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.

Baby Love

I want a baby.

Not a third baby — and no, I don’t want your baby (nice try, though).

I want my baby back. The boy or the girl, it doesn’t really matter at this point. Maybe both of them.

Just not at the same time.

For the past few months I have been going through this horrible, embarrassing midlife “thing” where I love babies. LOVE them. And because the stars are aligned or life is really cruel my Facebook and Instagram feeds seem to be overflowing with wee little ones who are sleeping, learning to walk, just born or maybe celebrating a first birthday. Chubby little thighs, the tiniest of fingers and a smattering of fine, wispy hair. The bright blue-eyed babes are especially yummy, as both of mine sport different shades of blue, even into their teen years.

These babies in my stream? Clean slates, all of them. Asking nothing more from you than to hold them, feed them and love them unconditionally. What is simpler and more life-affirming than a brand new baby? It’s a fresh start, a reminder that life goes on. A reason to love yourself a wee bit more than you did. Babies don’t hold grudges, roll their eyes when you ask a favor or leave their socks on the floor. They take a lot of care, but what they give back you can’t get anywhere else. Joy, happiness, that look of I-love-you-so-very-much that you can only get from a little one without a curfew, a driver’s license or a list of chores to complete.

I find myself willing my soul back in time, grabbing frantically for what was once my daily life with babies and trying to remember. To remember how it felt to snuggle a sleepy one right up next to my neck in the early-morning hours when the rest of the house slept. To remember what it felt like to bathe that tiny first baby, so afraid he would slip from my hands and be hurt, or scared.

To remember hearing, “It’s a boy!” and “It’s a girl!” and both times feeling that somehow I already knew who they were, that I could feel their presence in my daily life since those little lines appeared on the pregnancy tests. To remember when they started to dance, to sing and to play pretend — and all of it without any feelings of self-consciousness or anxiety. To remember what it felt like to rock in the kitchen with a baby girl on my hip and feel her heartbeat through my hand on her tiny back. To soothe tears, protect, console, teach, or just to be in the moment.

But I can’t remember.

You’re making memories!” people loved to say to me during those late afternoon grocery store runs or endless hours spent pushing a swing robotically at the park. I probably say that now, to my much-younger friends who are just starting their little families. And somewhere, deep inside they get it. They know too, that while their time feels long and routine and boring it will all end faster than they can imagine.

But memories! “You will have all the memories!” they shout. But the memories you make aren’t all solidly defined or outlined as time goes by. Some memories have jagged edges, some are raw and painful and many of your memories won’t match up with how your kids remember them (which is a shock). But then there are moments that stand alone as if a searchlight shines on them, so vivid and defined that you can relive them at any time.

Just rewind.

But other memories? The day-to-day routine, the bath times and the bedtimes, endless renditions of Hop on Pop or Brown Bear, Brown Bear and the countless boxes of mac and cheese I made, scraping the bottom for a few scraps of my own. The “firsts” and the “lasts” for each baby, from taking tentative first steps to losing a first tooth to starting high school.

To graduation, and beyond.

They blur together — like a fog that I can’t see through just yet. I comb through boxes of printed photos (yes, my little ones were pre-digital) that span an entire childhood and I can “see” it all. It happened, it was real and we all lived to tell about it. There were camping trips and amusement parks, birthdays and sleepovers, friends, family, beloved pets and favorite toys. I didn’t have a blog or a journal when mine were small. We made videos and took pictures, so we do have lots of great memories stored in boxes down the hall.

But the blur of memory that I have of those 20 years is unsettling to me right now. I honestly thought I would remember more vividly. I worry at times that I am truly starting to lose my memory, one old and faded mental photograph at a time.

But just give me that baby. My baby, either one of them.

If only I could relive a day with my baby girl on my hip, or my baby boy laughing so hard he would lose his breath.

I promise I would remember — I really would.

I would just love to hit rewind again.

mom and baby girl

A Mother’s Best Asset

She steps into the exam room, staring at the chart the nurse shoved into her hands and is quickly trying to assess my medical history in the 5 steps between the door and the exam table.

She looks up, squints at my forehead a wee bit too long, and then fixes her gaze just a bit lower.

“Your friends must be envious of your skin!” she proclaims, making me question either her eyesight or her medical credentials.

Possibly both.

Apparently she missed the reason for my appointment that clearly states “35-year acne sufferer” and “what the hell can I use for these wrinkles” as reasons for my dermatologist visit today.

“Um, NO,” I say, maybe a little bit too quickly. “My skin is nothing to brag about,” I add, instantly wishing I were sitting in the dental chair instead.

With nitrous oxide.

“Your neck!” she exclaims, “The skin on your neck is smooth and firm, beautiful,” she says, with a glint in her eyes that almost makes me believe her. If she wasn’t young enough to be my daughter.

Maybe she had wine with lunch.

At this point, I am forced to ponder my neck… a part of my body I have never considered as a separate entity, I guess. The biggest job my neck has is holding my head up and supporting a necklace now and then. And even then I have been known on many occasions to simply rest my head on my desk after a particularly strenuous bout of editing. So even my neck can be lazy.

My neck? Never a point of conversation until now.

My babies have nuzzled my neck after midnight feedings, when the lure of sleep called to me from the bedroom but motherhood won and I stayed just a few moments longer on the couch to drink in their sweet, milky scent. My neck has comforted a little girl with a broken arm, a boy who lost his grandfather, kids mourning the loss of their first family dog and a dear friend who lost her husband too early and too tragically. My neck snuggled my mother when she lost her husband too many years too soon and cradled my husband when he lost not one but both of his beloved grandfathers.

I have craned my neck ever-so-slightly to see if a teenager’s car has pulled up in the driveway yet… at half past 11. My neck has betrayed me with osteoarthritis and sent me to physical therapy on more than one occasion.

My neck? It may not be much to brag about, or a part of my body that my much-younger friends will envy. But this neck — my neck — has proven to be an incredibly valuable part of my anatomy that I simply take for granted most days.

“Yes,” I stammer. “My neck is amazing,” I finally say.

And I smile a little bit bigger…

In spite of the huge zit on my chin.

neck and necklacs

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.

 

50 Stages of Motherhood

There is a progression of motherhood…a timeline we all follow. Some of us go through kicking and screaming, while others cheer louder with each smidge of progress towards the finish line.

Our children inch closer to adulthood, while we apparently inch closer to the floor.

I have lost 3/4 of an inch in height since my son left for college.

And with each new stage, each startling new trick or terrifying new skill we adjust our mothering to suit it.

  • He climbs trees? We add the Urgent Care Center to our speed dial.
  • Projectile vomiting? Nothing a Swiffer, rubber gloves and a few paper towels can’t handle.
  • He wants to dress himself? We buy all red, white and blue clothing so that he will always look patriotic even when he isn’t quite matching.
  • He wants to get his Driver’s License? We increase our blood pressure meds and buy a set of rosary beads.
  • He wants to live off-campus? We write rent checks and hope he has a decent meal now and then.

I have been through so many stages of motherhood with my college kid, I have lost count. There are days when I can barely remember those first few stages, the why-isn’t-he-sleeping-through-the-night stage or the just-stop-teething-already stage.

Some were particularly ugly.

But woven together, stacked one on top of the other year after year these stages make up the mother I am today. It’s too late to change any of the things we went through. No do-overs, no returns, no refunds and no time machine travel.

Would I have done anything differently? I’m not sure I even know that answer.

I am faced with the dilemma that I am not done mothering, not quite yet.

But there are days when I want to be done.

See, the problem with mothering is that you are never really finished. It’s not that I didn’t know this… I just didn’t understand.

Grown-up kids need parents too.

And in time, years from now, in those last stages of motherhood, I will need my kids more than they will need me.

They will finally be living their own lives as adults, possibly raising families of their own. And I will be able to relax and know that I did the very best job I could have done. I passed the final exam, graduated. Finished the last stage.

But I am pretty sure I will still find a way to keep on worrying.

 

This post originally ran on Moonfrye

Something’s Got to Change

It’s become a pattern, an annoying part of my personality that follows me into middle age, whether I am conscious of it or not.

Starting over.

Every new year, the first of every month, every Monday and even just every morning I feel my brain saying it.

A fresh start.

A new day to be a better person, get more done, exercise, eat right, be kind, read a book, visit a friend, help someone in need, clean something or accomplish a nagging to-do-list task. It doesn’t matter whether I face a crazy day of students and freelance work until the wee hours near bedtime, or if it’s a lighter day when I could really grab some relaxing time.

My brain just tells me it will be different.

Better.

And I seize the hours at the beginning of the “new” with great intentions – full of energy, caffeine and the attitude that I can take on the world.

The clock continues to tick away the minutes and hours, no faster or slower than before.

But I feel the loss of time as it slides out the door. Time I won’t get back.

Ever.

At the end of the new day/new week/fresh new month I feel the same way.

Like I didn’t show up. Like I sat on the bench, watching the game from the sidelines.

Put me in coach – I’m ready to play.

This time I have to make some changes – before this amazing and wonderful life I have been gifted just slips like sand through my fingers.

I am going to try to work smarter, play harder, laugh more and slow down a wee little bit.

Middle-age is a cruel BFF. She energizes me one day and defeats me the next. I am not finished parenting but I haven’t started to care for my parents yet. My body is changing but my mind is still young. My young friends make me laugh and yearn to have been born a decade later.

But then I wouldn’t have what I have.

And what I have here in my tiny piece of the world is pretty damn awesome.

I’m just on a mission to make it even more awesome.

Stay tuned.