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.

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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.

Laughter as often as it comes

The babies are back and the new one is growing and, whew, where does all this life go so fast?

Six weeks until my due date with this little creature inside of my belly. The way she turns or pokes or prods or whatever it is exactly she’s doing sometimes startles me. Like last night, curled in bed next to the rock star, little pieces of feet or something began protruding just underneath the thin skin of what was once the inside of my bellybutton.

I could feel the body parts, someone else’s body parts, under my skin. It’s unsettling. And amazing. Sort of at the same time.

This hasn’t been the pregnancy I envisioned, and it’s been difficult for me to not compare this experience with my last go-round at growing a baby. Then, my life basically on the brink of imploding, the pregnancy was second string to the emotional mess I’d made of so much else. I ate very little, I cried all the time, I exercised a lot … consequently, I gained only 25 pounds and was back in my pre-pregnancy clothes within two weeks.

That part – the appearance part – was lovely. So was the labor and delivery, which was fairly quick and easy and uncomplicated. And, of course, the sweet, sweet baby girl, who along with her brother, continues to make my world go round.

That was all good, despite the mess of the rest of my life (those dark days, of course, would eventually lead to where my life was supposed to be all along, and for that, I am thankful). But at the time, I wasn’t sure where we would all land.

So this time around, happily married to a supportive, gentle, trusting man, I gave up exercising months ago and I’ve pretty much been eating whatever I want. I’ve already gained 33 pounds.

(Which, yes, does freak me out, and if anyone follows me on Pinterest explains the numerous workout pins of late).

But the baby is growing as she should, and I’m rolling myself out of bed each morning as I should and ignoring the swollen stumps my legs and feet have turned into as best I can and getting on with it all, enduring, moving forward, with anticipation and hope and laughter as often as it comes.

Isn’t that, at the end of the day, the best we can do anyway?

Looking forward with laughter and love and hope that tastes like sun just might be the answer to it all.

All of our days, 2013

I’ve never been into New Year’s resolutions. If you want to make a change, go ahead and do it, whatever time of year.

I did, however, this early January make a slideshow of our last year.

The quality would not win any awards, and even Kyle looked at me after he watched it this morning, smiled and gave me that look that usually means, “Wow,” in some form or another. (In this case, it clearly meant he never would have made such a slideshow).

But I love it. And he likes it.

And we’re happy.

Gratitude that grows on branches

The library held a parenting workshop last week about gratitude.

“What does that mean?” both kids asked me when I said I thought we’d go.

“It means being thankful,” I said, “being happy for something, appreciating the things and the people you love the best.”

They nodded and moved on, back to whatever they’d been doing before I spoke.

As it turned out, we didn’t make it to the workshop. But if we’d gone, the kids would have made gratitude trees.

I’ve been wondering what they would have placed on their branches.

Mom. Kyle. Dad. Grammy and Papa. Grandma. Grandpa. Dana and Gary. The dog. The cats. Their toys. Disney Channel. Pizza. Brownies. Juice. School. Friends.

Those are my guesses, and maybe (yes, definitely) I should have them do the exercise anyway. It is Thanksgiving after all, and it is important to remind ourselves of all the good in our little worlds.

It will just be Kyle and me tomorrow, and the insides of me spent a little time being sad about that. But it is what it is – distance and time and the cost of gas and the kids being unavailable for our side of the family anyway – and I’m happy to have the grown-up time with my love.

I’ve requested soup.

And, in honor of the holiday, here’s what grows on the branches of my gratitude tree: 

1. A husband like no other. One who makes me soup on Thanksgiving, even though he thinks it’s weird.

2. Healthy, happy, smart, beautiful children. I couldn’t ask for any better.

3. My mom. I love you.

4. The other parents in my life. Thank you. I love you, too.

5. A job that (usually almost always) pays the bills and keeps me challenged and fulfilled. And gives me an office with a window.

6. Books. You are my favorite.

7. Music. You are my favorite favorite.

8. My friends. You save me.

9. Wine bars and cheese trays. Cowboy boots and acoustic guitars. Coffee. Yoga. Fall. Yellow. Orange. Felines. Writing that takes my breath away.

10. The ability to make our own choices, pave our own paths, decide our own tomorrows.

I cheated on number 9, but those all deserved a spot on my list.

Oh, and this:

What’s on your gratitude tree?

 

I wonder if it’s a wanting all the time

The world of wanting is cruel, that feeling of never quite having everything you’ve ever wanted, that even if you do, you don’t.

How did we get that way?

Is the grass only greener in America? What about Europe? Asia? I hear Chinese couples may get to start having multiple babies one of these days. I imagine that’s happy news to so many ears, and, to me, that feels right. That feels like it’s about time. That feels like such a stupid horrible rule to begin with. I’d be lying, though, if I said I didn’t think about all those girls sold off into an underworld I don’t want details on, those girls who could have stayed, those new moms who could have cried a little less, if China had never had something so ridiculous as population control.

I bet those Chinese mothers want just as much as I do, as we do. I wonder if it’s a wanting all the time.

I am thinking about things and needs and wants and excess and greed and happiness and fulfillment and why it – life – all feels so hard some of the time. Because Christmas is coming, that holiday we celebrate secularly like so many others across the world, Christians included.

I saw a plastic Santa at a thrift store today. It was one of those retro-looking light-up ones that stands in your yard. Plastic Santa was probably about 4 feet tall. I wanted him.

He was $25, though, and $25 on a Christmas decoration sounds like a purchase I shouldn’t make. And I didn’t.

But the kids, those sweet babies of ours, will expect presents on Christmas. Of course they will. They are kids and we live in America and Christmas, at least as far as I’m concerned, should be as magical and innocent and beautiful as it can for as long as we can make it last. Gifts in paper in excess in living rooms under a sparkly lit-up tree are part of that magic.

I do not want to go to Wal-Mart on Thanksgiving. (I want to go there never, but even less so on Thanksgiving.)

I also do not want to participate in Black Friday. The thought of all those people and all those cars and all those clothes that no one will wear two years from now and all that plastic that will break or be swept up by Mom’s broom or forgotten in the closet and all that chaos and energy and need … no. I’m good. I’ll pass. No thank you.

But.

We need presents for our kids, and money doesn’t grow on that tree out back yet and I’m still figuring out how to inherit a rich relative who falls instantly in love with me and leaves us her life’s savings or how to write my own version of “eleanor & park” that I can dedicate to my own loves.

So I’m contemplating going to Wal-Mart.

On Thanksgiving.

And I hate this. About me, about life, about society, about the fact that we’re never satisfied. Why isn’t great good enough? When will it be? And how?

I’m in love with my life. That is not hyperbole.

I am so full in love with my husband that that right there should be enough forever and always and to the moon and back.

And those babies? Those babies who are now 8 and 4 and who sometimes I ask for advice because they just seem that grown up? Oh my world spins because of them.

And everything else – just about – that makes a life: friends, family, a house to call our own, a very good job, music, laughter, streets to run on, cats to cuddle and coffee to warm our souls.

Yeah, I have that. All of that. My color is yellow.

Yet, I still yearn for things we do not have. An upstairs. Sunday dinners with family. More money. More time. More fill in the blank.

So it goes, I guess. Courage and cowboy boots and bottomless red wine maybe can’t change that sort of human nature.

But we can try and cheers to that.

The beginning of it anyway

We had breakfast parfaits at work this morning. Yogurt, granola, berries. I forgot to bring the box of granola I’d set on the counter because I was too worried about the little girl missing me and the boy who seemed so tired he could barely stand. I was worried about their second day of school, whether the dog had been out, where the cat (cats?) would pee in the house today … if I’d be late for work.

So I forgot the granola.

Which was alright because I’d decided I’d stop for Starbucks today anyway, for the cup as much as the coffee, which, really, I can make at home.

The little things, though, can change your day. A cup of coffee can matter. The treat of it all … well, so what? What’s $2.50 once a week and a Treat Receipt I’ll never use?

Today is a co-worker’s birthday. She sits in the office next to mine, and today over yogurt parfaits she passed around a framed photo of her dog on a tricycle.

Yes.

That happened.

She is 29.

“One of my favorite years,” I told her after peeking my head next door before yogurt parfaits. “I hope you have a great day.”

What makes a great day? A great year? Why is 29 one of my favorites? What will make her 29th birthday more special than any other day in this long cycle of life’s days?

I have no idea.

On the radio this morning, after I passed my friend eating what may have been yogurt on her way to work, the Yale or Harvard or Stanford or someplace smart like that expert said 99 percent of our DNA is bacteria. That gut bacteria has more impact on who we are – our behaviors, our personalities, our choices – than anything else.

I’m not sure what to do with that sort of information.

I was 28 when my body began to grow my second baby. I was 29 when I got to meet her, hold her, begin this marathon of helping her be.

I was 29 when I decided to call it quits from that first chapter of grown-up-dom, when I decided to leap with my arms spread wide, hoping just maybe I’d catch a breeze just right to cushion the fall.

I was 29 when I told my first husband I did not love him. I was 29 when I began to somehow survive that.

I was 29 when I decided I deserved to be me, on my own, of my own volition.

I was 29 when I met the people who saved me, the girlfriends who listened like no one else I remembered, the ones who brought me frou-frou drinks from Scooter’s the morning of a garage sale designed to help clear out the past, the ones who smashed a backyard shed and painted a backyard deck so I could sell the house I no longer wanted – for so many reasons – despite the fact I left Little Kitty behind.

The friends who took me out, held my hands, picked me up from the airport, gifted me with my first (and only) facial, moved into the house I no longer wanted so I could pay the mortgage and not feel so alone …

That all happened, the beginning if it anyway, the year I was 29.

It is strange to think back to that time now, on the other side of the bend, with a husband who loves me and my babies like I could have never imagined, with a career that – finally – feels as fulfilling as the one I lost, with a home and a family and friends and laughter and music and love, with a life that really, truly in so many ways is so very lovely.

But today, on my co-worker’s 29th birthday, I am nostalgic. Even the nearly empty Starbucks cup on my desk reminds me of so much. So much that’s so big I can’t write it. And if I let the so big simmer too long it starts to feel heavy, that weight that earlier this year spilled out on the kitchen table and that I’ve somehow managed to neatly pack away thank-you-very-much since then.

Memory might just be the force that makes us who we are, the force not to be reckoned with, the energy that makes our tiny little worlds go round.

On the night before the first day of school, my kids got to see the moon in a telescope. A telescope so big, so powerful that the crater’s mountains were visible.

“It’s a crescent moon,” Paige said.

“Wow,” Rye said. “My class should take a field trip here.”

And I’m reminded right now, right this second on this shifty, spinning planet we live on, that letting your kids see the moon up close might be the most important thing you do all week.