Falling down

This fall has been a whirlwind.

I started teaching elementary school. Third grade. I did this without any training or background in education. I did this with only a certificate from the state that said I could and my own belief that this had to be better than what I was doing.

I have cried and given up and lost my temper and continued to show up every day, because at the very least that’s the best I can do. I owe those 8- and 9-year-olds in my care at least that. My presence.

Teaching reminds me of the first time I was pregnant. I had no idea what it would actually be like to be somebody’s mom, but I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Life will be different, sure, I’d thought. But I can handle that; we’ll figure it out without too much trouble.

Flash forward to two weeks after my son was born and I was thinking, “What did I do to my life?”

He wouldn’t sleep unless he was nursing, and “nursing” for him meant snacking and pacifying until he fell asleep. It was an endless, thankless cycle. He was also tongue-tied, so nursing was a lot of work, and he was never full. There is a photograph of 25-year-old me and 4-week-old him, and he looks like a skeleton with taut, pale skin. I can barely look at it.

So teaching has been that. It has been the false confidence that I could figure it out without too much struggle, without so much exhaustion, without the roller coaster of emotions. It has been that I was wrong about everything.

In reality, it has been an overdrawn checking account and generic food from the grocery store.

It has been resilience so many times, if only in the fact that I haven’t quit.

I love the kids I teach. I do not love much else. Picture any job you’ve ever had and the drama that came with it. Then, put 500 elementary-school-aged children into that picture with you.

Yeah.

That.

However, one boy told me he wants to go to Stanford when he grows up. This is the same boy who reaches out to the autistic child in my room to make sure he’s OK, the same one who quickly goes to help a classmate who accidentally knocked over the caddy full of crayons and glue sticks.

Another girl found out she was receiving an award at school yesterday and came to school in her best white satin dress and high white heels. She had curled her own hair.

During work time in writing yesterday, she came to me and said, “Mrs. Harvey, I can’t believe I forgot to shave my arms!”

She brushed her hand over her forearm, and I said,” Your arms? No, sweet pea, don’t shave your arms!”

Then she told me her mom does, and so I showed her my forearm and told her most women don’t shave the top of their arms (“just their armpits,” I whispered).

She just smiled at me, like I simply wasn’t in on the way real grown-up women (and third-graders) do things.

She is one of my favorites.

Another boy is a foster child with the most charismatic smile ever.

Another boy sobbed yesterday because two classmates wouldn’t let him join their math game. But when I pressed him, he said it was really because he hasn’t seen his dad in a year.

A girl in another class, to whom I teach writing, chose her family as the topic of an informational text she is writing. Her first chapter is about her mom. Her second is about her dad. Yesterday, she said, “I don’t really know much about my dad. He’s never been in my life. How do I write about him?”

Maybe you don’t, sweet pea. Maybe I don’t know. Maybe there is so much I don’t know.

At home, we are sometimes good and many times stressed. Lila has figured out that she’s 2 and that there is a phrase that rhymes with “Merrible Moos.” She has discovered her voice. That one that sounds really loud and shriek-like whenever she doesn’t get her way. This week, she learned that she can pull the keys off the MacBook Pro when left unattended with our family’s only computer. I am now typing on a keyboard that’s missing the M, D, Z and other non-letter buttons.

Fantastic.

Lila, though, has also learned to say, “I love you,” and give Eskimo kisses and talk regularly in full, complete sentences and dance and laugh and twirl and make us laugh more than anything else. She is the sun.

Rye tried out for a competitive boys basketball team the other night. It was courage in action. It was him knowing other boys are better than he is but deciding to show up anyway. It was a round robin of layups, dribbling, jump shots and scrimmaging while the coaches with clipboards circulated, quietly talking to each other. It was the way the world is; it was the haves and have-nots, the who you know and who you don’t; the who knows you or your husband; the who has the right basketball shoes and Under Armour technical t-shirts and who doesn’t; whose mom has the cutest tall leather boots, expensive jeans and straightened hair; whose mom knows the other moms.

I had to leave the gym a couple times to go outside and run because I was suffocating from it all.

Rye did not make the team. He choked back tears as the coach on the other end of the phone told him he hadn’t made it, that he should keep practicing, working on his skills, blah, blah, blah. Sitting next to him in the living room, I could tell he just wanted to hide, to pull himself into a ball and tuck himself into cushion of the oversized chair.

I cried for him; he moved on. The next day, he told me most of the kids who tried out hadn’t made it and he’d just play in the recreational league. He is OK. And I hope he is as proud of himself as I am of him.

I also hope I can let go of the Mama Bear inside who is raging at the way the world works, the way rejection feels and wishing my Wonder Woman bracelets could keep that pain away from my babies.

Lots of work to do.

Onward.

We talked about what’s next

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The HR girl and I walked across the street for coffee this morning. We each got dark roast and poured in our own cream from the coolest mason-jar-with-a-blue-lid ever.

It was my exit interview. And it was a beautiful morning.

We sat outside, on a bench at the library. We talked about shoes and home and volleyball and work.

And humanity. People. Kindness.

Fulfilling work. Meaningful relationships. Supervisors and mentors we would do anything for.

We talked about life insurance and Cobra and unused vacation days.

We talked about what’s next.

For me, it’s a new job, a new career. Similar work but different. Work that reaches closer into my chest, into my heart, than public relations ever did. I’ll be writing once again.

WRITING.

The word alone makes me happy. The words I’ll get to use! The letters my mind will string together! The words. The words. The words.

I’ll get paid to write again. I cannot even.

I’ll be doing social media, too, and editing (EDITING!!). I’ll be in charge of a glossy, beautiful magazine. I’ll hire the writers, and I’ll edit and I’ll write and I’ll work with talented designers to make our words and art and stories look beautiful.

And? And I’ll be part of a team. I will no longer spend my days as a communications office of one. I’m joining a team of like-minded professionals. We will work TOGETHER.

Oh, and this team? Those words? They’ll be on a college campus, a place of ideas and growth and creativity and choices and youth and WORDS! (And a kick-ass rec center with yoga taught by my favorite!).

And this is why, all of this is why, I chose to leave my comfortable salary and my fairly comfortable job. It’s why I chose to take a chance, to jump once again.

Because, in the end, it’s not all about money or security or familiarity. It’s about heart – your heart. We should all listen to it more. It knows you, more than anyone. More than your babies (who are walking pieces of it), more than your spouse. What goes on in your heart is magic. It is truth.

Mine sings loudly now, excited about the new adventure.

Having it all, please

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See this girl? Up there? With a glass of wine and a Batman mask and great legs and cool shoes?

I want to be her. I want to be her so badly she’s my desktop picture on my computer at work. She is a reminder that I am so much more than my day job, that there is so much more life to be lived outside the walls of an office or a cubicle or the day-to-day-to-day that sucks up everything.

I told a friend yesterday that I fantasize sometimes about what it will be like when my kids are grown, when I don’t spend evenings playing referee or making dinner or entertaining the toddler at the crowded gymnastics studio while her big sister takes class. For two hours.

I heard a story on NPR the other day about a couple that at the age of 44 sold their house and most of their stuff and bought a boat. They sailed this boat around the world for 11 years, stopping in Hawaii to repair it and then staying there for 10 years. Now, they live in Iowa because they wanted a front-row seat for this year’s presidential election. But after November, they plan to move on again, maybe to Thailand.

So much of me longs to be nomadic, to stay up late and drink and talk and laugh and listen to music and explore, to really live life with abandon.

The other me, though? The other me thinks about my children all the time. The other me loves being with them, loves taking care of them, wouldn’t trade her job as their mom for anything in the whole entire world. Not for anything (even freedom).

This other me is the one who wanted a bigger house, another cat, a dog (dear God), the SUV with third-row seating. This me saves for retirement and believes we should have health insurance. This me plays the game of how we are supposed to live.

Oh, and this me? She still sometimes thinks maybe we should have just one more baby.

But then. Then Batman-with-a-glass-of-wine me kicks and in and screams, “No! Are you crazy?” And, regular me, says yes, no, well, maybe. I don’t know.

The competing desires slay me. How do we get what we really want? How do we carve and craft and maneuver through a life we really want?

How do we first figure out what that life really looks like? Is it truly impossible to have it all?

Help.

Surrender

I’m about to take my daughter to her first counseling session, my husband and I continue to prove that, yes, it is hard to be married, the baby woke up at 4:45 this morning and so that’s when I got up, too, and just now at yoga I did not want to get up off my mat.

I wanted to stay there in the dark quiet space, tucked up into myself in surrender to the universe. I wanted to rest.

Yet.

We have to get up off our mats, play the game in survival mode until this chapter transitions to the next. That will happen, though we don’t know when and we can’t script it or orchestrate it or make people do what we want them to when we want them to, not even our own children, the human beings that came out of our bodies. We have control really over very little.

Yet.

We are so strong we don’t even know how much until we have to.

For that, I am grateful. For that, universe, thank you.

Still. Some days? I am tired.

A constant need

My middle child misses me. When I’m there, when I’m not there, when it’s time to go to bed, when it’s time to wake up. Over the past several months, she has developed a constant need to be right next to me ALL THE TIME.

While this is sweet in lots of ways, it’s also other things at times: sad, heart-wrenching, frustrating and just not realistic. Or possible. It’s not possible for me to be available for her every second of every day.

I wish it was.

Really, I do. I love her just as much as she loves me. Maybe more.

I had lunch with a new friend today, a soul sister whose life has not mirrored mine but has had similar bumps in the road.

“What would you do if you could?” she asked.

“Teach yoga, write books and be present for my kids,” I said.

Neither one of us thinks this is actually a reality, but it’s the truth, my truth, and no matter how much I tell my middle child that I really would be right there for her all the time if I could, it doesn’t seem to help.

Separation anxiety among children isn’t uncommon. I remember leaving each of my first two babies at daycare when they were little and leaving my heart with them as they cried, arms outstretched toward me. But they were always fine. And sometimes, they weren’t even ready to leave with me at the end of the day when I came back to pick them up.

I wrapped my mind around that being a good thing.

But this current phase of anxiety, of neediness, is worse than I’ve seen before. My son didn’t have it. My middle didn’t have it before, but now, at 6 years old, she does. She’s taken to sleeping on the floor next to my bed. We have hardwood floors. She asks me to leave the bathroom door open when I go in to shower. She calls my name from the other room just to see where I am. Earlier this week, she refused to go into gymnastics (after we’d driven 20 minutes to get there) because she wanted to spend time with me.

Twice a week, I go to yoga teacher training classes in the evenings. Most departures are marked with tears and pleas to please take her with me.

It is sad and exhausting and heart-heavy. I feel bad when my babies are sad.

Last night, I crawled into bed around midnight and noticed a folded piece of white paper on my nightstand. I opened it to see a pencil-drawn heart with “M + P” in the middle and a note that said, “Mom, this is for gymnastics. I love you, Paige,” and a $50 bill she’s had in her piggy bank since Christmas.

It made me want to wake her up and swing her around and snuggle her and stroke her hair and tell stories as long as she wants and laugh and love and live with that sort of carefree spirit all day long.

Instead, I went to sleep, and this morning, I made her breakfast and packed her lunch and kissed her goodbye and went to work. Today, I will leave early to be there for her dentist appointment and after that, we will try going to gymnastics again.

Because all we can do is the best we can.

M + P in a giant, can’t-be-popped heart.

Leaping with my arms wide

What is your WHY?

For life, for doing the things you do, for spending your time the way you spend it, for every decision you make.

Why?

Mine is simple: My family.

Is that a cop-out answer? Has it almost become cliche to say we do everything we do for the sacred, no-one-can-question-this-answer answer?

Yes. But it’s OK because it’s true, and truth is what I hope we all end up finding, someday, sooner rather than later.

My answer explained:

I go to work every day to earn a paycheck. At other times in my life, work has been more to me personally. It’s been fulfilling, rewarding, challenging. At this point in my life, I go to work at a very good job in a very nice office with very nice people, for one major reason: to pay our bills.

To pay for our house and our food and our car with three rows of seats because  yes, our family is that big now. But also to live our lives with some freedom to buy a new shirt at Target if I want to, to get my hair done, to pay for my daughter’s gymnastics and my son’s football and trips and occasional dinners out and Netflix and, yes, a thrift-store couch that really none of us like but we can’t afford $1,000 to buy a brand new one.

That is why I leave my babies every morning and walk out with pieces of my heart clutched in their hands. That is why I rush each morning in the shower to get done, hurry, go, before the littlest baby wakes up.

Because it’s just easier to leave without her seeing me at all.

That, when I let myself really think about, makes me sick to my stomach.

So I have this good job that provides for my family and allows my husband to work on his work while also shouldering most of the parenting load.

And we are so thankful for that.

Yet my babies at home asleep and awake and at school and not and me not there. It’s too much to bear. Sometimes.

Yet, unless we make a change, unless we are brave enough to start taking steps, even tiny ones, to make a change, this great big life will keep spinning largely out of our control exactly as it is.

So here’s my real why for waking up each day: My family.

It does go back to that.

Here’s how I would spend my time, for my family, if I could:

1. I’d be home when my babies a.) wake up and b.) get home from school.

2. I would devote two hours every day to writing. That is the work, the soul-searching, gut-wrenching, never-easy, fulfilling work I crave. I can be a successful writer. I believe in myself and my ability in that realm.

3. I would practice yoga daily.

That’s it. I don’t need a luxury car (in fact, if I had my choice, I’d drive a used Hyundai Santa Fe with a sunroof for the rest of my life and be oh-so-happy!). I don’t want an expensive wardrobe (see number three above). I don’t even want an expensive house (though I would happily take one with a bedroom for each child and a pantry in the kitchen and a linen closet to store our sheets and towels).

So I’m taking a chance. I’m leaping with my arms wide and believing in myself. Brave boots are on, and I’ve committed to being excited about becoming my greatest possibility. Our greatest possibility. For my family. For me. For my friends and loved ones and people I haven’t even met yet, who are willing to leap with me. Because we believe in ourselves. Because we believe we can have better tomorrows with more freedom, with more time to be there for our families, to write best-sellers, to wear yoga pants and mean it.

These next several months are going to be challenging. Between the kids’ activities and school starting and the baby who will walk any day now, I have the very good full-time job that pays the bills, a part-time job with work I truly believe in and a business opportunity that I’m so excited about I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. This fall, my husband will be an integral part of a poetry bookstore/creative space opening up in the heart of downtown where we live, he’ll continue as a City Councilman and I’ll finally realize my dream of becoming yoga teacher certified.

It is a hill we are climbing, but it is the hill of our lifetime. And it is worth it.

A million terrifying questions

I spent yesterday afternoon visiting a house for sale with my husband and then lamenting the fact the yard was too small, the neighborhood was too cookie-cutter, the HOA was likely too ridiculous and, most of all, the price was too high.

I was obsessed with this, all of this. After the showing, I engaged the husband in a long conversation about homes and what I didn’t like about ours and what I did like about the interior of the one we’d seen, why we needed a house like that, why it would make us happier. He countered with all the reasons it would not make him happier. Very reasonable reasons. The yard is awful, tiny, small, an open book to not only neighbors but also anyone and everyone driving past on the busy street it borders. No chickens, no vintage travel trailer turned office. No coffee outside in the backyard because, well, it blows.

But the house, babe. The house is amazing. The inside of the house is perfect. It has four bedrooms! And a kitchen with an island! And the kitchen opens up into a family room! And it has an upstairs! And a master bedroom with a walk-in closet and a bathroom! And the kids would have their own bathroom! Upstairs! Away from us!

Etc.

While this was happening, this exhausting, laborious, neurotic examination of needs vs. wants, gimmes, shiny objects, etc., my two older babies were in a car accident.

They are spending the week with their dad and his fiance, who live in Denver, and they were on their way to Estes Park to celebrate Christmas with grandparents.

I got a text from my ex-husband while walking into yoga class late yesterday afternoon.

“Hey,” it said. “Just wanted you to know I got in a car accident with the kids in the back. Everyone is perfectly fine. It was just scary.”

Apparently, a lady ran a stop sign and my ex-husband swerved to miss her, skidding into a telephone pole. The airbags deployed.

The airbags deployed.

The airbags deployed.

The car is in rough shape.

They were back on the road in their second car by the time he texted to let me know.

They were back on the road.

Back on the road.

I had a million questions. Did anyone hit their head? (no) Is everyone OK? (yes) Did the airbags in the backseat deploy? (no) Did Paige cry? Did Rye? What were they doing when the accident happened? Talking? Using their iPads? Sleeping? What side of the car got banged up? Could the kids open their doors to get out? Where did they wait while they waited for the police and paperwork and all that? How did they get back home to get the other car? Did either of them have nightmares last night?

I did not ask all those questions, though they keep running through my mind. Let them be OK is the mantra of every parent, and it seems somehow even more important when someone else is in charge, when you have absolutely zero control. Please. Let them be OK.

They are in high spirits, the text said, and so, well, I’m playing the role of part-time parent this week, hoping they truly are OK, waiting six more days to ask them about it myself, to hug them, touch them, see their faces.

Today, part of me is still thinking about our home and other prospects. My intent is noble (or a less dramatic version of that word): I want us all to be comfortable in our home. I want a space that feels positive and warm and can be the brick and mortar behind the memories for the next 18 years. If I had a magic wand, that would be in a neighborhood with kids everywhere, close to the elementary school, with a huge yard, some character indoors and a price tag we could afford.

But I am also thinking about my babies, scared, cold, in a cracked-up car. Accidents happen every single day, and when it happens to you, the frailty of life sinks in even more.

It’s terrifying and perspective-buying. All I can do is be thankful no one was hurt, be grateful the husband and I weren’t packing a bag to race to a hospital in Denver last night, be oh-so-satisfied with the wonders we already own.