9.22.19 Almost Perfect

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“I think in the heart of every human being there burns an ember of hope that warmly entices us to believe everything will eventually come together into one perfect day, and that potentially the hours in this day will stretch on indefinitely.” R.E. Goodrich

I don’t believe in perfect. I think perfect is something that only exists in heaven, fairy tales, and dreams … but I do believe in exceptionally, delightfully, spectacular days – where sunshine and sea salt exist in harmony with freckled noses and sandy smiles. Today was an extraordinary, not-so-ordinary day.

We decided to christen our new southern life with a trip to the beach. For two hours and fifty minutes on the way, we took turns proposing songs for our, “To the Beach” playlist. If the rating wasn’t an average of 9 for each of us, it didn’t make the cut. We got iced coffees and frappuccino’s, ate snacks and skipped lunch. The kids boarded with daddy, while I taught them the trick to avoid being smashed by a wave. My daughter and I took turns dancing with our shadows. My husband and son played frisbee in the waves, miraculously finding it on the beach regardless of the number of times they “lost” it to a swell. We got pizza on the way home and ate it in the car as our son slept, and our daughter played D.J. (She never sleeps.)

In the spirit of honesty, there were salt-in-our-eye moments, waves that made us tumble, back-seat bickers, front-seat bickers, sand-sand everywhere, beachy knots in beachy hair, and hustling home for our school-night shuffle.

But for a series of breezes, and burn-your-feet sand moments … today was a delicious taste of “almost” perfect.

 

8.17.19 Birthday Squared

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“Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother …  the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.” – Menachem Begin

My mother and my daughter were born a day apart. Some might think it coincidence that two of the most important women in my life were born in such close proximity to our planet’s turn around the sun … but not me – because these two precious souls are of the same making. Sometimes I imagine that God took the very same cloth, made of joy and sparkle, divine patience and an ethereal twinkle in their blue eyes, and said, “Yes … the world needs more of this.”

My theory of their interconnected hearts is confirmed in the way that they love. Both my mother and my daughter epitomize the idea of putting others’ needs before their own. They are the first to self-sacrifice in honor of a friend, and it is quite something to recognize their particular brand of benevolence echoed  a generation apart.

I cannot ever live up to their level of altruism or down to their level of humble gratitude; so I am satisfied to live directly in-between. Thank you mommy, for being the catalyst of a life focused on the brighter side. Thank you daughter, for being the ever-present reminder that love speaks, and stays, and snuggles. I could never have deserved either one of you … but I am effervescently thankful that God gave you to me anyway.

All my love, and the happiest of turns around the sun to you both … I hope you feel every ray of gifted light this year and in all the years to come.

Elle (your daughter, your mommy, your #1 fan)

3.26.19 These Simple Days

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“I love this life. I feel like I am always catching my breath and saying, ‘Oh! Will you look at that?’ … bearing witness to the joy I find in seeing the extraordinary in ordinary life.” –  Harold Feinstein
By many standards, anyone on the outside of my life might call our Spring Break a bit of a fail. To be honest … I feel like I, myself would have called it one even yesterday. We have family in North Carolina, Kansas, and Colorado. Ordinarily … we’d be going to see them … but we are going nowhere – fast. Instead, due to conflicting work schedules, and a budget needed more for home repairs than exotic destinations – we are filling our days in less exciting ways than we usually might.

This is not to say that I am not being productive. I mean, when else might I conquer the post office, my son’s haircut, and scheduling vet appointments, eye doctor appointments, and a chunk of laundry all in the same day? Yeah, not super brag worthy, I’m aware … but then, there are the beautiful, unexpected ordinaries that I might be too busy to notice if I were elsewhere. Here are just a few:

I was able to have uninterrupted lunch with a friend (okay my husband called once and my kids called once, but only two interruptions is less than five so we’ll estimate it at zero).

My son and daughter invented a game with our Great Pyrenees puppy where they literally (dog included) play hide-and-seek tag around the house.

A former student saw me in a coffee shop window and stopped in just to give me a hug.

My kids have had playdates with besties they never have a chance to just be with.

My husband and I took a walk, led by our two beast-sized dogs who gain fame like a puppy parade.

We visited our cousins and I was able to see my son be the “big boy” my nephew looks up to with wonder.

My cat has helped me with more laundry than any other member of my family.

I have slept in for two days straight!

Today I watched my son and daughter at the park laughing in the sunset with wind-kissed faces.

Last night my son and I snuggled up for a superhero movie while downstairs, my daughter and her daddy watched a dance film.

I was able to catch up with far-away friends through phone calls, sharing pictures I’d meant to send, and writing letters.

It is only day two of this little break, and already I wish I had more time … more time to watch, and memorize, and play. My day may not be extraordinary by any measure, but isn’t it the details we end up clinging to? I intend to spend every last minute paying close attention to the ordinary I’m blessed to have the time to appreciate in these simple days.

I pray you’re blessed with a few of your own.

Elle

 

2.6.19 Morning

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This morning my son woke up my daughter who had come into my bed sometime before and fallen back asleep, “Wake up, I need you to play a game.” 

“What game?” 

“It doesn’t matter, as long as you play with me. Leave mom sleep, but I want to play with you.” 

“Well then, you’ll have to carry me,” she said groggily. 

“Ugh,” he grumbled.

“Carry me or I can’t go,” she insisted.

“Fine, get on my back,” he replied dutifully turning around. 

“Nope, this way,” she said, curling her legs up for him to scoop her. “But don’t drop me!” 

“I’m not gonna drop you,” he said, shifting to get a better hold. “If anything, I’ll go down too.” 

After putting her down she ran back to me, “I just needed a hug.” I gave her a tight snuggle. And waiting behind her, was him. “I just need a hug too.” I held on for as tightly as he’d let me. 

1.21.19 Today’s Yesterday

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“Is solace anywhere more comforting than in the arms of a sister?”

It has been a hard week, to say the very least. There have been a bevy of emotional ups and downs, and at the end of it all … I was utterly exhausted. Usually, my day consists of waking up and dashing from one activity to the next. As awful as it is to admit, I usually need to think hard when someone says, “What’d you do yesterday?” But today’s yesterday is the exception.

Yesterday, after family coming and family going and hellos that came for goodbyes, my sister stayed. She  lives exactly 829 miles away, and it takes 13 hours and 29 minutes to get from one of our doorsteps to the other. We do not get to spend Sundays together, except for yesterday. Here for less than ideal circumstances and the passing of our grandmother (maybe the greatest lady who ever lived), we were granted an impromptu two days of “us.”

Emotionally (but never conversationally) spent, we sat in my bed for over two hours. We solved at least half of all the world’s problems. And mostly, we just rested and refueled one another’s emptiness. My sister is one of the only people who is allowed to see me in any stage, shape, or form of who I am at any given moment. She is the keeper of my secrets … the focus of my memories … and the protector to my fears. There isn’t a whole lot that cannot be solved by a day spent doing “nothing” with her … because her nothing is a whole lot more than something with anyone else.

Be grateful if you have a sister. If not … I’ll try to be one to you, as I’m pretty sure I’ve had the best training from the greatest example out there.

Elle

 

1.14.19 Not Now

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Today I lost my grandmother. And while I know each person’s pain is their own, this feels quite acute … as if a particular piece of my childhood-self, somehow, can’t fathom her world without her. Yesterday was a long goodbye, and today I missed her final breath by two minutes. Just two. I wouldn’t have wanted her to stay, but it was my turn to be the brave one. In leaving, it’s almost as if she was saying, “No, no little girl. This moment isn’t yours to bear.” And yet facing a host of tomorrows without her seems somewhat indomitable if I’m being honest.

After leaving, I wasn’t ready. So I stayed. I went to the lake and closed my eyes against the rare, January sunshine. I went to the park and swung in the swing she always sat in … second from the right. I bought sweets at the candy store. I ran all the way up the church steps … just to run right back down. Then I got my nails painted red – her favorite, flashy color.

I tried grandma, to have a day “bumming” around … just the way you’d like it. I smiled. I remembered. I played. And I know where you are. And I’m happy for you … but here’s what I’m feeling just the same.

 

There is an art to saying goodbye

to orchestrating a memory that you know will be your last

only nothing seems good enough

or long enough

because although you may have shared a million laughs

it seems a million and one …

would have been the perfect number

Maybe I could have been satisfied with just one more

if one more had been allowed

but then again

maybe not

In coming my memory flickered like moving pictures

each and every one starring that jubilant face,

but in going, I fear might fade

like the sound of a voice in the echo

like the shade of the eye I can’t catch

like the difference between holding a hand

and having yours held in return 

the coming

of going

hurts strong

There is an art to saying goodbye

and it would seem, I am no master

There are too many colors and

untidy emotions that don’t quite match

In a medium of tears and memories

of the words I’d planned to say

of the prayers I meant to pray

and moments I may have missed 

without knowing

I tried so hard

to paint pictures that would last

but now there is only beauty 

in retrospect

You’d think I’d have seen it coming –

but who looks for what they don’t want to see? 

Who studies what they never wish to know?

Who accepts what they’ve practiced to deny? 

There is an art to saying goodbye

and I’m sure 

somewhere

it is done prettily 

with noble tears

and released fears

and flower-petal softness

But art is only a representation of the parts we 

want

to remember

and today

I want then

not now

I’ll love you forever. Thank you for being you, so I could enjoy this life in a way I couldn’t ever pursue without the gift of eternal optimism, and relentless joy you showed me how to own.

I pray this poem helps you too, my readers, however you are hurting from whomever you’ve lost. There is an art to saying goodbye … and maybe the key to being the best artist … is to never say it at all.

Elle

12.7.18 One Heartbeat at a Time

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“My father didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” C.B. Kelland

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I always tell people that I don’t believe in problems … I believe in solutions … but sometimes I am confronted with a life-dealt situation that seems  impossibly solution less. This is a picture of my husband Matthew, and his hero, my father-in-law, Pete. I met Pete over seventeen years ago, as a freshman in college who was head-over-heels for his son. I remember it clearer than yesterday … funny how some memories imprint.

Matthew was going to go home for the weekend and his parents were coming to get him. At the time we were “friends,” but I had ambitious hopes for more, and Matthew’s attention toward me led me to believe he might as well. I remember Matthew asked me to stop by his dorm to say hi to his parents. They were packing up his bags into the trunk of their car when they turned to meet me with open smiles and firm handshakes. I didn’t know it at the time, but Matthew said to me once that as they drove away, his dad said, “Well, I don’t think that’s the last we’ll see of her.”

I love him for having said it. Because I’m pretty sure that there is no opinion in the world that my husband values over that of his daddy … and if I hadn’t gained approval that day, I’m not sure that I’d even be a part of Matthew’s story, let alone its leading lady.

The great thing (in my experience at least) about falling in love with someone, is that you get a whole other family, and after fourteen years of marriage, that is what Pete and Peg (my angel mother-in-law) are to me. They are family. They are not in-laws, they are not extensions of family. They are family – pure and true. We have built a life on shared experiences: vacations, holidays, parties, gifts, jokes, pictures, traditions … and now … diagnoses. Pete-the-Invincible, was diagnosed with Ataxia, a rare degenerative disease of the nervous system. As if that wasn’t challenging enough in the last ten years, he now battles Multiple System Atrophy as well.

It is my formed opinion, that there is a great lack of men of integrity in this world. I cannot watch the news for two consecutive minutes without thinking so … and yet I was blessed to not only come from a man of integrity (my own dad) or marry one, but also see my father-in-law continue to raise the bar of what it means. It is quite something to witness a man of increasing virtue when he is continually faced with having to reintroduce himself to a new version of his no-longer-working body. But, again and again, from cane, to walker, to wheelchair – Pete continues to convince Matthew and myself that he may just be some secret kind of superhero.

My husband and I are in the stage of life where days pass without our having said more than a few sentences to one another. We are busy, sometimes involuntarily so. We have jobs, and kids, and commitments, and to do lists that are ever-so-impossibly long. And some days, if I’m being honest – I take it out on Matthew. I resent not having time with him when he is the axis point of my life. It is ironically impractical to lose patience with and have no time for the person I want to be with more than anything. And in that way, in those times – I fail.

Then I look at my mother-in-law … at her ability to love in the most flawless way. Her hands are servant hands. Her mind is their shared bank of memories. Her heart is steadied by the realities of love’s legacy before her. And she carries on. Impossible as tomorrow may seem, she faces each sunrise bravely, with the gentle touch of a warrior.

And I am ashamed.

I am ashamed that I struggle in these … the best and strongest days of our lives, to love her son the way he deserves to be loved – selflessly, regardless of the amount of time we do or don’t have each day to show it. I have him. We have now. And by their example, I am confident in how to build this love story of ours … just like his parents … one heartbeat at a time.

Walk, wheel, crawl, or cry out to the one you love the most. Don’t leave anything until tomorrow.

Elle

P.S. This holiday season, please consider a donation to the further research of curing Ataxia.

https://ataxia.org

11.27.18 A Name Worth Speaking

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I only had a minute, but I called her – that’s the not-so-generous way time is with me. She only had a minute, but she answered – the same gift of time she didn’t have to spare. But we talked. And it mattered, because in the few minutes we shared, me hearing her voice and her hearing mine, she told me a story.

“I just got through talking to the neighbor,” she said.

“Anything wrong?”

“Yes, actually.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Her mother died. It wasn’t very expected, but the way of it was powerful,” she went on. “Apparently, her mother had fallen, and being frail already, it was a decline enough to go on hospice.”

“That’s sad,” I said, imagining my own grandmother.

“It is, but then something amazing happened,” she went on. “I guess the family was all there, just visiting, and they were discussing nothing in particular when a chaplain came to ask if they wanted to pray. They said yes and right as the prayer started, her mother took one big breath … and was gone.”

“Just like that?” I asked.

“Just like that.”

“Wow,” I sat, momentarily struck by the beauty of it all.

“I know,” my mom said.

And she did.

To imagine that on the breath of a prayer, you can cross unfathomable distance. Your spirit and the doors of heaven meeting one another within the fraction of a whisper. To inhale here, and then exhale in exhalation ten million light years away. What a journey from breath to breath. What an assembly, with words spoken over you in intercession, to words ushered to you, entering you into eternity. What a journey.

This story, no, this reality, gave me pause in more ways than one, and I am honored that even in our trite “two minutes,” my mom offered me the gift of this telling. The truth is we really don’t know what lies between one breath and another. There is no “looking ahead” at the Author of Life’s chapter of your tale. And it makes you think doesn’t it? About what really matters one breath between another – and whether I’m using the breath within this very moment to compliment or curse, to speak or to listen, to drive away, or draw near. There may be nothing riding on a breath … or there may be everything.

The author Bansky once said, “… they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.” And if this is true, then I think it matters so much more to me that the coming of my second death is far removed from the first. I want to live a life worthy of the memory of a name worth speaking again, and again, long after my dust has settled. Don’t you?

May each of your next breaths count.

Elle

11.21.18 Happy Thanks-Living

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“I think I’ll move to Australia.”

Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

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Home Depot – maybe not the most romantic of dates, I’ll grant you that, but necessary … oh, so necessary! We’ve been living with a leaky freezer for way too long. Our stove had been acting up. Our sink has been dripping. It was beyond time for some changes. More money and a whole lot more than we came for later, we left … giddy for the installs, but a bit punch-drunk from the butterflies soaring out of our now-empty wallet.

Fast forward three days … exactly four more days BEFORE the new refrigerator was scheduled to be installed and yeah – that is where this sordid tale of woe begins. I got home at about five-thirty, excited to settle myself and my cold into a cup of something warm and write. Then my son said, “Eww. Why is the floor all wet?” Sure enough, the rug by the stove was soaked … and so was the tile by the refrigerator … and the dining room, all the way to the library. I went downstairs and the concrete was slick with water. The clocks were all flashing like the power had gone out, and boxes of photographs were sitting pretty in puddles.

Wearing a ballerina tulle skirt, I immediately started emptying boxes and putting the photographs in drier areas to sort through later. Wrapping paper was matted down wet and stuck to the floor … past the pictures, I didn’t know where to start. I called my angel neighbors as my husband wasn’t home from work yet, and one of them came over and suggested I empty my hutch, my curio cabinet, and that we move the piano as all three are made out of wood and sitting on carpet that is more like sponge at this point.

Dismantling the furniture, he heroically pushed it all to safer ground. When my husband came home, it was a bit of a war zone. I had spread every beach towel and bath towel I could across the floor and was doing a soggy, slow dance across them all to sop up the water. Apparently somehow our water spout had activated and literally flooded the first floor and basement. Our freezer since re-froze everything into a cascade of icicles which are somehow less charming when dangling off of a frozen pizza box than when you adore them in nature.

My husband and I called my dad, Mr. Fix-it, who (with my mom) unhelpfully live down south. Still, he was able to talk us off the ledge to figure out our next steps. Towels. Shop Vacuum. Fans. Stat! He also suggested we turn the water valve off but … no surprise there because why wouldn’t it happen to us … the valve was calcified solid and turning it would risk breaking it. My dad said to leave it until the new refrigerator instal comes Saturday because, “They have quick ways to fix it, and you two will just break it.” True. Sad. But true.

At 10:30 I was headed to Walmart to buy fans, and seeking pity telling my woes to my sweet in-laws who lived out west. In all honesty they were probably thanking their stars we were so many states away so they couldn’t be called in for reinforcements as they too are very handy. Sometimes I wonder how we could both have such amazingly handy parents and neither be capable of doing anything and then I realize, it’s because they could do everything, so we never had to learn! Mistake number one!

About three hundred and fifty dollars later I had new kitchen rugs, two purple box fans (because if I’m gonna have to look at them they might as well be purple), two air purifiers (from the dust we were kicking up and sneezing from), and three humidifiers for our rooms because did I mention we have colds here?

And so … our house is a hum of electrical devices, my dryer is ready to go on strike from load after load of towels, and I am taking a moment to tell you about it because … you guessed it … I need more pity. Just kidding. I am actually supremely grateful; it could have been SO much worse. Last year we were hosting Thanksgiving, this year we aren’t. The flood could have been broken pipes instead of a refrigerator we are already replacing. My kids get to sort through a million games from the basement they forgot they owned. I get to nostalgically sort through photos I haven’t looked at in ten years. True we’re tired and our pocket book is a little worse for the wear, but I choose to look at it as Thanks-living. We just had a dose of life tossed upon us, true, but we have more than we could ever ask for simply by realizing we aren’t facing the struggle alone. I hope you too realize that … wherever you are and whatever you’re facing, you are not alone. That is one thing my writing has taught me … we are all connected through shared stories, experiences, and even woes. I am so very blessed to have you, my readers, to turn to.

Elle

“Some days are like that, even in Australia.” 

Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Trepidatious Hearts 9.30.18

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“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.” – Douglas MacArthur

I am a little anxious writing tonight because I so desperately want to get this right. For the past few weeks I have been confronted with a tangle of thoughts and quotes and words and perspectives that have all built to a feeling to speak … I’m still not sure I know exactly what to say, but I can’t ignore the itch to try, and I pray something will come that is worthy of sharing, worthy of feeling and passing on.

I have been loving a song lately called “Charlie Boy,” by The Lumineers. It is about a young man feeling compelled by the speech of J.F.K. to enter into the war, and to fight for something bigger than himself – freedom. And as such, it is about a mother who is forced to accept his decision to fight, and ultimately, to die. The lyrics sing to her, “… don’t hang your head, love should make you feel goodIn uniform you raised a man, who volunteered to stand.” Based on of a true story, I wonder how many brave young men and women have heeded a call I consistently choose to ignore. I crave safety, not the price of it. I yearn to be protected, not defend myself. Having children has only deepened this yearning for sanctuary, I think because I want to offer my son and daughter a promise that’s not mine to give – that they’re always going to be okay.

When my son was five and in kindergarten the Sandy Hook shooting happened. As a teacher, I always knew the threat was real, but when I had a son in a school, and I wasn’t with him – something shifted in me that has perpetually remained unaltered. I’ll never forget the months of shaking hands when I hugged him goodbye and sent him off to class … the way I looked back at the locked door thinking it wasn’t safe enough … the way I questioned the administration about the how they planned to increase the security measures of a small private school. Nothing seemed right for a long time, and every afternoon, when I picked him up, I realized that I’d release a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding. It’s the same feeling I now have when I read accounts of families sold into slavery, of the Holocaust, of human trafficking  … to me they are all tales of mothers being taken from their children. And I can’t read stories as impartial accounts of history anymore, because all I hear is the injustice of a mother’s broken heart, and the empathy in me rises so that I can hardly breathe.

There is something about my son, my daughter, that have made objectivity impossible. I can no longer look at a situation apart from them, because they are my own precious version of gravity, holding my identity in this time and space in history. And I wish – I wish with every fiber of my being, that the world could understand this love … because if it could, I really believe things would be better. I’m reading an amazing book called Circus Mirandus, and in it, there is a section where a magician offers a little boy an illusion to see anything he wishes to see, as long as he understands it cannot be real. The boy wishes to see his father home from war, and in the illusion, the boy’s mother says something to him that absolutely wrecks me … and I found myself wishing, beyond all wishes, that it wasn’t an illusion, that it wasn’t a beautiful part of a beautiful story, because it is so very acutely the way I believe things should be.

“The war ended all at once and very calmly. It was as if, between one moment and the next, all the mothers of all the soldiers in the world had checked their clocks and realized that their children had been out playing for too long … The soldiers shook hands with one another and wished one another well. Then they raced back to their mothers or to their wives and sons.” – Cassie Beasley

And can’t you just see it? Can’t you see all the misunderstandings, the judgements, the hatred erased as if it were one big confusing game that has just gone on too long? Can’t you picture soldiers, gang members, politicians, and rivals shaking their heads in sudden confusion, bewildered at the mistakes they didn’t ever intend to go that far? If only everyone heard their mothers’ voices calling them back to themselves. If only everyone heard their father calling them home.

What a world we could promise our children.

What peace our trepidatious hearts could feel.