Earlier this year, I posted this brief tidbit about recognizing the balance of “good” years and more trying ones. I don’t think any entire years are throwaway ones – good things happen in the more trying years, and hard things occur in the most prosperous ones.
I am grateful for all of the growth that has come from this challenging year, but I must admit that I am breathing a sigh of relief to bid adieu to 2014, and I am welcoming this symbolic/calendar fresh start with open arms.
And though this has been a tough year, so many good things have happened, and there have been so many joyful moments. Here are my favorite photos from 2014 – a reminder that every day is an occasion to make something great happen, and a dark and cloudy time has beauty as well.
When we first told Maya we were pregnant, we asked her what we should name the baby (we are not going to find out the gender.) Her immediate response was “Bambino Dingo” – to her, these were nonsensical sounds, but they were two clear-as-a-bell words, and they almost made sense! It stuck.
Maybe I should have had kids sooner.
Of course, I don’t really mean that, because I want the exact kids that came together in the exact moment to make exactly Maya and Bambino Dingo (I may be making a big assumption here, as I have not yet met Bambino Dingo yet, but I’m willing to bet that he/she is exactly who I want.)
But I feel like I didn’t even begin figuring out my life until I had kids. I know it’s been said before, but I DID NOT know how to appreciate my open schedule and time before. Having a kid forced me to prioritize and be more productive, and my life has improved because of that. I am more purposeful. However, I wish I had figured that out sooner. Thus, I should have had kids sooner.
I did not put off having kids until my 30’s so that I could “accomplish more” before I did so. I did not travel more or produce more, or really focus in on anything. I wish I had known better (though I’m sure someone told me.) I was busy just being and bouncing around and hanging out. And now I’m in spitting distance of 40. I thought I’d have more done? Built? Collected? Grown? Accomplished? Seen? But 40 is the new 30, right?
I was definitely building the blocks of me in my 20’s, but I was not yet purposeful. I was actually pretty passive. It’s a big part of my personality – maybe a little too go with the flow. But I am actively trying to change that now. I want more, and it looks like I’m going to be the one to have to make that happen. Wish I’d known that before my only free time was nap-time. On the weekends. Which is when I do the dishes.
More what? Of course it would be sweet to win the lottery, etc. (Oh, the travel!) But what I’m really thinking is that I want to do more, make more, plan more, to stop sitting around. My mind turns almost constantly with ideas and scenarios.
I hope to take the next year off with Maya and Bambino Dingo, and I am so excited, but I am afraid of me. I am afraid that without a boss and deadlines and 160 medium-sized people needing me to be accountable, I won’t be. I am much more disciplined for others than I am for myself.
So that is my challenge in 2015. Be less like me.
Strive to be a more present and productive me. Plan more, do more, create more. Plus meet my new kid. That will be a cool new part of 2015 also.
My mother in law’s house is in a great location – close to the park, close to town, but it’s also right next to the water plant. That means water, in the South, in the the summer. That means mosquitoes. It’s like her little sloped driveway leads to a valley which houses a protected mosquito population.
So when I go to pick Maya up at the end of the day, part of our dance is getting the car doors open and closed quickly enough to keep as many buzzers as possible out. It never works. Once Maya and I are all buckled up in the car and pulling up the driveway, we roll down all of the windows and pick up speed to hopefully cause the blood-suckers to catch a ride on the wind wave.
Inevitably, there is always at least one that manages to maintain its in-vehicle spot for the duration of the ride home. My theory is that he tucks himself in down by my feet and the pedals and gets all warm, fat, and happy feeding on my ankle flesh. I have the “itchy bites” (as Maya calls them) to prove it.
The other day, we were halfway home when I realized there was still one stowaway buzzing around in the car. I opened my window and Maya’s rear passenger window to strategically create an air stream. I thought it worked, so the windows went back up and the AC back on. But then, Maya starts crying hysterically and yelling “Mosquito!! Mosquito!!” I thought her reaction to getting bitten was a tad on the strong side for a girl who has more itchy bites on her arms than teeth in her mouth.
But then I realized that when she felt the bite on her foot, she instinctively slapped at it, and there on her perfect baby-child foot, lay a flattened and dead mosquito. This sudden awareness that she had taken life broke her poor sweet heart!
My first reaction was, “Good job, babe! You got it!” but then I thought for a bit; she was so upset, and here I was – cheering her on for flattening a bug.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still promote the smacking and flattening and smushing of mosquitoes, cockroaches, and some other undesirables, but I became totally aware that my reaction was building a link in her between smashing and cheering.
Okay, okay, I know I’m being a little dramatic, but I have thought a lot lately about how we form kids’ attitudes and how important semantics are in how children perceive things.
So what angle do I take to begin the discussion about life and death? How do I say it’s okay when some things die, but it’s also okay to be sad about it? And while I may start with the mosquito, I’m really thinking ahead to when we will have to have the “Your dog has been sent to the farm” conversation. I don’t want to lie; I don’t want to whitewash it. But I don’t want to freak her the F out either – I mean, her heart was broken by a mosquito, and I love that it was; it shows how untainted she still is by this world.
Any advice about how to have this serious talk with a toddler?
Often, I find myself saying, “Wow, Maya, you are so smart!” because she astounds me. The things she knows, the things she can do. I quip that I don’t know where she got it – as far as I know, neither Sean nor I were baby geniuses, the way she appears to be.
But what I am seeing is the learning process: the growth of which all humans are capable. It is one of the many joys of parenthood – to bear witness to this “miracle” of the human brain.
But by praising Maya in this way – to tell her that she is “smart”, I am implying that intelligence is a fixed asset – she is either born with it or without it – as fixed as her eye color; when in reality, intelligence is as malleable as any other muscle. I need to watch what I say to her.
When students/kids are learning, if we were to focus all of our praise on the process of learning: on the risk-taking, the trying, the failing, the trying again, then our kids would be come more resilient and begin to see struggle as a necessary part of growing and achieving success.
If we establish the belief that success is reachable, but only through hard work and trial and error, then there’s nothing our kids couldn’t do. Falling down, or not knowing the answer right away, wouldn’t cause them to quit. Making mistakes and learning from them IS how we grow. Trying is how we stretch.
Here is a TED talk that illustrates some research in this idea.
I had a dream last night that I met and got close to a rock star. I remember distinctly not really being into him, but feeling like I needed to make out with him because that’s what you do when you have the opportunity.
Rock stars are on everyone’s wishes-and-dreams list, right? Along with models, movie stars, etc. And there is an abstract rule that because famous people are not real threats to one’s actual relationship, it’s okay to go for it should the opportunity arise. That idea is really just a joke in my household, though my husband and I do know who is on the top of each other’s “lists”.
So, that concept in mind, when I became close with this fictional rock star in my dream (Was it DMX? Was it Henry Rollins? Sting? I’m not sure – probably not a real person at all, but some amalgamation – all I clearly remember is that he was bald), I felt that I should take advantage of this rare and coveted opportunity.
Almost like taking one for the team for all of those average, not-famous women out there – it’s right in front of me, and, at least, it would make a good story! But I was not into it.
I hung around with this guy for a couple of days; I remember riding in his fancy car; I remember wandering around his enormous house and peeking into all of the rooms, and I remember wanting to do his dishes, but I did not want to make out with him.
So, here is my interpretation:
The fancy loft: The main room was enormous: vacuous, empty, with small gold touches and uncomfortable, expensive accent furniture, but all that was being accented was the lack of invitation and warmth.
His daughter’s room: Pepto-pink, messy, full of expensive and broken toys, but empty. No daughter actually there. He didn’t know her well enough, and he tried to give her what rock star daddies are supposed to give their daughters, right? But she wasn’t there.
The sink full of dirty dishes: I just wanted to clean up for him!
I was there to supposedly be some sort of groupie – I should have been dazzled by money, cars, fancy things, but all I could focus on was that his nice house was not a home. That money did not buy his happiness and was not what I was attracted to. That his famous face was not what I desired; I just wanted to provide him with some homey comfort: do the dishes, maybe make some dinner.
Obviously, what this is telling me is that I am old and no longer cool enough to make out with rock stars.
Er – no.
I mean, clearly what all this is telling me is that what I value, what I desire, what I covet, is what I do already have: a warm home; my family; dinner together… but I sure wouldn’t kick a fancy loft out of bed for eating cookies!
I worked out (hooray!)
And after I finished, I lay in savasana for a little while.
I tried to clear my head, as I always try, but I kept thinking about my list, my work, Maya’s new huge bonk on the head, alphabet blogging, etc.
So I decided to just strike up a conversation with the universe – at least that way I would be focused on one thing rather than juggling thought balls up and around my noggin.
“Hello, Universe. I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for the huge good fortune you have sent our way this week. We really needed it.”
“You knew that if you kept walking, if you just kept moving forward, the road, on which you stumbled, would rise to meet you again.” (Yes, in my mind, the universe speaks like a sage man on top of a high mountain.)
“I know. But still, thank you.”
“The trick is to say thank you even when things are most difficult.”
So, I am kind of joking around here with my *imaginary* conversation with the universe, but I do believe that if you are quiet, if you listen, you will hear answers.
This is literally, verbatim, the *conversation* that went on in my mind while I lay on my floor. I don’t know whether both voices are mine, or if I am picking up on cosmic signals, or what. But I do know that things are clearer when I am silent.
Maybe it’s just finding the time and space to root around in the cabinets of my mind for the right file, or maybe it’s aliens/angels/the muse speaking through my radio waves. Whatever, it works.
For the record, I also came up with two new ideas for my lessons next week (even though I was TRYING to NOT think about work).
Our conscious minds are so clogged up with multi-tasking that no one thing gets our best, full attention. Clearing out that clutter makes magic happen.
Now I have to add “meditate” to my ever-growing to-do list, sheesh! 🙂
Each morning, there are tasks to be done. Usually, because I have a wonderful husband and I try to be a decent wife, these tasks are split in two. One of us gets the babe up, changed, soothed, milked, and dressed, and the other gets the dogs up, out, fed, watered and the coffee brewed.
The dogs are familiar with this routine, and are, for the most part, patient. Pious in their faith that we will come each morning and take care of them.
I have had Anna Banana since she was just a 3 pound pup – and that was almost 13 years ago. But she is a small dog – a Jack Russell Terrier – so she will live 18-20 years. Sometimes her proximity to her upper years makes me realize my own proximity to my upper years, as we have grown together.
Sean rescued Nina from an abusive household when she was already a couple of years old. She is fiercely loving and loyal and grateful to him. Unfortunately, she is also wary of anyone else, nature (thunder, rain), technological advances (cars, cameras) and especially gun shots (occasional in our country neighborhood).
And Lola is a dog’s dog. She likes people okay, but she is all about chasing squirrels, running, and enjoying the outdoors. She’s also cool with stretching out on the living room rug. She has her flaws: a taste for neighbor’s chickens, a slight Alpha complex, but she is pretty much an all around good dog otherwise. She does not beg, does not get on the furniture, only barks if others do first. Lola was the runt of the litter (I think this is what caused her Alpha issues – a canine-Napoleon complex) and Sean rescued her before she was starved out by her siblings.
We were unsure of what it would be like to introduce a new little baby into this bustling household of doggies. Would she be part of their pack? Could she learn to out-Alpha Lola?
There were no problems when we brought little Maya Bell home – Anna and Lola became fairly indifferent, though Anna was initially peeved about losing her prime lap space, but Nina fell in love.
Nina, once dubbed by a friend, “the mean one”, now lets a toddler pull her ears, push her face, ride her back, and yank her tail. She sometimes is a little over zealous with baby-face kisses.
Our golden-eyed Nina is getting old. Because she was a rescue, we are not sure of her exact age, but she is somewhere around 13. And our best guess is that she is a Pit-Lab mix. So that’s 91 in large breed years. We are noticing her sharp edges waring away a bit and we fear her hours are winding down.
I so hope that Maya remembers this wild beast that loves her so; this golden-eyed girl that found joy in her baby hands. And I will do my best to appreciate this love, this dog, these moments, and capture as many as I can for Maya to hold on to as she grows.
My parents are selling their house. It goes on the market this week.
They have been in that house for 22 years.
Though I consider our craftsman house in Oakland, CA to be my “childhood home” – the one that pops up in recurring dreams and nostalgias, I have spent the greater lot of my years living in or coming home to this house in Chapel Hill.
It is a suburban house – the kind to which I never thought my central urban family would concede – but despite my initial determination to judge, it has been a wonderful, warm, loving, bright and homey home.
Right now, I am high on the excitement of the preparation for the listing. I am thrilled by the talk of design for the new home. I am giddy as I visit the land my parents bought on the river in Saxapahaw. But I know that soon, the messy, sentimental, hard-loving part of myself will take over and mourn the closing of this chapter. I will feel the crumpled discomfort of change and want to not let go.
Our time with this house is ending, but it is a good family house, and for some other, now-young family, it will welcome them in and keep them warm.
(I will include pictures when the house goes on the market in a few days – in case anyone is interested/curious)
This week, the beach has been pulling at the water in my body. It feels as though all of my being is drawn toward the shore and my head is screaming with “WHY DON’T WE LIVE AT THE OCEAN!?”
People do it. They live in the most beautiful, exotic, tropical locations. Places where other people go on vacation. Why can’t we be those people?
And I don’t even need tropical. I just want to be close enough to get to the ocean the same way we go to the park or the playground now. I’m totally happy living in NC and driving 20 minutes to the beach. That is so do-able; why don’t we!? There are some very cool towns in Coastal NC – or even the Charleston area in SC (where I was this week).
I have moments of “clarity” where it seems I have made up my mind. We are definitely moving to the beach. Just for a few years, while the kid(s) are young. Sean owns his own business – we can expand it to the coast! I would like to stay at home for a couple of years with babies – let’s do it! We can always come home in a few years.
But then I get back and I realize the elements of home are so much more than a geographical location. Here, in Chapel Hill, we have grandparents on both sides and Maya sees one or both almost every day. We have my professional community, where, as much as I yearn to be a stay at home mom for a while, I am still very much a teacher and a part of this school district. We have our friends with whom we get together as much as possible (which is still not often enough!) Sean’s business is here. My family business is here (which, potentially, I may take over in a few years). We know these streets; we know these people. We are so overwhelmingly supported and loved here. And while I know we would carry that love, support, family and friend ties with us wherever we would go, why go now?
Sean promises me that we will live at the beach one day. Maybe not until we’re retired, but one day. And until then, the beach is only 2.5 hours away – an easy day trip if I’m jonesin’. And summer is just beginning…