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.