Looking Back, Looking Forward

It was the end of a long holiday break, and we were trying to squeeze those last few relaxing chunks of time from what had seemed an eternity on day one. The kids were busy, as they often are once they reach the age of driver’s licenses, jobs and “significant others” in their lives.

With four walls closing in on us at home my husband and I decided to visit a park about half an hour away, to hike a trail we haven’t hiked before. We needed to be outside, to soak up some sun and escape the house. When the air is crisp and the sky is a cloudless blue, there really isn’t anything more stunning than a winter day in California.

Hiking boots laced up and water bottles filled, we took off for one of our almost-empty-nest adventures, leaving chores and errands for another day.

When we arrived at the trailhead my husband took a map and we started to plan our hike. We still had a few hours before the sun would begin to set, so we chose a loop trail that would take us high enough for a stunning view of the area, yet be short enough to get us safely back to the car before dusk.

Always cautious. Always planning ahead.

We walked in silence for a while, quietly savoring the fact that we’re comfortable enough to embrace the quiet. After a while, my husband broke the silence with a comment about the view off to the side of the trail.

And that’s when I noticed.

I’m not looking around.

I am so focused on the trail right in front of me that I’m missing the view.

So I forced myself to look up and around and savor the adventure and wow — it’s such a beautiful day, such a gorgeous view. We kept hiking along the trail, passing others here and there with a friendly nod or “hello.”

But I almost immediately went back to looking down. To worrying about the rocks and ruts and uneven trail right in front of me or just below my feet.

So I stopped for a water break, and forced myself again to look around.

Beautiful, yet not perfect.

The years-long drought in California has left towering trees dry and creek beds empty. Recent rains have brought back green grasses, but the long-term effects of drought are still very evident.

I turned around to see the path we had taken up this hill. It was steep and covered in a patchwork of uneven soil, horse tracks and mud. It wasn’t obvious to me as we walked that path just how very difficult it was.

But we did it. Cautiously, carefully and continuously we climbed that hill.

You don’t always realize where you’ve been until you turn around.

Isn’t this the case with life? We trudge along over obstacles ranging in size from pebbles to boulders. Push ourselves through the murky parts when parenting is tough and relationships are cracked. Past broken friendships and milestones reached, straight through our kids’ childhood, which seemed to expire quite a while before we were ready.

Shouldn’t we look back once in a while? See where we’ve been, gain perspective on the road ahead? Not to wallow in the past, but to acknowledge it and more forward?

These feelings hit me in the quietness on that trail — that our 20+ years of parenting hadn’t always been a smooth path. That as hard as you try, your kids need to grow at their own pace, learn valuable lessons for themselves, to fail or stumble on the path — or even get lost for a bit.

Sometimes you need to look back.

Up ahead on the trail? A leafy, tree-covered walkway with towering pines on one side, sturdy oaks on the other.

I might have missed it if I hadn’t stopped.

I spend a lot of my time being cautious, living in this moment here rather than looking forward or back… and fretting about it, too.

I waste time being worried about stepping too far off the path, of stumbling or getting lost.

I’m just looking down.

It’s time I started looking up.

8 Ways to Suck the Fun out of the Pumpkin Patch

Ah, the pumpkin patch… a fall must-do destination for any family with wee ones. While most of these places start opening as soon as the September calendar page turns, many of us postpone the visit until it’s SO LATE that we have no choice but to go. NOW.

And since this past weekend was the LAST weekend before Halloween, there were plenty of families who could put off the pumpkin patch visit no longer. My 16-year-old daughter and her BFF wanted to check out the pumpkin patch on Sunday afternoon, grab a gourd and Instagram the heck out of it. Even though my daughter just got her driver’s license (yay!) I shuttled them to the uber-cool pumpkin patch out in the country because license restrictions don’t let her drive her friends around yet. While they Instagramed around, I learned a lot about family pumpkin patch visits.

  • Dress your entire family in your Halloween colors. This is apparently a requirement for most families, especially if there are more than two kids. Mom usually has a great selection of black, but orange? That’s a stretch. And don’t even think that Dad will gleefully wear orange and black without also sporting a grimace.
  • Argue with your siblings. While Mom and Dad might think a pumpkin patch visit will be all family fun and smiles, it really invites a whole new group of sibling “wrongs” that incite bickering. Who gets the bigger pumpkin? I want a hot dog, too! Want to borrow the wagon or wheelbarrow? Who gets to pull it? Who gets to ride in it? And don’t even think about letting one pull and one ride. There are no paramedics on site.
  • Take a fabulous family photo. What better photo op than the pumpkin patch? Heck, you are already wearing matching outfits – why not? Sit down on some scratchy hay, pretend to love your siblings and “smile BIG,” “quit poking your sister” and “act your age.” While not really suitable for the Christmas card, the Halloween picture will be a cherished reminder of the fun times you had.
  • Take a fabulous photo, part two. While you are at the pumpkin patch, make sure to take a photo of the whole family right at the entrance to the farm, under the sign that says, “Pumpkin Land.” No matter that this is the only entrance and exit point, and that you are holding up long lines of visitors on this LAST SUNDAY before Halloween. Keep trying to get that perfect shot, Mom. Really, we’re all fine just standing here.
  • Change a poopy diaper on the picnic table. I have no words for this one, but it certainly took away my hankerin’ for kettle corn.
  • Argue with your spouse. This fun activity is best done within ear shot of other families enjoying THEIR fun at the pumpkin patch. The argument is usually started by the wife, who insists that this is FAMILY FUN and can’t imagine that you don’t agree. Or Dad starts trying to tell the kiddos to behave themselves and Mom jumps in. “They’re just freaking KIDS, babe!” may have been screamed by one incredibly agitated mother. In a family with matching Halloween outfits, of course.
  • Wear cute shoes. Because obviously, the pumpkin patch is THE place to be seen the week before Halloween. What better place to wear those cute suede booties or open-toed wedges than to a farm? Bonus points for wearing them and then complaining about how “dirty” the pumpkin patch is. Or that your brand-new pedicure is now ruined. See also, FARM.
  • Turn your kids into “free-range” kids for the afternoon. The pumpkin patch is practically a free pass for parents. Let the kids run and be free! It’s a farm, how dangerous could it really be? Pay no attention to them, no matter how loud they yell, “MOM!” or even if they wind up snagged by their Halloween shirt on the barbed wire fence. Nobody will kidnap them because anyone who is brave enough to visit the pumpkin patch this close to Halloween will be back on birth control ASAP.

Did your family miss the perfect visit to the pumpkin patch this year? Thank goodness it’s almost time for the perfect family visit to the Christmas tree farm.

A Milestone Love

milestone loveThe restaurant is crowded, unusually so for a Tuesday night. The waitress lets the specials roll off her tongue as she does on any other night, and we pretend to listen even though we’ve all chosen our main courses already.

Table for four. While this happens with amazing regularity at home, we don’t often manage to sync our schedules and go out for dinner together. Old habits die hard, and I am usually just as happy making dinner and sharing it around our table.

But tonight is different.

My husband has a milestone birthday today. And while the other diners may think they are having a special meal with colleagues or friends, I feel as if there is a bubble around our table tonight.

A bubble that holds within its rounded edges the three people I hold the most dear in my heart.

A bottle of wine arrives, along with something tamer for the teens with bubbles and cherries. We raise our glasses in a toast to my husband and I catch his smile as he thanks us for spending this evening with him.

It’s magic… like all of the times I have seen this man smile, but deeper, almost. He’s in his happy place, with his family, and there is no place else he’d rather be right now.

I feel a lump form in my throat that I push aside. I don’t want to cry, don’t want to take away from his moment.

He wanted to be with us.

When people would ask, “Where are you going for the BIG birthday?” he never wavered, really. Offers of exotic beach vacations, ski lodges or weekends in Napa didn’t entice him. Sure, they all sound like fun… but he wanted more.

He wanted to be with us.

To start the second 50 years of his life with his family, to listen to our stories and laughter and bask in the glow of that kind of love that nobody else can give you.

And as I watched him raise his glass to us, to another 50 years, to our family I couldn’t help but be in awe of this man who has given me so very much. Family, unconditional love, laughter.

And he wanted to be with us.

Happy Birthday, babe… here’s to another 50.

The Writing of our Story

wedding1

I almost answered too quickly.

Yes! A thousand times!

I really didn’t realize he was going to ask, until the scene started playing out in slow motion.

And then I knew what was coming was a question that would change my life.

Will you be my wife?

Yes.

There was nothing else I would rather be.

We began our journey through young adulthood to parenthood and beyond, not knowing much about the future other than who we would be sharing it with. The writing of our story unfolded one year at a time, through new jobs, new addresses, new little additions to our family.

And now, almost on the other side of parenting, we are at a place that feels much like when we started out.

Not knowing the path, but knowing who we will share it with.

And that question that changed my life?

I would answer it the same 26 years later.

Happy Anniversary, babe.

 

Vows

I watch them from my seat in the dimly lit ballroom, watch the sparkling lights dance on her gown as she spins.

Her smile fills her face and his heart, as he gently dips and sways with her to the music. They are so young, so much in love and so very newly-wed. Less than one hour old, their marriage is as fresh as they come and filled with promise and hope.

I want to stop the music and tell them to go — go NOW and start their life together. Before it’s too late. Before life gets in the way. Before obligations and bills and children and sickness scare them into being adults. Before the drudgery of Monday morning creeps right into Sunday night.

But their smiles, their laughter and their tears while reading their vows are my answer. They ARE starting their life together, and it begins today. She calls him her “person” and she is his “rock”.

I cannot take my eyes off of them as they dance and whisper and giggle.

I try to find a bit of wisdom, something a long-married woman could share with a beaming young bride that would be inspirational or awe-inspiring — a string of poetry, a line from a romantic movie, even something from a cheesy greeting card.

Nothing. There is nothing I can share beyond the simple words they uttered at the altar.

Love. Honor. Cherish.

All the days of your life — for as long as you both shall live. Because life has a way of moving forward, of ticking along when you don’t see it coming, of throwing curveballs at you when you least expect them.

Love can conquer a lot of stuff, but you have to feed it daily. Give more than your share, with no expectations.

And always remember to dance.

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This piece originally appeared on Moonfrye

25 Years to Life

He says I still have that new bride smell.

That man I exchanged “I do’s” with twenty-five years ago this week…the man I promised to love and to cherish, to honor and cook for, and to continue to laugh at his potty humor until death do us part.

Twenty-five.

Wow.

In that amount of time, people tend to hoard accumulate things. Things that may or may not have a real use later on down the road, yet they stay on the shelf, tucked away for later. Maybe these things were actually used for years, used to the point that even the donation truck might leave them on the side of the road.

We have things like that.

  1. A kitchen trashcan in the most beautiful 80s shade of baby blue. While it has served a long and useful life of 25 years, the cracks extend a wee bit further down the side each week.
  2. The hamper for our dirty clothes that was purchased on a romantic shopping trip to Cost Plus, during which time we declared, “Let’s join our dirty clothes!” and it still serves dutifully. Unfortunately, there are no cracks and I think this one may outlast us all.
  3. A toaster oven, which was lovingly gifted to us on our wedding day by a wedding guest who shall remain nameless (because I can’t remember). Hubs feels that the toaster oven is the be-all-end-all of kitchen appliances. I feel like it looks like a cross between R2D2 and SpongeBob SquarePants, and have relegated it to the cupboard.
  4. Matching set of bamboo beach mats, purchased on our first trip to Hawaii so many years ago. While they seemed like a great idea, nobody told us about the crazy pattern the bamboo leaves on your exposed skin. Ouch. They have resided in the attic ever since, never to see sand again.
  5. Blown-glass drink stirrers, with various tropical birds perched on the end. These were purchased on our honeymoon in Mexico, and we envisioned raging parties hosted at our tiny apartment where we would pass out drink stirrers to our happy guests. I am still trying to figure out exactly what type of drink requires stirring.
  6. A humongous counter-top microwave oven from the 80s, the size of which rivals a mini-Cooper. After occupying half of the entire kitchen counter-top for years, we moved to our current home which has a built-in microwave. Sixteen years ago. The intended recipient of the microwave (college kid) claims that his roommate has one. I fear I will one day be buried in it.
  7. A VCR. I cannot even imagine why we still have this. For you young ones, this is the prehistoric version of the modern-day DVD player.
  8. We still have the very first can opener we purchased, back when opening a can meant, “Dinner is served!”. I am pretty sure we are all current on our tetanus shots.
  9. The fire extinguisher that hangs in our garage, in that manly section referred to as the “Home Safety Center” by hubs. I fear that when I actually need a fire extinguisher, only glitter and dust will come out of the nozzle.
  10. A large paper-mache parrot, who has been a prized possession since our honeymoon in Mexico. We brought him home on the airplane back in the days when you could carry-on strange objects that could be used to pummel someone and take over the plane. Now he would be subject to a body-cavity search.

 

Sentimental old fools, or hoarders?

What do you still have after all these years?

 

Table for Two

This is how we started out.

After I do’s were said, rice was thrown, gifts were opened, and a long white satin dress was cleaned and stored away.

In a small apartment with little to call our own, our table for two was sometimes the couch; an old wooden box we called a coffee table pulled close with two dinner plates on top.

We worked all week, we hung out together, ran errands, tried to exercise, watched TV, and just spent so much time together.

I can barely remember how that felt.

For about seven years, we just enjoyed being us.

Then we became a family. Life was never quite the same. The craziness and fun of new parenthood was so much better sharing it with someone I loved so much. I knew he would be such an amazing daddy and he was. Still is.

Seventeen years later, we sit more often at that table for two again.

Not the couch, but our massive dining-room table, made to seat a crowd.

Not just two.

Our son gone to college; his 13 year-old sister busy with soccer and BFF’s. This is what we hoped for, what we planned for, for all of those years in between. For our kids to be healthy, happy, busy, and doing what they wanted with their lives.

And they are.

And now when we are alone and the house is quiet, I am remembering so many reasons why I said yes all those years ago. Why it was so important to keep the you and I part right there with the mom and dad part.

Because eventually we are back at the table for two.

And I wouldn’t want to be sitting with anyone else.