happy 4th

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I had a bit of a meltdown yesterday, cried for the first time in a long time. My husband hurt my feelings, in a way that only he can do. I had been feeling emotionally fragile for a week or so, I guess you could say needy. As in, needing some extra care and thoughtfulness. Which always seems to lead me to trouble- maybe I expect too much because I intuit the emotional needs of others so readily and am always working to meet them. Maybe I’m bad at how I ask for help- I wait until I get angry and then my husband just shuts down completely.

Whatever the reasons, it’s a pattern that repeats itself. I feel vulnerable and I get hurt. But yesterday I wrote a little too freely about it, thinking that it would make me feel better. It did, for a few minutes. I received a few thoughtful and supportive comments, which I appreciated very much. And then I felt guilty, because I’ve never really used my blog in that way and I don’t want to start now. I do write about my marriage, but in general and mostly positive terms. I’ve always been open about the hard aspects of being with another person for life, raising kids and growing together and the kind of selfless love that marriage depends upon. I’m not Pollyanna-ish about married life, and I have not been blessed with a nearly perfect marriage.

My husband and I were very young when we met and settled down, and now it’s been almost thirty years. A long time for two kids who didn’t know any better. We both brought plenty of emotional baggage to this life together, we both can look back and say that maybe we were a little too young and immature to settle down, that we should have worked harder at finding ourselves before trying to commit to another person, before having the children that would ultimately be our biggest reason to make it all work.

But we didn’t do that. We did the best we could, and that’s what we continue to do, every day. For me to write about him when we have a fight would just be wrong. I wouldn’t like it if he did that to me. One wise thing we did do from the beginning was make a pact to not go to our respective families or friends each time we had an argument. And we’ve stuck to that. I think we both talk in general terms about each other with friends, but it’s mostly respectful and positive. Which is the way I want to write about it too. So I woke up at 4 in the morning and deleted my blog post.

I’m not over my hurt feelings. My despair has lessened, as it always does, but I also believe that we collect some scars along the way. It’s the price we pay for loving people. I’ve had time to reflect upon my own sensitivity, because yesterday I was feeling very strongly that I wanted to be tougher, to care less. I was imagining how lovely it would be to not be so intuitive, to be more oblivious. But then I noticed how kind my youngest child was being to me, how he kept noticing my pain and trying to ease it. He wasn’t doing it in that traumatized way that can happen when kids see their parents fight. He was just paying attention, he noticed that I was sad and tired and wanted to help. He wanted me to be happy.

That was my gift yesterday, someone who really saw me. someone who cared and did everything he could to make it better. I wasn’t going to go to the fireworks. I have skipped out on things like this so many times over the years, just being too busy and tired to care. This year was different- I looked up the different firework events and decided to make a point of going to one or two and enjoying the holiday.

When I said I didn’t know if I was going, Nick said:

 Please go. It’s more fun when you’re there. 

And I went. The crowds were terrible, and I was not in a festive mood. I regretted my decision, until the moment when the fireworks started. We were right there where they were setting them off, the closest I’ve ever been. I don’t remember this small city having such a fantastic display, maybe they went all out this year or maybe I haven’t paid much attention in the past. But they were amazing and I was glad that I went. It was smoky and noisy and loud, all things I normally dislike. I got caught up in the moment though, the magic of it all. I stood there with my arm around my son, this precious child, and realized that it would all be okay.

renewal

My husband took Emily and Jesse along on a work trip to New York City, so I’ve had a few days at home with only my youngest son. It’s been such a delight, so relaxing. I just wrote a lot about the more personal details, how tired I get sometimes, the skating along the edge of quiet burnout; and then I erased it all because it makes it sound worse than it really is.

And perhaps that is one of the concerns I have with the kind of blogging I do. People have complimented me for my honesty, for being “real”. I like it when I hear that- it makes my day truthfully. There is so much pretense in this world, so much emphasis on image and fear that people might know us for who we really are. I think that a lot of people are drawn to authenticity, as an antidote to the idealized version of whatever it is that we admire or would like to be.

But when I put it all out there in print, for anyone to see, I run the risk that it will be misinterpreted. I might understand what I’m saying, see the big picture, know that this is but one aspect of the crazy concoction that is one’s life. Being human means being complex and often contradictory. I can talk about being bone-tired, yet I also know that I chose this life and I wouldn’t (ultimately) change a thing. Not if it meant giving up one tiny piece of the life that I have.

So what I may write in the spirit of introspection and (hopefully) self-improvement, might come across as a whole lot of whining about the choices that I’ve made. And that’s not what I want. At this point in my life, I understand what it means to choose, to prioritize, to accept that we can love freely and completely yet still struggle to be the person we’d like to be. I just don’t know any more how that plays out in the blogging world, how much can be expressed and how much might be understood.

It shouldn’t matter, what people think, but it does. And so I will just say that I had a very nice break from the reality of my life, and I’m trying to figure out what I can do differently to be more of the person I’ve been over the last few days. I like the more relaxed me, and I want to rediscover as much of that self as I can, while still meeting the needs of the people I love and honoring the choices I’ve made.

Is it possible? I don’t know.

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belated post about our Atlanta trip

This post is a little late, but I didn’t feel like writing for a while and I need to backtrack a bit before I can focus on the present.

We took a quick trip to Atlanta at the beginning of April, one week exactly (almost to the hour). My husband knows how hard the separation from our oldest child is on me, and since he’s the kind of person that is all about showing his love in tangible ways, he took some vacation time and worked out all the details and just said “we’re going”. So we went.

It was a great trip, really everything  went perfectly. We left at six in the morning on a Saturday and drove straight through to Roanoke, Virginia. So many states to cross as you travel down the east coast… nothing like those giant empty spaces out west. Although our younger boys have traveled coast to coast, going down the eastern seaboard was a new experience for them so it was pretty exciting. I grew up in Florida and spent my entire childhood (and a fair amount of my young adult years as well) going back and forth from Maine to Florida, but it has been twenty years since I was down south so it was a big deal for me too. I am continually struck by how much my attitude about different places keeps changing as I get older- I really do see things with new eyes and a fresh perspective and it’s one thing I love about getting older. I’m much more open-minded now than I was when I was young.

Sunday was an easier drive, just six hours or so to arrive in Atlanta. We checked into our hotel on the outskirts of the city, the plan being to stay there for a few days while we visited with Alex. He lives downtown, right in the middle of the city, but hotels downtown were a lot more expensive and in some cases already booked. I think there are a lot of conventions and things like that in Atlanta, plus we inadvertently picked school vacation week to visit. As homeschoolers it’s hard to think of things like that!

The hotel was great, people were so friendly and polite. The southern charm is very real, and it is such a contrast to the northeast way of interacting. I had to keep reminding myself to be friendly, to make eye contact and smile. I’m not at all an unfriendly person, but I am kind of shy and reserved in public and of course you just get used to the way it is wherever you live. New England reserve is also very real, and the Boston to DC corridor is probably the rudest place in the country. Atlanta is a big city full of transplants so not everyone acts the same way, but in general we found that once we went below the Mason-Dixon line people became noticeably friendlier.

The next three days went way too quickly. We had so much fun, seeing the city and eating good food. I had never been to Atlanta and had only driven through Georgia a few times. My husband had been a couple of times for work but hadn’t been too impressed by what he had seen. There is so much to do and of course three days isn’t nearly enough to do it all. We walked around Piedmont Park, ate at Victory Sandwich Bar and saw some cool neighborhoods out that way, saw Midtown, walked from Alex’s apartment to the Downtown area and Centennial Park. We ate some good ethnic food near our hotel- bibimbap at Big Joy and $5 taco plates at Tacos La Villa. We met Alex’s girlfriend and took everyone out for a fancy lunch at JCT Kitchen, then visited the Georgia Aquarium.

Alex only had three days off from work, and Wednesday came all too quickly. On our last day we ate burgers at Yeah! Burger and then went to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. We also intended to see the Center for Civil and Human Rights museum, but decided to do this first since it was free and then didn’t have enough time for both. It was a moving experience, and I look forward to seeing the other museum in a future trip.

By Wednesday evening I was feeling pretty sad. It was great to see our son, to see the city, to get to know more about his life; but three days just didn’t seem like enough. We could have stayed longer but he was going to be busy working so we decided to head home. I thought we would take an extra day or two driving home to see something along the way but found I didn’t really have the heart for it. The kids were ready to be home so they didn’t mind. We did drive a stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was pretty. The mountains are more like hills compared to Colorado, but we enjoyed the scenery and thought Virginia was especially nice.

The weather was perfect down south, and we ended up coming home on Friday to dreary cold, wet weather. Actually we left that kind of weather and then came back to it. Spring comes late to northern New England, and it was hard to go from the warmth and green back to April in Maine. I missed my son. Some things are going very well for us here, but in many ways it’s been like starting all over again. I thought this would be the easy option, that I could just slide back into my old life, but it didn’t work out that way. Three years is a long time, and I’m not the only one who has changed. Everyone else has changed too, and the community I once had has largely disappeared. I still have a few friends that I see regularly, and a larger circle of old friends and acquaintances that I never really see but I know they’re out there, but it’s not the same as it used to be. I  feel like the heyday of my homeschooling social life is gone and it’s probably not coming back.

Which is okay. I can go in a new direction, but it’s just not clear yet what that direction is. I’m still a staunch advocate for home education, and ironically it’s going better in my own family than it ever has- I truly love what we do and my kids are thriving. But I’m having to let go of old ways of thinking about things, accept that times have changed and that I may not find my niche in that community any longer.

So April was a little gloomy and I spent some time brooding, talking to my husband, doing what I usually do when these moods descend. May arrived with a week of rainy weather which didn’t exactly lift my spirits. There is usually a pattern to the down times in life- it’s not just one big thing, but a whole lot of little things. Meanwhile, I’m feeling horribly guilty because I know that my life is blessed and I should just be grateful, but the small stuff can be hard to ignore. Knowing how much worse it can be is cold comfort when you’re feeling blue.

But this last week was my redemption. The sun came out, the kids had spring fever and I took a deep breath and let myself relax. We went outside and let nature work its magic. I remembered to appreciate what I have.

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being myself, without apology

 

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Somehow nearly two months have gone by since I last wrote a post… I guess this is what happens when I give myself permission to only write when I feel like it! It takes discipline to write regularly, that’s for sure, and I admire people who do it for a living or a serious hobby. I’m more of a dilettante, and I’m okay with that. I suppose like anything else it’s about finding the balance, focusing on one thing for a while and then moving on to something else when the time is right.

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This has been a good week, and I wanted to capture my contented spirit with a few words and pictures. In my heart, I know that life is good and I am blessed. But it’s a struggle to remember this. Joy is elusive, fleeting. As I get older I notice it more, pay attention, celebrate it. And still there are dark days, bleak moments, times when my overactive brain and emotions make me feel like I’ll never quite get there, that I’ll never have it all figured out, that I will always notice too much and be unable to truly turn away from the things that upset me. That I will never find my niche, the place where I belong.

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And you know what? I may not. And maybe that’s okay. I talk to people all the time that live in the same town they grew up in, or perhaps just a few towns over. Or they grew up in a nearby state, but they’ve never moved away from New England or the mountain west or Florida or wherever. People who just seem to accept what they have and that it is enough- they like where they live, they like the familiarity of friends and family and the known landmarks, the well-defined boundaries of their life. I’ve known people who moved to a new place but then they definitely found “it”- that sense of home, of belonging- they settle in and never want to leave.

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It’s not only about geography. On a deeper level, I think it is about change, and how we respond to it. Whether we like it or fear it. And I’ve been thinking a lot about the way I can’t just take anything at face value, how I question everything and always look for the deeper or hidden meaning. Some people coast along through life and I am slowly accepting that I will never be that kind of person and maybe I need to stop wishing that I was. Maybe I need to embrace all the complicated things that make me who I am. I can’t fix them and perhaps it’s time to stop trying.

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There is plenty that I can do every day even though I can’t make the whole big picture match up to the perfect image in my head. I’m learning that the solution is to simply do something. Anything, as long as it’s not brooding. There are so many things to do, so many ways to fill the hours of a day.

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After Prince died a line from one of his songs kept going through my head… “maybe you’re just like my mother, she’s never satisfied…“. I don’t want that to be my legacy, something my kids think about me. I hope that ultimately they see that there is a whole lot more to me than my restless spirit. But I think it’s time to let go of my worries about it, my fear of failure despite trying hard to be a good wife and mother. I am who I am, and that will have to be good enough.

 

 

 

 

growth

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I was a little melancholy yesterday, since it was my oldest child’s 25th birthday (25! how can that be?) and it was yet another year that we were far away from him. I reposted something I had written three years ago, and then just gave myself permission to feel a bit blue. I often think that we all have something, some weight that we carry around. The longer I live, the more I’m convinced that it is universal- everyone has something. Maybe I’m quicker to reveal it than most people, but it’s there for all of us.

I tell my kids this too, to help them when they start to feel envy for someone else’s seemingly perfect life, and to help them remember to feel compassion. Life is a struggle, but I have also become so much better at seeing all the beauty, the peace and the joy and the little things that make a difference. I really do wake up each day and feel gratitude for the blessing of yet another day. The days aren’t always perfect, but most of them are pretty good and I’ve also become a lot better at reframing things in my head and learning how to be more positive in general.

So yes, I missed my son very much yesterday. I hope that someday we live near him again, close enough for a day trip at least. At the same time, I’m glad that my kids are the way they are- fearless, independent, curious about the world. They have some wanderlust too, and I understand that. The good news is that we are taking a trip to Atlanta to see him in a couple of weeks. It will be a quick trip, since my husband is going with us, but a few days will be better than nothing. This is how I see the future, with four kids- we will probably have to figure out how to travel to see them rather than expecting them to all settle down in the same town like some families seem to do. Mobility rather than permanence. But I do hope to have a place for everyone to gather, a place that is home for all of us, no matter where we go. That’s what we’re working on now, finding a little piece of the Maine woods and creating something special.

I can’t go back and rewrite the past, nor can I predict the future. But I understand that for me, living in the moment isn’t easy. I have to work at it, and I do. A lot of dissatisfaction can come from thinking too much about what might be different. I had my husband take a personality test recently, which has given us some insight into each other and the challenges we’ve faced as a couple. Our strengths too, it’s not all bad. I can’t believe I haven’t asked him to do it before!

He is an ESTJ (and I’m an  INFJ), and let’s just say that a lot of things make sense now. We each give something that the other person needs, but it’s been a bumpy road for sure. I would highly recommend that every couple know this about their partner- I don’t think it’s an exact science, not every detail will fit every person, and I do think that personality can change a bit over time, but in our case it helped us understand each other better, which is always a good thing. I think that reading more about what makes the other person tick has made us feel more kindly toward each other, and kindness is so crucial to a happy marriage. When you are guided by that principle all relationships are better.

It’s taken me two days now to finish this, and I need to go enjoy this beautiful day. Scott took the boys on a little backpacking expedition last night (yes, in March- I will never understand the male psyche), so I’ve had some time to myself. I had to go bathing suit shopping last night though, which isn’t very fun. I couldn’t decide between two suits after trying on what felt like hundreds, so I decided to sleep on it and go back and pick one this morning. We have a trip to a water park with other homeschooling families coming up tomorrow, and then there will be swimming during our trip to Atlanta. And summer is coming… I’m trying to live differently when it comes to clothing and everything else about myself. No more “good enough“… I want to take better care of myself now that I have the time and resources to do so.

 

 

birthday reflections

It is my oldest child’s 25th birthday. I wrote this three years ago, after we had first moved to Colorado and he stayed behind on the east coast. Now we are back in New England, and he has moved to Atlanta. I miss him so much.

 

Writing for Myself

“May your heart always be joyful, And may your song always be sung, May you stay forever young…”

~ Bob Dylan

Today is my oldest son’s 22nd birthday. It’s felt more emotional than most birthdays, because he’s on the other side of the country. This is the first time we haven’t been able to see him at all, on his birthday or somewhere around it. The space between us feels like a chasm, a great hole of loss, an aching longing to see him, to be part of his life in the normal way of parents and adult children. I’m neither clingy nor overly sentimental, but I had no idea that I would ever feel this far away from one of my children. The distance tugs at my heart, tethering me to something painful.

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We were just kids ourselves when he was born, but how quickly we all grew up…

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reflections on the dark years, and how things have changed

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I was sitting in a Chipotle with the boys the other day, getting something to eat after their homeschool session at the skatepark. There was a sign on the wall about faxing your order in, and suddenly I had a vivid memory of a time in what I’ve now come to think of as my dark years. Well, dark years part 2, my first period of darkness was during my late adolescence, and it was triggered by a traumatic event.

Anyway, these dark years were essentially the decade after my youngest child was born. It hurts to see it so clearly now- how can I say that?! I wanted these children, begged and pleaded with my husband to agree to a larger family, they were all healthy and beautiful and I have always had so much to be grateful for. I know all that, and I am grateful. But life is complicated, we can’t always foresee the way everything will turn out, and the truth is that those years when I had toddlers and teens were very, very hard.

Kids have needs, nonstop needs that must be met. And some kids need more, for whatever reason. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and caring for one challenging child can throw a whole family into turmoil. I think that between the two of us, my husband and I did a fair job making sure that none of our kids got shorted in the attention department during those hectic years. But it took a toll on us. It took a huge toll on me, since I’m the mom and I have a very different personality from my husband. I’ve mentioned before that I felt like a shell by the time I reached my early 40’s, and this decade has been a journey back to wholeness. That’s what this blog is all about.

So as we sat there quietly eating our burritos, I remembered a time about six years ago when I wanted to go to Chipotle so badly. But I just couldn’t do it- I was literally terrified of bringing the two boys in and standing in that line, trying to order our food. I considered ordering online so I could just pick it up, but decided even that was more than I could handle.

I know this sounds ridiculous. But that’s my point- it was real at that time. The stress of coping with a difficult child coupled with my own personality quirks had reduced me to a person who no longer led a normal life. I remember trying to stop at a McDonald’s occasionally, and how even that was too much for Jesse- and for me. It’s only now that I can look back and see how things really were though. When I was in the middle of it, I didn’t know how limited my world had become, how I had lost myself in the needs of my family. I didn’t understand that I would have to work my way back to health, both physically and emotionally.

On the surface, I seemed fine. I had a wide circle of friends, was very active in the local homeschooling community, hosted gatherings regularly and went to parks and playgrounds and beaches with my kids. My husband took on the bulk of the work with our older kids though, even handling doctor’s appointments, school events, learning to drive, all the things that older kids need. I will always regret that I couldn’t be more present during that time in their life. It goes so quickly, and then they are gone, on to the rest of their lives.

I wasn’t fine, I see that now. I mean, I’ve known this for a while, but it’s like peeling back the layers of an onion- as you learn more, you understand more. As life has become more manageable, not just manageable but delightful,  I continue to be amazed by the revelations that keep coming. Everything from the ease of a meal at Chipotle to being able to take back control of the many tasks that my husband had to handle while I was in those dark years.

I know that it has all been worth it. That’s a real question that parents must sometimes ask themselves- Is it worth it? To work so hard for one’s children? Will they even know or care that you’ve given so much of yourselves to make them happy and secure, to give them more than you had?

These days, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world. I spend my time with people I love, doing things I enjoy. It is a clear and bright morning, and I woke up early like I usually do lately. The house is quiet. My husband is at work, earning money to take care of us. He has never, ever complained about being the sole breadwinner in our family, instead he has done the opposite of everything his own parents did and has cheerfully worked hard and been successful in his career. My older kids are out there living their own lives, working and paying their bills and just generally making me proud of them. My youngest is spending some time with my sister, so I’m blessed to have that kind of help and support. My newly-turned 14 year old is still sleeping, and soon I will wake him up and he will have a cup of tea and get started on his day- some academic work, maybe a walk this afternoon, then several hours of jiujitsu this evening.

I have time to write, to read, to exercise, watch tv… I can do all the things I need to do and still have time for nurturing myself. Bone broth is bubbling away in the slow cooker, a new batch of kombucha is ready to drink and a crock of sauerkraut is fermenting on the counter- these are all simple things I now have the time to make to help keep us all healthy. I may have let many of my ideals slip away during those years of darkness (gardening, chickens), but now that I have more margin in my life I will be able to start enjoying hobbies again. Has it been worth it? Yes. It hasn’t been easy, but the darkness makes the light so much sweeter.