when something bigger than myself had taken hold of me that strongly? Those nights were lonely, set on fire with old rage, and left me battle weary.

And then, last night, I had a new dream. I dreamt that he and I renewed our vows. Happy music was playing, we were in love, and we danced and danced. I was wearing some sort of lovely dress, and he looked handsome. The evening was sweet and purple and warm, There were strings of white lights over our heads, and our hearts were so full. The people who gathered around watched us as if we were newlyweds. I felt the kind of pure elation that I hadn't felt in so long- not like a familiar, old friend returning, but a new friend that appeared out of the blue.

It's strange how those unconscious thoughts, and those that slip quietly into the empty spaces of the day, can shape a life. I no more chose the happiness than I chose the sadness, but both found me. Some days, the raw memories were all I could think of, while other days went by without them, but they would always find me in the nighttime. Maybe my body is tired of being sad, or maybe there has been enough life gone by that my thoughts have grown wings again. I don't know how it works, gaining a little hope back at a time, but I gasp for that air as much as I can now. I had forgotten how to take a whole breath. Is this how hearts heal and minds rest? I hope so.

There is an open door in the evening. He steps through it after a day at work, closes it behind him, and hugs the ones who are waiting for him in the hall. He rounds the corner. I am happy.

I have not felt that for so long.

Aug 16, 2015

Take a Taste

 "Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious."  — Ruth Reichl


Millie has been asking me for a year now.

An entire 365 days of, "Can we go eat at the festival?" "The Taste of Champaign?" I ask. "Yeah!" she exclaims. It only comes once a year, but it's seared into her memory as a highlight of summertime. Maybe it's because we've been going long before she was even born. Central Illinois is rich with special events, but this is one we never miss.

The Taste of Champaign-Urbana has always been a favorite in our family. It's become a summer weekend-long tradition full of crafts booths, pony rides, inflatables, concerts and fun acts, activities for kids, and most importantly, a smorgasbord of some of the best restaurants in Chambana.


I like to map out my stops ahead of time, and I can already tell you I'll be stopping at the Minneci's booth for some bruschetta, the Pop Stop for a fun popsicle, Manolo's for a dessert empanada, Millie will drag me to the Kona Ice truck for some shaved ice, and Walter will beg for some popcorn from the Champaign County Historical Museum booth.



But though some parts of the weekend are for fulfilling those traditions, I love that it's a fun way for families to try something new. Millie had her first pony ride last year, and was beside herself with excitement. We watched a kids' concert that my dad, in an overzealous display of hand waving, volunteered me for as a guest on stage. I tried my first sip of Thai tea, and it was heaven. And it was Walter's first time to run through giant bubbles and ride on our shoulders through West Side Park. 
I'm sure that Sky, Millie, and Walter would all have a different part of the Taste of C-U that they like best. Mine is that we get to have a weekend of entertainment and delicious food that isn't forgotten like a typical restaurant meal would be. Instead, we make memories that last us until the next summer.



The Champaign Park District was kind enough to provide $25 in Taste tickets for the winner of this giveaway! The tickets can be picked up at the festival. Just enter below for a chance to win! And either way, make sure to visit this year's Taste of C-U. I'll say hi- but only after dinner, of course.

August 21 from 5-11pm, and August 22 from 11am-11pm. 
It's held in West Side Park,
 steps from downtown Champaign, Illinois.
Post your photos to Instgram using the #TasteCU hashtag- I'll be doing the same!


Disclosure: I was provided with Taste tickets from The Champaign Park District in exchange for this blog post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Aug 4, 2015

Uneasy


"Remember this also: it’s always easy to look back and see what we were, yesterday, ten years ago. 
It is hard to see what we are." 

If I could sum up this summer in one word, it would be just that- uneasy. Or uncomfortable. The kind of nervous, slightly sad feeling in the pit of your stomach when something- or in this case, many things- just seems off. Like the summer cold we all seem to have, I'm bundled up in bed in my sweatshirt even though I should be chasing Millie and Walter at a park. It isn't supposed to be like this.

There has been good in these June, July, and now August days. Everyone in the family has had a birthday (except me), and it is always fun to share cake and see the joy over presents and balloons. Millie had a milestone birthday, turning 5, and a 5th birthday is its own sort of magic. She and I will start her kindergarten year in September, and we're busy preparing for it. Sky and I have been doing noticeably better, and it's a relief to feel that again. And though Walter has had a few moments of definite two year old actions, he's still as cuddly and sweet as ever.

But circumstances beyond my control have made my heart a little weary, a little unsure. It's like the tornado sirens the city tested this morning; the day is cool and sunny, quite perfect for July, but that ominous sound is hard to shake. It feels wrong.

The most glaringly obvious disruption to our lives has been, of all things, my beloved Illinois. The politics in this state are much less beloved, however, and the state government has been shut down since the end of June. While I won't bore you with pages of my thoughts on the matter, it boils down to a lot of hardship on a lot of people, the poorest people who most need help. And because Sky is a state employee of sorts (also too complicated to explain), we've been left wondering every two weeks whether his paycheck will arrive. After being told to stay home for a whole week, he is back working, but the budget crisis is far from over. I've been spending my nights writing to representatives, no doubt in vain.

A friend moved away this morning. She posted a photo of a Champaign country road, cracked and probably lined with dots of white Queen Anne's Lace and blue chicory, and now she's gone. We've known each other for years but only developed a closer friendship over the last year or so, and that alone makes me sad, because we could have had more time. I shared a lot of common interests with her, more than I have with someone in a long time, and while she's moving on with her life in necessary ways, it's still hard to say goodbye.

And, maybe laughably to some, it's been hard to say goodbye to another friend. Sidnie, one of the few blog friends I have who truly gets me, surprised me with Go Set a Watchman a couple weeks back. I won't spoil the book for anyone, but most people know that Maycomb has changed, Atticus has changed, and even Scout has changed. To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorites, and it took root in my own childhood, reading it for school, and then again on a family camping trip. I vividly remember being caught up in Tom Robinson's trial as I sat on a dusty chair by a fire pit in the woods. The new book shakes up what I thought I knew about that Alabama town, and left me unsettled. Harper Lee must have known what my summer would be like when she wrote it, and it matched my mood perfectly.

Earlier, I said that I wanted to write when life had smoothed over into calm again, and I could tell the story from the other side. But like most stories, as some parts resolve, others swiftly change, and so it's best to write as it happens. The unease of the summer of 2015 will melt into sweeter autumn, crisp caramel apples, pencil cases and notebooks, and my favorite part of the year. I am ready to trade the sticky, worried days of August for the promise of golden leaves and lighter hearts.

Jun 29, 2015

Two

 "Young boys should never be sent to bed. They always wake up a day older." 
Last night, I picked him up from his crib while he was still sleeping. He snuggled close to me in the dim room lit from the hallway. I slowly rocked from side to side the way a mother innately does when she holds her baby. He legs folded into my arms, and his head rested perfectly on me, just right, as if my shoulders were always meant to carry the weight of that blonde head. I whispered that I loved him, and with closed eyes, he whispered "luh you"  back. There are moments when I know I'll never remember the details, but I know I'll remember the feeling, and this was one. The feeling of letting go just a little more when I only want to hold tighter. Because today, Walter turns two.


What I do remember vividly is what happened two years ago. I remember how I went to bed and woke up a half hour later in full labor. I remember the car ride to the hospital through dark and empty streets on that June night. I remember how quickly it all happened, and I remember all the pain. But most of all, I remember someone in the room telling me that it was a boy. And when I held him that first time, I realized I'd been missing him so much even though we hadn't met until that second. My heart was waiting so long to kiss him and call him my son. There's a love more powerful than the storybook love at first sight; it's the love so strong before the first glimpse. Every movement and strong kick felt, every heartbeat heard thumping on a monitor, and every time I stood in his empty nursery, thinking about who I would bring home from the hospital- they were all preparing me to cherish this little boy of mine.

He runs a little farther from me than he used to, busy with so much to learn, and see, and do. But he always run back, needing a hug when he falls down or when his feelings are hurt. And though I know I will fail both Millie and Walter a hundred times over, I can promise that I will always be here when they need to run back. They'll never know that I need those embraces more than they ever will. I'm grateful that he still looks back and runs for me now.

Today, he is two. Today, he is closer to more words, more complicated thoughts, more joy, more sadness, and more life. It's hard to arrange the cards and balloons without a little ache, because the boy who needed me for everything needs me a little less every day. But it's also impossible not to celebrate the last two years, because he's brought more happiness to our family than I could have ever imagined.  


We've played, we've cuddled, we've danced, and we've been up late from a fever. We have walked and ran and climbed and read and napped together. We have learned and we have grown. And Walter, how sweet it has been.

Happy birthday, little love. You're my favorite boy in the world. I can't wait for our next adventures.

Jun 10, 2015

Twilight


"It was the time of year, the time of day, for a small insistent sadness to pass into the texture of things." 

He was clutching his stuffed mouse, cradled in my arms, and I carried him through the hallways to his room. I turned the doorknob slowly until it clicked, and waited for another cry, but he was too tired now. I stood in the deep, eerie purple of twilight that shifted into blue, tinting the walls, the daisies on my table, and the dishes I was too tired to put away. It was silent and serene, waiting there in the almost-dark for nothing. The movement of night-blackened trees through the window caught my eye, and reminded me there were hours left in the day despite the moon's sheen. I'm not afraid of the dark anymore. I'm used to it.

When her auburn curls are tousled on a flowery pink pillow, and an airplane mobile barely flutters over his blonde head, I tell myself that this is all I need. I lay sideways on the bed and press play on an old black and white movie. (Right now, it's anything with Barbara Stanwyck.) Was it better then? If I had the right kind of hat to wear with my coat, and lipstick to match my high heels, would everything feel settled? Would it all wrap up neatly the way it tends to do in an hour and a half of romance, confusion, love letters, and resolution?

I keep wondering how I got here. In the span of a few years, life has changed many times over. I remember the girl I was five or ten years ago. She wasn't sure of herself, but she was sure of the world- a strange place to be. She hoped and trusted, and she believed in happy endings to the darkest stories. I laugh at her, pity her, and want to be her all over again. There may be a secret to a soft heart after heartache, but I haven't found it yet. It seems more knowledge only brings more to defend against. Sometimes at night, I think about the ones who have told me their secrets and sorrows, and wonder if they're still awake, too.

I've been exchanging letters with someone who is in his late eighties. He tells me about his childhood and early adulthood, and I marvel at it. There are twists and turns in his story so painful, I catch my breath as I read. So much tragedy for someone that young. But he tells me these things because they are a part of his story now, and, I think, he accepts them. And while I wonder if he would change them if he had the chance, I also wonder if he's thought of it that way. I'm still looking for an escape, and he's content. Among the sadness, he vividly remembers the good, the foolish, and the details of many events like they were yesterday.

I wonder what I will have to write about in another fifty years. If the good triumphs by then, and I can feel my heart beating beneath my hand and know that I have lived fully. Life is forever a back and forth, round and round motion. Much of the good is hard to get in focus. Sometimes it means holding it very close to see it well. And other times, it means standing at a distance, and surveying all I have.

There are gifts here, I remind myself, if I can breathe and wait long enough for the light to see them clearly.

Jun 3, 2015

Night in June


 "Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly." 

It's the time of year when Millie's cheeks are dotted with more and more freckles, and the smallest hint of sunburn pink. Walter wants to spend every waking moment outdoors, and shrieks with delight when I mention a walk. The corn is shooting up so quickly, it looks different every time I pass the fields. The country roads are begging to be driven. It smells like warm, fresh air and growing things.

There are a lot of miniature blog posts I want to write, so I'm writing them all here in this jumbled, rambling space. Most of what I write isn't planned. It just spills out when I am overflowing. Seasons changing tends to do that to me.

June is proving to be a difficult month, even though we're only a couple days in. Sky is at WLC for most of it. And Walter turns two at the end of the month. It's starting to sink in how much he's grown, and how little baby there is left. I think I'm much more emotional about this birthday than I was on his first- I can't even type this without crying. It's hard to let that stage go. In another world, perhaps, I would long for another baby. But in this world, there are too many complications, and so that chapter is probably over. That's its own strange kind of grief, and I'm still figuring it out, really.


I have been thinking a lot about my legacy. What I'll leave behind. A lot of people I "know"- like a beautiful woman who wrote here, or our local TV anchor- have passed away in the last few months. It's shaken me up a lot for never even meeting them in person. Maybe because they were so young. Maybe because I'm realizing how scary cancer can be. Or maybe it's just because when someone is gone, I can't help but wonder what it will be like when I'm gone. Both of those people left a community of family and friends who couldn't speak anything bad about them. I cannot picture more than a couple dozen people at my funeral, but I hope they have stories to tell. I want to leave good to remember. I want my heart to always be aware that the seemingly small things are what last.

Since having kids, one thing has become incredibly obvious to me; I am much more old fashioned than most people. I don't mean old fashioned in a cutesy way, like collecting old typewriters (although that sounds nice), but in terms of my values. The way I parent and steer our family life is the opposite of most of my friends and family. The things that matter are different when there are little ones looking up to me, ready to imitate my every move. There is so much pain and confusion our there, and I fiercely try to protect their innocence. Many people spit out the word "sheltering" as if it's a horrible thing, but, to be plain, I absolutely want to shelter my children. Someone once compared raising children to growing a seedling. And that spout needs to be cared for closely, safely, until it can grow strong enough to be outdoors in all the harsh weather. That's how I feel about it.


And life lately? A lot of quiet. A lot of alone time. A lot of coffee. A lot of reading about Harper Lee before her book comes out next month. I think Miss Lee and I would be good friends, but like most introverts, we'd probably never meet because it would mean interacting with another person. So I'll be here in Illinois, and she'll be there in Alabama, and I'll relish every moment of reading her second story.

Tonight, I only see one or two bright, steady stars in the sky. The house is softening in its nightly silence. It's a night that would be good for crying to let out a bit of pressure, but that's what writing is for. Evenings are my favorite, though. I love the hush, the glimpse of the moon, the soft light in the house, and a moment with my thoughts. There is so much to do all day, but the night sweeps in and there is rest, so we have the strength to make it to another June day tomorrow.

And tomorrow, there is much to grow, much to learn, and a lot of coffee to drink.

May 17, 2015

How I Got Here


"The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education." 

I began a few times, you know.

The first time, I was a naive 16 year old, homeschooled and working at the small apple orchard on the edge of town, bordered by cornfields and beehives. I came home from my job smelling like their apple cider doughnuts, as if I'd spritzed a cinnamon perfume on my wrists to make the five dollars and change per hour. After my regular schoolwork was done for the day, I would reach for the textbooks to my two online college courses, flipping through them while I waited for the dial-up tones to finish beeping. I took Introduction to Fiction and Basic Newswriting, figuring it would cover all the bases of my future career as a writer. My computer was beige and roughly the size of a small car.

I moved away from home at 17, however, four hours south and left, landing at the very edge of Indiana. People spoke with a twang and there were more hills there. I began a second time, and took an English class, but it was extremely expensive for a girl who left home with a $900 savings account and a '87 stick shift Honda. Instead, I worked- first at a chain restaurant as a hostess, where I faked extroversion until I could flee to the safety of my apartment, then at a doughnut shop, where I served cherry bagels and coffee in the drive through window when the sun hadn't even stretched and yawned yet.


Next was a year at a job cleaning hospital rooms. It was cheerful work when people were leaving with a cart full of flowers and balloons, and heart-wrenching when I'd be assigned the children's ward, oncology, or an ICU room where the bed hadn't been occupied long enough for a mess to be made. I cried more than once as I mopped those floors, knowing a family was grieving. It was a busy, but quiet job. After that, I worked at the same hospital as a secretary, and it felt like I had landed my first grown up position. I wore khakis, read on my lunch hour, typed on a computer, rubbed elbows with doctors, and locked up at night. When it was quiet, I wrote blog posts to myself in emails. 


That's when I began for the third time. I started off with a medical terminology class that the hospital offered (which counted as college credit). I didn't choose it for its purpose of enriching my job, although it did. I just loved all the -isms and -ologies, and was overjoyed when I'd find the particularly long words for small conditions (blepharospasm!). I decided to take a couple night classes then, driving straight from work in my khakis to a lecture hall where I'd nearly fall asleep, At first, the obvious choice was nursing- not just for my hospital job, but because my mother and 3/4 of her family are in nursing. I realized when I barely squeaked by with a C in anatomy that it probably wasn't a great idea. And anyway, during all that time of cleaning patient rooms, I found myself coming home to write about their lives rather than wonder about their medication dosages. I quit the hospital and worked at a vet for a year, but the pets had less interesting stories.

Life changed again, and at age 25, I moved back to Illinois, thank goodness. I found a job as a medical secretary again, and because the clinic offered tuition reimbursement, I took another two online courses at the college I started at years before- my fourth beginning. I met Sky during that time. I met Millie not long after.


When she was two, it suddenly occurred to me that the Pell Grant existed, and that I should use it (and I'll forever be thankful for it). I enrolled again for my first full time semester- my fifth time in school by this point- and found out I was pregnant with Walter a month later. I continued with school that year full time, even though Sky was away nearly the entire spring semester. Some of  the time, I would take my quizzes laying on one side of the couch, clutching my laptop and praying I wouldn't feel the morning sickness anymore. Once Walter was born, I took my first purposeful break from college. I wanted that first year to be free from distraction. I'm still so glad I took it.

And for the sixth time in my life, at age 30, I enrolled in full time classes again. Most of those were math, and I've never been more intimidated. I made the Dean's List, got a 4.0 my last semester, and felt like I was actually getting the hang of it. My bed became a temporary desk, and I would spread out syllabuses, textbooks, and my laptop all around me. There were countless nights of stopping in the middle of homework to soothe a crying baby or calm a little girl with a bad dream. It was exhausting, and it was hard, and it felt awful and amazing. 

On May 14th, I stopped going to school. 

This time, it was because I had finally graduated with an associate degree.


What technically began at 16 ended a few days ago. I celebrated on the rooftop, taking in the night air and posing for a few photos in my cap and gown. I wanted to wear it forever. At home, I poured a sparkly drink into a crystal flute, and felt the gratefulness sink deep into my bones. It was such a long journey- much longer than it needed to be- but I know, without a doubt, that I appreciate that little degree so much more than I would have a decade ago. It feels like I earned it, yes. But it feels like a gift, too.

I haven't learned a hundred great truths. I have not remembered the way to chart the phases of the moon, the format for writing copy for television news, or most of those words from medical terminology. But I have learned it's okay to keep going, slowly, because it gives you a kind of grit you don't find other places. Someday, I'd like to continue, and get that journalism degree I've been eyeing since I was young. Until then, I have this; the knowledge that I can accomplish something I work at, the example I hope to set for Millie and Walter, and the honor cords and tassel carefully put away. Class of 2015.

Apr 28, 2015

The Roads that Lead Home


"You take what you're given, 
whether it's the cornfields of the Midwest 
or the coal mines of West Virginia, and you make your fiction out of it. It's all you have. 
And somehow, wherever you are, it always seems to be enough." 

It's a quiet downtown, with a few empty storefronts, and a hand painted sign advertising "Jack's Sandwiches and Daily Specials" in faded red letters. Below it, an American flag waves lazily in the breeze, and around the corner, a vintage advertisement for Gold Medal flour on the side of the brick building. Tulips are growing, deep red and pale yellow, as if insisting there is still life blooming despite the quiet of this town. And inside, we're in a small room of the library for their weekly storytime.

We visit this town, a few miles from our own, fairly regularly. The librarian knows us well, asking about my dad now and then, handing me misplaced pictures of the kids' visit to Santa they'd kept from previous years. This week, Millie found a spot in the front of the room, still easy for me to spot with her purple gingham shirt, saddle shoes, and pigtails. Later that afternoon, Millie and Walter and I took a trip to an indoor park, and as they played, my mind began to wander.

I had been watching parts of the White House Correspondents' Dinner earlier that week. Just as the sight of Champaign's newspaper building always stirs up feelings inside me, the dinner does, too. An entire evening dedicated to black tie attire and celebration of journalists. Writers. The people I envy a little, because I always hoped I would graduate from college (at 22, with a bachelor's, instead of at 30, with an associate), and climb the corporate ladder until I became a famous, award winning journalist. I imagined the stories I would break. The opinion pieces that would stun the country. The career I would give up to focus on writing my book. 

It hasn't exactly happened.

And I thought about how the Vice President drove past my street last week, on his way to give a speech at the U of I. He made a bee line back to the airport, the shiny limousine dodging our potholes, and hopped aboard Air Force Two as soon as it was over, anxious to leave this Midwest soil and go back to places where life happens with urgency and importance.

Some people I know from high school have moved far away. There are those who drove the couple hours north to Chicago, the place that gave Carl Sandburg so much to describe. There are others who left Illinois altogether, and made their homes on one shore or the other, opening their windows to mountain or ocean views every day. And then there are some who remain here, who seem to lament at where they are. 

But this is my place. I know which country roads lead home. I know what day the apple orchard opens in July, what day the farmer's market begins, and where to go on those 90 degree July days to cool off. I know where to go for jazz concerts in the park, or the best restaurant for pie, or the way we have to get out our short sleeves one day and our winter coats the next. I can see the sky full of bright sunshine before the eerie green of a storm, and know to take shelter. I can drive down the road to towns with horse and buggies, Amish men in suspenders, and Amish women in bonnets. And I can raise two little ones on ear after ear of fresh sweetcorn grown here in town.

The library in that small town is a place which reminds me how small I am, too. The empty street assures me how little will change here, and that the only kind of fame that happens around this neck of the woods is the rare kind that comes long after you're buried, if it comes at all. But like most people, I've learned that my life isn't going to have the fame and glitter, and my name won't grace the spine of a dozen books.

My place is in the empty street, holding Millie's hand as we cross it together, stopping to admire the tulips. It's in the orchard, sipping cider slushes and devouring apple doughnuts. It's squinting in the evening sun at the ice cream place, handing Walter a cone in the sweltering heat that turns my hair into a mess. 

It's here, with them. Small, quiet, and home. It's my favorite place to be.

Mar 30, 2015

A Legacy of Moments


"It's no good trying to get rid of your own aloneness. You've got to stick to it all your life. 
Only at times, at times, the gap will be filled in. At times! But you have to wait for the times. 
Accept your own aloneness and stick to it, all your life. And then accept the times when the gap is filled in, when they come. But they've got to come. You can't force them." 
— D.H. Lawrence

I should be practicing my math problems tonight. I have a test soon, then another in abnormal psychology, then quizzes and papers in film, and the week after spring break lets loose a deluge of homework which I'm bobbing up and down in with the swirling water. But some nights are for writing. Like this one.

This afternoon, I went to my school and ordered my cap and gown. I wrote my name out on a whiteboard, then held it up as they made me speak into the recorder so it will be announced correctly. They asked me if I wanted to buy the extra yellow cords because I am graduating with honors.The girls behind the messy desk, probably eight or ten years my juniors, looked at me blankly, as if the three of us knew it was only community college, after all. And it is. And I bought those cords and told them I needed to. I needed to.

Because when relatively big things happen in my very small life, I have to grab hold of them with everything I have. When something joyful approaches, I want to take it by the hand for as long as it's there. I'm not wise, but I am smart enough to understand that some of my depression is caused by whatever chemical, hereditary, biological pieces inside me. The rest is caused by choices that I've made, and the consequences of making those choices.

So I grasp the good, when I'm handed a nice evening for a walk, or a silly joke emailed from my mom. When I have a moment to meet a friend at Starbucks, or an invite for pie with my dad. When I run my fingers over a pretty, new dress at the store, or have a chance to buy ten dollar cords for a graduation gown simply to tell the world I tried so very hard at this college student thing, I have to grasp it and run with it until I have no energy left to run.


Depression is not something that will let go of me. I've had too many years of the ebbs and flows to know any other way. But when there is a chance at a blessing, big or small, I hold it to my chest in thanksgiving. The biggest of these blessings are the arms of two little souls who call me mama.

Millie and Walter won't be there six weeks from now, when I hear my name called and move my tassel from one side to the other. The graduation ceremony is very late in the evening, and they will both be sleeping peacefully in their beds while I'm across town with my heels and sweaty palms. And yet, they are the ones who will be with me most of all. I tell myself that I have worked to get this silly associate degree for me, for my happiness- but really, it is for that hope of making them proud in some small way. The hope of spurring them on to do better things with their lives than I have done.

Sometimes, I have to remind myself that the loneliness will come and go. Sometimes, I can't write a blog post that will be able to explain why things hurt or why I'm sad. Yet I have a little girl and a little boy that God gave me, and I can grab on to their joy. I can encourage it, even, and do my best to cultivate it. Life as an adult is harder than any of us dreamed when we were children. But, oh, these children of mine have so much happiness, and in such simple things.


We'll chase those things together, with my left hand holding hers and my right hand holding his. We'll find the secret and the sweet and the silly together. My lonely will get chased away in those moments.

And when life slows as the decades pass, I'll have countless stories to remind myself of, and to tell them when they get weary, too. The legacy of these moments is where my heart hopes to store up treasures.

Jan 27, 2015

The Mystery


"Everything which is done in the present, affects the future by consequence, and the past by redemption." 

One of my favorite people I've never met is Ken Burns. For the proverbial list of guests you'd pick to sit around your dinner table, he is one of mine. Because I think he's found a secret: that the process of going back, being knee deep in history, is beautiful. Because hindsight gives clarity and sense to our lives, even the bad things. Because it's a good story. While the present just seems like a mess- one without any rhythm or poetry, at that- the events that we look back on give meaning to the chaos.

But I read an article in the Chicago Tribune three days ago, and haven't stopped thinking about it. It told the story of an 87 year old woman named Anna. She is a psychoanalyst who was visiting the September 11 memorial. More importantly, she is a Holocaust survivor who lived in three concentration camps, including Auschwitz. She was freed when the camp was liberated. Her father and grandmother did not survive. She watched a friend die as mice waited nearby for their next meal.

Anna was asked, at the end of the article, if her background made her see meaning in the events of September 11. "Meaning? What meaning?" was her response.

I believe in God. I always have. But there are some things that will never be good. It doesn't mean He can't make good things from broken ones; He often does, and those make the best stories. Yet, it doesn't made the bad fade. What happened to Anna was inexplicable and horrifying. What happens to victims of abuse is senseless. When someone gets cancer, or dies too young, or has their heart broken, it doesn't sit right with us, and it never will. Sometimes, I don't think it's possible to reconcile tears.

Two weeks ago was my anniversary. Sky and I have been married for five years. In those five years, there have been two babies, three jobs, and four apartments. There have been long absences due to the military, and they add up to over a year apart. There has also been a lot of hurt.

The truth about my home is that it is not a happy place. It has not been a happy place for most of the last five years. There is not a lot of screaming or slamming of doors, no midnight shouting matches or broken dishes. There is just empty silence where sweet words should be. Separate rooms when there should be a shared couch. An absence of hope when it should be full to the brim. There is not a shred of trust. The one place in this world that should be calming and kind has never felt that way. And it doesn't make sense to me.

From the very beginning of our marriage, Sky and I have fought an uphill battle, and we've gone sliding down to the bottom again and again. It's where we find ourselves now. Only this time, I don't have the strength to keep climbing anymore. I am hoping that things will change and our family can stay whole. I hope that more than anything in this world. I wish that it was just up to me, but it's not.

These next few weeks/months/etc. are really our last chance at this. I tell you this because I ask for your prayers. I don't understand what has happened or why. I will never be able to be the wife that says, "I'm glad it happened. We're better for it." I am not glad. I hope we will be better for it.

In the meantime, I've quit trying to comprehend the reasons why we're here, and fix my gaze on Millie and Walter. On being gentle with our hearts. On waking up and going to bed and waking up again. On knowing I'm not the only one with problems that keep me up at night. On whispering prayers that remind God I need Him desperately, and remind me that He knows.

And maybe someday, there will be beauty in between the pain. Maybe someday, I can tell this story, and sigh when I get to the happy ending. Until then, the pages turn day by day. I'm in the middle of the mystery.

Jan 5, 2015

Life in Janurary


"Sometimes, I look outside, and I think that a lot of other people have seen this snow before. 
Just like I think that a lot of other people have read those books before. And listened to those songs.
I wonder how they feel tonight." 

The sun sank below the horizon hours ago. It's dark now, but the kind of dark that glows with newly falling snow. The stars are missing from the sky, as if they have sprinkled themselves into the vast white. It covers rooftops, molds into car shapes, and smooths over all hints of busyness from this day. There are those who shrink back from this kind of crystallized weather. But not me. Snow makes the real world disappear. It makes me forget.

I woke up earlier than usual this morning. I had heard what the weatherman predicted, and after breakfast was given and coats were found, Millie, Walter, and I made a trip to the grocery store. It's a lovely, chilly Midwest tradition, I think; when more than an inch of snow is in the forecast, it means we must shop for bread and milk. By the time the storm clouds break open and the tiny dots of white begin falling, there isn't a loaf or a gallon to be found on the shelves in Champaign-Urbana. We have plenty of plows to scatter the roads with salt and sand, but it's a tradition that stays with me still- grocery store, gas station so the tank will be full to the top, and home to a bowl of something warm. Then we press our noses to the windowpanes, straining our eyes to spot the first snowflake. If we turn our backs for a moment, we look back to see an unrecognizable scene of winter on our street.

When I opened this page, I meant to write to you about the snow. It does something to me, as most of the season changes do. I suppose what I really wanted to do is tell you how I am. What I'm doing.

In the past couple of weeks, I have spent time with more than one friend. This is remarkable when I'm such an introvert, and when I often feel I have no friends that I could do those kinds of things with. I spent one evening on a couch with a friend and her tiny baby boy. We sipped drinks and talked for hours about life. I stayed until after one in the morning, completely unaware of time. A few days later, I braved the bitter cold air to navigate brick streets and warm myself in a coffee shop, where I met another friend who I've known since we were both young. We used to write outlandish stories together and have lots of adventures. Her mother taught me to play the piano; I took lessons in their living room. The two of us had fancy desserts and caught up on the years we've missed. And though I love my time alone, that afternoon and that evening were some of the brightest times I have had in a very long time. I realize that community, with people who really understand me, is a beautiful thing, and I dearly hope to have more of  in the coming year.

Life now is a sometimes wonderful, sometimes maddening form of the same day, over and over again. It usually feels that most of my day is spent preparing meals, cleaning up meals, planning meals, and shopping for them. Walter is still as sweet as ever, but teething can throw that off some days. Millie is so full of life- I've never seen someone that alive before- and I usually have to beg her to slow down a bit in the morning until I've had a cup of coffee. I pick up the same toys and books every night. I wake up to the same demands of "nana!" (banana) for Walter and fifty questions from Millie. Most days, I find myself feeling so weary at one point or another, because motherhood does that. But I also see her curled up on my bed to read, wearing her long flannel nightgown and playing with her tiny curls, or have a grin and a kiss from him that covers my whole cheek in drool, and in those moments, I find myself near tears, because I know these days won't last.

Sky and I will be married 5 years on the 16th. I always think it's the 15th for some reason. I don't know what the day, or the year, will bring. I never do. But we are still trying.

For the last month or so, I've felt myself start to walk into the familiar dark forest of depression. It's nothing serious, and nothing unusual. I have been walking in and out of it for as long as I can remember. Sometimes, I can name a cause. Other times, it finds me on its own. This time may be a mix of both. I've learned that I can't cheer myself out of it. Instead, I try to minimize its appearance when the kids are awake, and I give myself permission to cry, or write, or do what I need to do to make it until the next day. My last post talked about perseverance a little, and depression requires it. I am doing what I can.

That is life now. The ins and outs of every day. The busy nothings that make up my life. The bits that seem unimportant and are really the only important parts. The sadness. The gritty, unpolished shards of hope. The quiet. The embraces of friends. The milk and bread. The snow.
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