snowboarding!

So this is what we’ve been up to lately…

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The boys are learning a new sport, and they’re loving it. I don’t know why we waited so long. Our older kids both learned to snowboard when they were young- around here the ski mountains have deals for homeschoolers that make it affordable. Jesse went a few times when he was around seven but didn’t really like it, and we didn’t try again. When people hear that we lived in Colorado, and know that we have active boys, they assume that skiing or snowboarding was part of our life, but actually out there it was less accessible than here in northern New England. The mountains are far away from the Front Range and very expensive. As it turned out, I was scared to drive in the Rocky Mountains and my husband was so busy with work it just didn’t happen.

I grew up in Florida and don’t ski at all, my husband’s parents never did things like that with their kids and although he did learn to snowboard as an adult he doesn’t do it any more; so it’s not like it came naturally to us to do this with our kids. But I knew I wanted all of my kids to at least have the opportunity to learn, so finally this year we got motivated to take them. We got a late start- February!- but better late than never.

Actually, the final push came when I tried taking them sledding and they complained that it was boring and broke their sleds going over jumps. I came home and said to Scott: okay, time to snowboard. And just like that, they are hooked. We’ve been fortunate to be able to participate in a homeschool program that didn’t require signing up at the beginning of the season- you can just sign up for individual days. My husband took them the first few times, on the weekends, and now I am comfortable going with them during the week.

It’s been nice to see them get along so well while they learn together. They’ve often had a contentious relationship, but this sport seems to bring out the best in them. Since we’re house hunting anyway, proximity to a good ski mountain has now moved to the top of the list. Which I’m fine with, since going inland is my preference. The coastal areas are expensive and crowded, and since Scott can work from home as long as he has a good internet connection, being in a more rural area makes more sense both for financial reasons and quality of life.

coming full circle

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This is one of those posts that I’ve been writing in my head for a while, worried that it’s going to sound a little nutty and then thinking how silly that thought is… if it’s my blog, I shouldn’t worry about it too much, right? If I’m going to write, I’m going to do it with a minimum of constraint and just pour it all out. This has always been a place for me to try to make sense of the journey and hopefully gain some perspective, and sometimes that requires a willingness to not hold back too much. The path may not be linear and the lines are often blurry, but every once in a while it all comes together and that is something worth sharing. So I’m going to just write, going back in time to explain the present. Will it be one post or ten? I don’t know. I’ll know when I’m done.

I haven’t been writing lately, the longest break I’ve taken in many years. I’ve set a goal for myself as the decade of my forties has drawn to a close, and that is to have my life settled by the time I turn fifty. My birthday is in late October, so there has been a little more urgency as the months have gone by. It’s good to have a goal I think, something concrete.

I started blogging around the time I turned forty. I had four children at home, two teens and two little ones. It was something I wanted so much, those four children, and it was dismaying to realize how hard it really was, how ill-equipped I seemed to be to meet everyone’s needs. Every day was a struggle just to stay afloat. Not that I admitted that, or that anyone even knew. Like most people, I was always fine. But inside, I was lost. I went to find myself through mothering and as it turns out, children take a whole lot more than they give.

Which sounds terrible, and I don’t mean that they haven’t given me plenty, just that it’s not enough to make you whole if you’re missing some parts and pieces of yourself. Many young people find themselves (so to speak) in their twenties. I see my own kids doing that now, and it makes me  happy that they have that time and space to learn who they are before they build a life with someone else and become responsible for the happiness and well-being of others.

Maybe this sounds judgmental of those who make different choices, and that is not my intention. I am only sharing my personal experience as someone who spent my twenties nurturing a family instead of figuring out who I was and what I wanted out of life. My thirties were just my twenties times two, and then I turned forty and started to breathe again and all those buried things rose up to meet me, and I set out to do the work that I should have done when I was young.

It was an uncomfortable time, in many ways. It’s not easy to face yourself, to see things clearly. My husband had his own stuff to work through- yes, we raised each other, but at some point you have to accept that no one else can fix you, that it has to come from inside. Writing helped. Moving far away helped, even when it didn’t work out the way I planned. My kids growing up and needing me less helped a whole lot, particularly being able to watch my older two move into adulthood and see the love I poured into them bear fruit.

Doing this inner work meant letting go of a lot of dreams I had. I got the family I wanted, but it didn’t always look the way I pictured. There were many things I just had to stop doing, simplifying more and more until I got to the point where my life felt manageable. There were tough times in our marriage, angry words and tears and apologies, promises to keep trying, to do better. We both had a lot of emotional baggage from our chaotic childhoods, and it’s not always easy to just put that aside while raising your own children and trying to make a life together with all the commitment and compromise that marriage entails.

But it was always just the two of us, learning as we went, having faith in each other and hope for the future. It has been so far from perfect. I pray that my kids will have an easier time of it, that they will choose well, have a better foundation and more support than we did. We did the best we could though, and I’m glad that we’ve set the example for them that you don’t give up. No matter how tough it gets, you keep loving and you keep going. And the funny thing is, one day you wake up and it’s a whole lot easier. You get better at being a parent and a partner. You get better at life.

So my forties were all about finding myself, except not in any kind of twnety-something way. It’s been a quiet journey, something I’ve managed to integrate into my life pretty seamlessly. I pared so much stuff away to give myself this space, this time to grow into the person I’d like to be. Lots of time with my kids, fully engaged and present with them, because I know now how quickly the time goes and how all you’re left with is a memory of their sweet faces once they’re gone and living lives of their own. Long walks, good books, time for contemplation and writing when the muse strikes. As much travel as I can possible manage, always pushing myself to try something new and do something different, because my life became really narrow at one point and I don’t want to live that way.

In my last blog post I mentioned that we were going to keep moving around, possibly heading closer to New York City for my husband’s job. I know that was only a couple of weeks ago, but things have changed. I didn’t give all the details in my last post, because it’s impossible to share everything. All I’m trying to do here is give a little slice of life, and of course that will never paint the whole picture. I’ve been thinking hard this winter about what we should do next, because we do have some flexibility within the larger parameters of my husband’s job. He works from home, so we can pick where we want to live, although for now his territory is the northeast and he has to travel to New York City a few times a month. So he needs access to an airport and can’t really be any farther from the city than we are now.

It sounds exciting to be able to pick where you want to live, and it’s awesome- I’m not complaining. But it’s also a little overwhelming, if you don’t have clear ties to a certain area and your kids aren’t tied to a school system. Then there is the fact that the New York City area is incredibly expensive and busy and just a crazy kind of lifestyle that isn’t really us. We’re not hicks, but we’re not urbanites or even suburbanites. I’ve tried over the last five years, but I miss the way we used to live and the ideals I once had. We’ve been blessed with a great job and a larger salary than we ever imagined he would make, but it’s not so much money for a family anywhere within two hours or so of Manhattan.

Then there’s the homeschooling laws, and the taxes… I’ve researched our options carefully. Nothing is set in stone yet, we’re still in the deciding phase. We’ve made exploratory trips to Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey. We did our first family trip to Manhattan (my husband spends a lot of time there and wanted to share it with us) and I actually liked it just fine as a place to visit. But I wouldn’t want to live there, and I don’t think the boys would either.

There are nice places everywhere, and life is what you make of it, but ultimately New Hampshire is our very best choice among the states we could pick to live in. I just needed some time to come around to the fact because I’ve grown so used to thinking the grass is greener somewhere else, that change is something that will make me happy. At the same time, I’m tired of change. I’m tired of moving, cleaning up yet another house, the impermanence of it all, my husband fixing things for someone else, taking care of something that isn’t mine. It’s been five years of renting and moving around, and I think I’m done.

I need a place of my own, I need to paint walls and plant a garden and give my kids the security of one home for the few more years that they are with us. I need a wood stove and chickens. I need to go back to where I began, all those years.ago. It’s time. So we are actively looking for a house in New Hampshire, but on the western side, near lakes and mountains, where the pace is slower and the cost of living is less. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack- I’ve done this so many times and I’ve got a good sense of what I want and what I don’t. It’s a little scary, only because I’m fully present in this decision, unlike all the other times. But mostly, I’m more excited than I’ve been in a long time. And that’s a good thing.

you can’t go home again

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I have no excuse NOT to write, so maybe that means it’s a good time. We’re having a snowstorm here in New England, my husband is out of town, the kids are fed and entertained and the house is warm and cozy. I’ve got music playing on Spotify (Jason Isbell is a new favorite, and I’m able to listen to all kinds of similar artists). I really hate winter and snow in general lately, but today I was prepared for the storm and it’s actually been a nice day. Just one of those days where the flow is good, the energy is positive despite the weather and cold and the fact that February is my least favorite month.

But February isn’t all bad- my third child was born this month, so it has some redeeming value. And I’m still dreaming of the time when I’ll be able to escape to a warmer climate for the dead of winter. I’m getting closer to being a snowbird, I just know it, but I’m not quite there yet. My time is coming…and when it does I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.

So many things have changed since my last post (July! where does the time go…).  It bothers me that I left things here on such a low note. It was a crazy summer. We were uncertain about the future and stress is always hard on relationships. We had moved back to Maine (from Colorado) in the spring of 2015, and my husband had gone back to work for his old company. I’m not going to go into all the reasons why we came back, it’s all here in the blog somewhere, but let’s just say that there’s some truth to the idea that you can’t go home again.

Maybe some people can, but I’ve never been able to. Everything changes. The life I left in 2012 was not the life I returned to three years later. It’s a little disappointing but I’ve already worked through it- I suppose it was why I took such a long break from writing, because I just needed to sit quietly with myself for a while.

I’m on the other side now, made my peace with everything that has happened, looking forward to the future. My husband’s job became one of trying to save a failing company, and he gave it a year and then saw the writing on the wall and prepared an exit plan. His old company (in Colorado) was happy to take him back, and he negotiated an awesome position that allows him to work remotely and offered him growth, flexibility, and new challenges. So, once again, it seems like things happen for a reason.

We moved to a beach house on the New Hampshire seacoast for the winter to give us some time to figure out the next step. It’s falling into place now, but it’s taken a few months and a willingness to go with the flow. Scott has to be in NYC a lot, so we will probably move closer when our lease is up here in June. I made myself crazy for a while thinking of all the options and possibilities, but I think we’ve settled on a plan for the future and I feel good about it.

So that’s our life for now. It’s a good life. We are comfortable financially, my big kids are busy making me proud of the people they’ve become, my younger two are a whole lot easier and generally fun to be around. We live close enough to hear the ocean, to walk the beach every day if we choose, and that is something I don’t take for granted. I stay busy facilitating the boys’ learning, the myriad activities that keep them growing and healthy.

Jesse has been in Brazilian jiu jitsu for over a year, in a class of adults. He loves it and I love the effect it has on him. He surfs- it was actually why we moved here this winter. Nick loves to ride his scooter, and we go regularly to our local indoor skate park. They like bouldering (indoor rock climbing that doesn’t require harnesses). We’ve started going to the homeschool session at a trampoline park, which they enjoy but Jesse always manages to hurt himself.  Mostly anything to get through this long cold winter. The one thing we haven’t done yet is snowboarding, mostly because I’m apathetic about it but also because we have so many other activities that it seems hard to fit in. Maybe next winter.

Although we’re still very relaxed homeschoolers, I do make sure that Jesse has some structure now that he is high school age. He does a mix of online learning (New Hampshire has a nice virtual school that allows free access to classes for homeschoolers) and curriculum that I’ve picked out for him. He wants to make sure that he is keeping up with his schooled peers, and I respect that. My guiding philosophy as a homeschool parent is to do what is best for my child, and I have to say that I am loving this stage of the journey. Being able to share things with them, to celebrate their independence and passions, to have discussions on a deeper level, to sit and smile as Jesse kicks my butt at a game and easily calculates his score while I’m still hunting for my glasses… it’s a sweet reward for all those early years, the mess and tears and needs and nurturing that nearly emptied me out.

It’s a still night, heavy with a blanket of snow and the hush that a storm brings. I say that I hate winter, but I am reminded of its power to strip things bare, to leave only the essentials, to cleanse and renew as the earth sleeps and prepares for new growth. It’s a fitting metaphor for my mood on this February evening.

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.

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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.