Family, friendships

a place found

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Most times, when a void occupies a place in my life; it sits empty and hollow.  Bad things hover on its edges; thoughts of insecurity, anger and sadness hope to fill the empty space.  My tendency is to venture into the void to dwell; to remain in its shadows.

It is when I let my expectations go that I gain unexpected joys.

This morning I had, unknowingly, jogged past my destination; lost in thought.  When the realization registered I was overcome with happiness.  It is a chore for me to awaken, early in the dark hours of the morning, to get some form of exercise for myself.  Initially the expectation had been to lose weight; to regain the body image of years before birthing three boys.

But in the year or so that I have forced myself outdoors; it was only today that the true benefit was realized.  My early morning  run is my time to sort through my dark and jumbled thoughts; to clear my mind.  The end had arrived too soon and I finally was experiencing the adrenaline of a “runner’s high.”

I no longer jogged for vanity; I jogged for sanity.

I came to work and stared at our office entryway.  The paint brushes and trays remained from our additional accent color on our office wall.  The small Christmas tree sat upon a dusty table.  The banker boxes leaned against the wall.

The hubs found me sifting through files, storing away the years to make room.  I had let my worries about the future go; concentrating on the present.   Somehow my perspective had changed and I racked my brain for answers; wondering How?  When?  Why now?  What had changed?

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I have finally taken ownership of my life circumstances and claim them as my own.

I held onto the Yellowstone National Park reservation; the one I knew I had to let go of due to a scheduling conflict with my sons’ activities.  I had made the reservation a year in advance; securing a coveted area at an enviable savings.  I had been looking forward to this vacation and was shocked when the middle son shared that his favorite memories from our family excursions were our road trips in our car.  The car?  I had realized my favorite memories of trips were always in the journey and spontaneous stops along the way.  To hear the teenager say he enjoyed the car had brought unexpected tears.

As I sadly and regrettably cancelled our reservation with the ranger; she reminded me what great amenities I had given up.  But, as a consolation prize, she then proceeded to instruct me on how to get the better and preferred room for the same price as the one I had given up; for 2017.   The information she passed along was priceless and I profusely thanked her.  I will get to this destination next year with better amenities.

In letting this go; something unexpectedly filled the void.  Our schedule opened up to share the fiftieth anniversary milestone with my in-laws and family.  The hubs who refused to take a cruise finally relented; at his mother’s request.  The years are rapidly flying by and opportunities for our sons to vacation with their grandparents and aunt’s family will soon be few and far between.

Friends have come and friends have gone.  In letting relationships run their course, for lack of reciprocity,  the unspoken words no longer wound me.   I, the only child, have been fortunate to have friends that continue to walk alongside as young as age four; who’ve shared my various milestones, both good and bad.  We camp together, our high school kids are in classes together, we meet in various cities and quickly remember the ties that bind.

I assumed I had no room for others, after recently feeling disappointment, but I had been wrong.  In the void that was left; my capacity to feel connections with others was rekindled and surprising.    We have boated on lakes, sat in bleachers and homes eating cookies and cakes and served in programs that matter.   This was freeing.

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I am coming to terms with my new stage in parenting; the letting go.  I am not the end-all, be-all, person for my children any longer and to be a good mother, I need to pursue things that bring me happiness.   I feel an affinity to cacti and how they sustain harsh climes and weather systems and remain standing tall.  They fill my entryway.

I have rediscovered the joy of growing all things green.  It is not the short-lasting showy blooms that bring beauty to my yard.  It is the variegated leaves, trees and shrubs, that are present all year long, that fill in my canvas; the textures and varying heights that bring interest and pleasing diversity to my outdoor landscape.

It is the friends that remain constant, with diverse backgrounds and varying views, that fill my life’s stages.  I can finally look past what’s popular and expected; to create my own canvas and fill in my open spaces.

The books pile upon my nightstand and I am devouring them.  The fifth grader snuggles nearby with his own blanket; the avid reader reawakened as his stack grows.  My thirst for reading is currently unquenched and with that in mind; I have let go of my expectations of the various social dynamics in our ever-changing bookclub.   I focus on the books; the words that have always brought me comfort and escape.  With or without  these women, I would still be reading them.

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It is how people choose to deal with one another; with authenticity and transparency; that matter the most. 

I am grateful for the people in my life who value these same things, who keep things confidential and will speak their words clear and true.  I repeat this often to remind myself; to not get complacent or get stuck in the void.   I have found meaningful relationships with my husband, my family and friends (old and new).

They sustain me in this space.  They continually give me grace.  In their lives they grant me a place.

There’s a spanner in the works, you know
You gotta step up your game to make it to the top
So go

Gotta little competition now
You’re going to find it hard to cope with living on your own now
Oh oh, oh oh

Let’s make this happen, girl
You gotta show the world that something good can work
And it can work for you
And you know that it will

Let’s get this started girl
We’re moving up, we’re moving up
It’s been a lot to change
But you will always get what you want

Took a little time to make it a little better
It’s only going out, just one thing then another
You know, you know

Took a little time to make it a little better,
It’s only going out, just one thing then another
You know, you know

Let’s make this happen, girl
You gotta show the world that something good can work
And it can work for you
And you know that it will

Let’s get this started girl
We’re moving up, we’re moving up
It’s been a lot to change
But you will always get what you want ~ Two Door Cinema Club, 2009.

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Uncategorized

my in-between place

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There are those who seek and those who settle.  And those of us in-between.

For years I stared at the barren space adjacent to my front walkway.  Some years I planted annuals that fit my whim.  Other years I transplanted items from neighbors or family members; unsure what to do with them.  Each weekend my neighbor cultivates the shared plantar between our front yards, fussing and pruning.  Every year-or-so the yard landscape changes; concrete plantars re-paved, outdoor light fixtures removed and added.  I have watched various appliances come and go, large yard renovations constructed and indoor items redecorated.  Our homes are mirror images of one another and ours has always remained the same; original to the builder’s plan.  You would never believe our houses are the same.

Our neighbors had been surprised, last weekend, to find me in our front yard digging through dirt.  They peered through the beautiful flowers and trees, between our homes, to the stark barren landscape of my yard and splotchy green grass.  I grinned as their curiosity got the better of them and chimed that my yard could not possibly compete with the beautiful landscaping, the wife, maintained.  In prior plantings I had hoped to create a vignette to complement my neighbor’s meticulous garden; always to no avail.  None of my entry walkway ideas remained for long; my desire easily distracted to the messy and neglected things indoors.  When the hubs turned off the water and sprinkler systems to maintain our state’s drought mandate, all things wilted away and returned to the earth.  My neighbors continued to water their gardens and washed their vehicles.

I knew this time, my inspired planting was different.  This one was sustainable.  I finally found what I’ve sought for so long.

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Although I’ve been on this mental journey for quite some time, this last year finally brought me some answers; ones that I would’ve known all along if I had listened and trusted myself.

I had spent quality time hiking local mountain trails with my family of five.  The recommendation to have breakfast on a mountain peak dissolved when we learned the lift was only open on weekends.  The one local cafe to eat would not open for forty-five minutes.  The five of us were hungry and knew there was a long hike ahead but, at the hubs’ urging, we pushed forward anyway.  We hiked-in for 2.5 hours before our grumbling stomachs urged us to turn back.   All we had with us was water; erroneously thinking we would have a large breakfast at the summit and a local mart to purchase granola bars.  When all of our options dissipitated in the cool mountain air, we trudged on and told ourselves we wouldn’t hike in very far.

But on this day, as we improvised and returned for dinner in the quaint, college village nearby, I shared my desire to visit a local garden and library.  The hubs and sons gave me blank stares and, knowingly, I heard the words none of them were saying.  This was not their thing but they knew I always liked doing family outings together.  When the hubs gently suggested I should go on my own, he hadn’t really considered that I would do it.  But I had known that this was something I would do, solo, and, with my family’s silent blessing, I planned my outing for the following day.  I am responsible for my own happiness.

I found myself on the streets I traveled often where my extended family lives.  During college summers I lived with my late cousin and his family, working in a local hospital and then the university research lab during my four undergraduate years.  I realized that I knew this area more than my childhood home as I drove by the gated Mediterranean and Colonial style mansions with the large expanses of manicured lawns and entryways.   In my mind I had returned to this place to quietly reflect on the Chinese and Asian themed gardens; to find inspiration in their beauty and walk the paths to sort through the various thoughts and ideas in my mind.  No one knew me here and, amidst the tourists and visitors; I noted there weren’t any kids my own sons’ ages.

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I was comfortable being alone.  I quietly ate my Chinese lunch overlooking the bridge; listening to the different languages being spoken all around me.

The next day as I roamed nurseries, the plants I thought I’d be choosing weren’t the ones I had gravitated towards.  I had returned home to stare at the plants in my backyard and saw the theme I hadn’t realized I was trying to create in my house and outdoors.  I love all things spherical and instead of the bonzai trees or cherry blossoms, it had been the prickly golden barrel cacti in the desert gardens that had beckoned to me.  I stood before the succulent section picking, and being picked and poked, by the various drought resistant plants that withstand high heat and low water.

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I chatted with my neighbors.  I realized I had no desire to compete with the artful garden that graced both of our homes’ front yards.    I wished to complement it with simplicity to withstand our drought.  I felt an affinity to the lone cactus in hostile weather and infertile soil; reaching for the sky. The golden barrels were prickly on the outside but they were survivors and withstood the harsh elements.  For the woman who spends most of her time indoors and toiling with trees and vegetables in the backyard, this was the perfect solution and fit all of my parameters.   This was sustainable.

Sustainability had been the answer I had searched for all along.

I sat in the crowded Asian gardens teeming with people and found myself walking the paths in the reverse direction.  I felt no refuge or beauty in the crowded, popular areas.  Instead I walked the hilly, curvy paths; past the formal gardens of herbs and roses and into the stark and silent beauty of the cacti.  I sat amongst the aloe vera plants amazed that, beneath their prickly and bony exteriors, lie the balm for burns and dryness afflicting humans’ outer skin.

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We, humans,  are well-kept and appear approachable on the outside; but most are brittle and hardened on the inside.

In these past few years I’ve circled back to the young girl I used to be; the one without expectations.  It was at this time that I began to collect circular globes and items that serve as decor within my home.  The corniness of the whole idea made me laugh out loud.  Who knew I’d be considering my life staring at a cactus; once again finding my passion, my value and my spirit?  This wasn’t quite the beauty I had envisioned.

My former expectations of success were not mentally or physically sustainable.  I sought value in the wrong places and settled in circumstances that were within my control.   It is a blessing to have others to walk alongside; supportive and full of encouragement.  I am responsible for my own happiness. 

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I existed in my in-between place; transitioning from one phase of life into another but never really taking stock of what I needed to simply be happy in my own prickly skin.  It wasn’t the lithe physique, fancy appliances or luxury cars; nor the full resume of degrees, titles or bank accounts.  We must all find our own happiness within and follow it.  To seek beauty, speak our own truths and have meaningful relationships (with family, with friends) and to follow where the path leads us.

It had been a conversation with my late cousin’s widow that made me finally see.  After being offered severance pay in the successful career she held for four decades, surviving the loss of her husband and watching her kids leave the nest and begin their own families; she sought to do what she loved best.  She didn’t sit around and wait for opportunities to find her; she sought them.  It was in these gardens that she offered to volunteer her time and share the beauty of this place.  Her love language is in service; just like my own.  It was why I had returned here, on my own time schedule, so I could explore the areas I wanted to follow without worrying or catering to anyone else.

For two days I tirelessly worked outdoors gardening.   Our own backyard represents the yards from our childhood; the sago palm from my in-laws, the trumpet vine from my late cousin, the rhododendron from another cousin.    The hubs handed me a gift card to splurge on a rose tree.  The fruit trees and vegetable gardens reflect the can do, independent spirit of both sets of parents; both wishing to go off-grid.  There is joy in watching things grow and blossom.    The things we’ve planted actually have a story or history; a purpose for why it is there: my husband’s obsession with horse radish, my sons’ desire for all things citrus.

I have settled into our home; no longer seeking greener, verdant pastures and in-between places.  Our landscape reflects who lives here now; simple and sustainable for many years to come.   I find beauty and inspiration in the place that matters.  The rain continues to come down as I sit at my window indoors; contentedly watching my gardens and sons grow.

 

Family

the rests

My thoughts have been all over the place in this past month.  I had countless unpublished drafts as I sifted and sorted, processing the experiences in the month of March.  I am in a changing season.  Seemingly random thoughts imprinted on my brain and there was no making sense of it all.  Maybe, I thought, this is what pre-menopause is like?  I was scattered.

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I found myself crying in a park over spilled egg dye.  My days of mothering young sons came to a close as I sat for three hours on a sunny Saturday; mourning this.

I sat with a dear friend; wondering why the drugs were working against her body.  Weren’t they supposed to help her?   Her son needs her at home.

I simmered below the surface, as I observed people maneuver and work to manipulate their way with hidden agendas, wondering at their motivations.

I contemplated aging and mortality; things that always seemed to be in the distance as I struggle to come to terms with my changing physical capabilities.  When the bff shared the story of the dad falling out of the treehouse with no chance of ever walking again; I was reminded to not take life for granted.

I clenched teeth as I analyzed numbers; wondering how to leverage them.  I was lost in paperwork and more paperwork with taxes, both income and property, looming just around the corner.

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I had mistakenly thought life would become clearer as I aged.  And easier.  As a high schooler entering into college, my path had seemed clear and I followed it, like an excellent sheep.  And the further I went, the more I questioned. The hubs threw a wrench in the works; entering my life and unknowingly capturing my heart.  Soon the goals were career.  Then purchasing a home.  Starting a family.  Pet ownership.  It all fell into line.

The goals began to change and I transferred my desires onto my children.  I volunteered in various pursuits and sought validation.  But I am left with the same confused feeling.  Wasn’t life supposed to be clear by now?

Left with a bunch of unanswered questions, I retreated into myself.  At a recent concert festival I heard the adjudicator’s advice to the wind ensemble.  The students were so focused on the musical notes that they had not given the respect due to the silences in-between the notes; the rests.

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My own mind was stuck on discordant chords as I plowed ahead in my life’s musical score.  I was too busy playing notes and focusing on the next bar that I had ignored the moments of silence; the ones that give pause for reflection.  In giving these quiet moments the attention they were due; they would accentuate the dynamic moments in the music and enhance the lyrical composition.  My symphony was stuck on repeat.  I became complacent.  I was falling in line; as in William Deresiewicz’ book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.

I had forgotten how to think for myself.

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I sought refuge in books; finally completing two of them, just because.  I sought beauty in unlikely places; hiking to a nearby park and sitting at a bench for three hours.  I watched young families stroll along the paths and the tears began anew.  I had cried over spilled egg dye because my sons had not wanted to color eggs on my timeline.  I was accustomed to setting our family schedule and my boys had wanted to color eggs.  But with thirty minutes notice they were unwilling to leave the glowing LCD screens of the den.  The hubs retorted they were busy and when I replied that they could color eggs without me; he had unceremoniously dumped the nine colors of dye down our sink.  I had spent nearly an hour boiling, cooling and preparing for this activity.  I had only requested a small amount of family time on our Easter weekend.  Quality time and acts of service are the two love languages, from Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, that matter to me the most.

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Frustrated I had donned workout clothes and promptly trailblazed to my park of refuge.  I ignored the cell phone and sat in silence.  In my solitude the hard truth was that I had relied on my family to bring me happiness on my terms.  It was not fair for me to put that on them.

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I am responsible for my own happiness.

This letting go is hard; the acknowledging of a changing season.  I have been conditioned, as a mother, to find happiness in my children’s pursuits.  But it is not how they perform, look or what they will become that I should derive validation and worth.   No longer am I the director or composer.  I must affirm their desires and allow them opportunities to speak their own words.  I do not need to fill their silences with my own thoughts and sentences.  I must learn to accept their wishes and allow them to grow away.

I don’t want them to fall in line and that was exactly how I was parenting them.

I take a lot for granted.  I thought of my girlfriend who is away from her son; rehabilitating for her own health and the father who has lost the ability of mobility.  I watched the ducks waddle by as my husband’s words came to mind, like water off a duck’s back,  as I struggled with personal agendas in the organizations to which I serve.   I remembered the hobbies that brought me pleasure: reading, gardening, hiking and I sat in my uncomfortable silence.  As an only child I am accustomed to being left to my own devices and I knew that I had to take action, for myself.

I stared at the gazebo where a decade earlier, we had celebrated my middle son’s birthday.  In my solitude, I mourned the passage of time.  So many transitions have come and gone and I thought of the women in our bookclub.  They’ve endured separations and divorces, job losses, child losses and friendships forever changed.  There is no going back to those years but we must always put our best foot forward, to progress and learn from our mistakes.  I saw egg hunts of the past and fast forwarded to today.

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I took the time to acknowledge the rests.  I was done being stuck on repeat.  I had to discover how to find my own music once again; my composition had to be my own and no one else’s.  After three hours of mourning and soul searching I no longer could avoid the phone calls.  My sons voiced they wanted me to return home; to share lemonade from the multitude of lemons from their grandparents’ tree.  When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

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The hubs dug out food coloring and allowed the boys to color eggs.  They took pictures of themselves so that I could see that they had not abandoned this idea.  And in these small things of the every day, they let me know that they still wanted to hear me.  They wouldn’t always agree with my words  but they took the time to process them and came to their own conclusions.  They were sorry they hurt my feelings and understood it was my version of family time.   We were learning the art of communicating simply and clearly.

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I continue to evolve.

The clarity is slow in coming and only on a hike did my divergent thoughts begin to coalesce.  The volunteer activities I chose to be involved in, the questions I have continued to ask myself, the books I have been reading, that appeared disjoint;  all lead to the same place.    These pursuits are rekindling the thirst for learning and knowledge.  I sought to grow and discover new things; just as I had as a young girl.  Most of my life I had focused on arriving to my destination in the fastest and most efficient way possible.  I have stepped outside of myself; re-engaging in the larger scope of life.

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As I hiked with my family the hubs reminded me to allow the boys to hike off-trail.  It’s what they enjoy the most in our outdoor adventures; the thrill of exploration.  It was also the same mental journey I was embarking upon.  With no timeline I sighed and let my expectations go.

I seek solace in quiet places of beauty.

I try not to wonder at other people’s motives and let their words and actions flow over me; like water off a duck’s back.

I work hard not to judge my appearance or performance on what I look like and what my body can do.

I seek meaningful relationships and connection with those who reciprocate with hospitality.

I continue to be a work in progress; to model behavior to my family instead of dictating what I expect or want.

But most importantly, I have embraced curiosity and inquisitiveness.  No longer do I feel frustrated that I don’t have answers to my incessant questions.  I push through my complacency and hope to blaze my path, unlike the sheep, to rediscover how to think outside of my box.

I may be poor in wealth but rich in health.

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I take the rests, as I need them.  To reflect.  To take a break.  To heal wounds.  To become stronger.  I am learning to successfully fail and to age well.  I leverage my life experiences to create a broader, dynamic symphony.

 

 

 

 

Family

finding beauty in my own backyard

I sat at the mosaic patio table from years past.

I remembered the day I had wheeled in the surprisingly heavy, wrought iron mosaic table and two chairs.  I wondered if the hubs would notice them when he returned home from work.  Placed beneath the large tree in our starter home, I imagined a garden growing.

The month was March and we had just settled in; the seed starter kits growing heartily.  In December 1998 we had just returned to our home state, after three years at various military installations in the Deep South.  In January, in our one room apartment, I had planted seeds in starter kits in anticipation of finally putting roots down.  We had looked, in earnest, to purchase our first home.

This patio table and chairs, from 1999, have moved with us for seventeen years.

Transplanted to the present, I looked at our backyard; the weeds overtaking everything and the lack of care evident.  Years ago I couldn’t wait to start a garden; to plant myself somewhere permanent after years of moving every six to nine months.   I grabbed my cell and snapped the shot.

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Where had I gone wrong?

There was no beauty.  Our backyard was neglected.  It brought me to the realization that I had found my self-worth in unimportant things, neglecting the one place that is supposed to be my sanctuary; my source of renewal and inspiration. Home.  Most days I see the cracked tile and mirror; the dusty curtains and blinds.  The clutter began to overtake my bedroom, the clothes shoved into drawers of dressers that would not close.  Every few months I de-clutter to make room, but I had never set foot in our backyard; overwhelmed within the four walls of my home.

It was time to engage; to live the life I have because it is limited and I’ve become complacent in it.   My in-laws, visiting at work, stated that our kids were our hobbies.  We didn’t have time for anything or anyone else.

My pursuits have been invested in my children but I have forgotten to invest in myself.

I sat in the sun with my coffee, remembering the gardens of years past and the very first day I sat on this patio set.  We had planted our seeds, transplanted flowers and grew vegetable gardens.  Many days I would spread a blanket out on the grass, my first son in my arms, pointing at clouds in the sky.  The ears of corn would occasionally block my vision, and I happily would photograph the progress of our garden to my husband, half-a-world away.  I journalled the growth of the plants in the five month growing season, with my young son alongside;  the small green seedlings soon towering over his infant body.

I looked up at the sky, once again.  The gardener within was awakening.

I detour160302 pillowed into the home improvement store that is next door to the wholesale warehouse of all goods imaginable.   I gazed at patio sets, globe garden lights and brightly colored patio decor.  The pillow caught my eye and I imagined it in my bedroom amidst the rich hues of burgundy aka Dutch Boy’s Hawaiian cinder.  Thirty minutes later, cushion in-hand, I squinted in the afternoon light and walked back to my car.

For two days I pulled weeds from the ground; the exertion relieving the stress and demands life always brings.  The insidious weeds completely filled my green waste trash container and the slate was clear; ready to be planted anew.

I’m feeling the pull of spring; to move forward.  To progress.

I envisioned dewy flowers and vegetables; gently swaying in the early rays of the morning.  I sneezed as I shoveled weeds taller than my 5 ft. and 3/4 in. frame; the prickly stalks causing me to itch. I leaned heavily upon the hoe; my knees tweaking in protest.  Amidst my discomfort in the waning sun and elongated shadows of dusk, I appreciated the stark beauty in open and empty spaces; ripe for new endeavors and growth.  Uncrowded by weeds I could plant myself firmly to the moment, breathing deeply.  I found my place within my own space once again.

I pondered the thoughts of my in-laws, thinking of my own childhood.   What was wrong with investing time in parenting?  My own parents were uninvolved in my extra-curriculars but allowed me to pursue them.  They had been proud of my accomplishments.  Recently I found myself explaining to a dear friend, WHY, I had always known I would be an involved parent when I had children of my own.   This had been a surprise to my friends and family; that I had changed my path from career to motherhood.    I had naively stated, to my boss, that I would be back four weeks after delivery and had lined-up daycare for my soon-to-be infant son.  It was all planned out.

It had been hard to return to the dream job I held at the time of my eldest’s birth; the co-workers like sisters.  After various job transitions and moves, I had planted myself in a job that utilized my life experience, education and strengths.   I had it all!

Three months later, after learning of another impending deployment for my hubs, I left this position and began my auspicious beginning into motherhood.  There was no manual and I ravenously read parenting books to teach me anything I could glean; joining Mommy and Me classes at the local hospital for guidance.  My own mother had begun to show symptoms of decline.  It would only be three years later, upon her death from other causes, that she would officially be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; the field of study I had pursued.

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My sons usurped all of my time and, to my surprise and guilt, I enjoyed it.  As I planted gardens I realized I was also growing children; my newfound pursuit.  It would be my job to feed their bodies, water them with faith and try to be the sun in their worlds; providing warmth and love.  I would weed out the unsavory things and carry the spade; protective of my seedlings and ready to extricate anything obstructing their growth .  I had spent many hours sitting at the mosaic patio table watching my seedlings grow.

In this season of life my sons are as tall as the corn stalks; two of them towering over me and the third rapidly catching up.  In the busyness of life I stopped tilling the soil and had no time to put in a garden.  But the trees we had planted six years ago continue to grow; even through a statewide drought.  I do not water them yet they still bear fruit; hopeful that my sons are like these trees.  As they grow  older there is less physical labor and more mental work.  The weeds are ever present and I’ve not done my due diligence in keeping the field open and fertile.  Instead, I’ve allowed it to crowd my time and space.  Renewal and inspiration cannot grow here.

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To be the sun for my sons I am learning to sacrifice time; to take care of myself so that I can be a better mother to these boys.

The smell of chlorine fills my nostrils as the pool water clears. The cluttered plastic chairs are stacked and put away.  The empty space beckons.

 

 

 

Family

un-stuck

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Somehow, even though our state has imposed water restrictions due to a severe drought, the weeds continue to grow.  Our garden soil sits fallow and the prickly, tough trunks are the only things green.  They are pervasive and take over the fertile ground; even without watering.

It doesn’t take much for bad seeds to take root; shallow though they are.

What am I going to do about it?  I ask myself this question as I grit my teeth and dig deep; trying to find the motivation within.  I have been lazy in dealing with the weeds that have begun to overtake my daily life.  The school papers and backpacks that sit on tables, untouched.  The dust that collects on the unmounted blinds.  The parachute strings that pin me down; immobilizing ideas wishing to take flight.  The negative thoughts that get stuck in my head; hindering my growth.  My mind sits frozen and non-functioning; waiting for a divining or swooping in of something or someone who will take care of these things for me.   Is believing in goodness and faith enough?

Am I the tree that is stuck in the ground, unwatered and fallow, or am I deeply rooted, reaching for the sun and bearing fruit?

The weeds seem to be overtaking my area and I stand idly, letting them.

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Surprisingly I see the struggling tomato plant.  The seeds from two years before took hold and grew; against all odds.  The fruit trees have flowers, the roots deep enough to tap into the underlying water table.  Weeds do not grow in their shade.  In the smothering heat, somehow, these trees have survived; even with neglect.  The grapevines twine around all things in their path; kids’ big wheels and teeter -totters.

The hubs clawed through the hard earth, seeking the pipes beneath.  He had turned off our sprinkler system due to water restrictions and a leaking sprinkler head in January.  Last week he finally began to troubleshoot and spent countless hours going to and from the home improvement store.  His frustration was palpable.  Why does it matter, I asked him, when we can’t really water anyway?  But he stoically trudged on until, finally, he discovered the source of the leak.

As we re-dug trenches for our drip-hose system I sarcastically commented how we can now water the weeds.  We found ourselves in the heat shoveling and hoeing our soil; the weeds poking and prodding with prickly leaves and thorny spines with the physical defenses that ensure their survival.  Complacency, sarcasm and laziness are self-protecting armor; pervasive and and blocking anything fertile or productive.  I shoveled and pulled weeds with alacrity; my own frustrations bubbling over.  As the sun set our yard trash bin lay full.

Am I stuck or deeply rooted?

The sprinklers turned on; the water efficient drip-system finally working.  The weeds were cleared and only the lone tomato plant and trees remain.  The table needed to be moved for the window blinds to be mounted.  I heard the splinter of wood, breaking of glass and the scoffing laugh from the hubs.  Again I grit my teeth.  There is always something.

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It has been six years since I have walked the aisles of Ikea.  When my sons were younger it was here that I’d meet my other childhood girlfriend with her kids of similar ages.  This was our halfway point and amidst Swedish meatballs and colorful displays; we’d share our summer days.  This place is one of my bff’s faves and I think of her driving almost five hours to visit one.   The hubs and I take in the crowded showrooms, the families hovering and imagining home improvement projects.

I stood undecided in the office area for over an hour as parents fretted about with children, in tow, searching for desks and chairs.  Some were sending off kids to college; others had young children buying their first “big boy” desk.   The hubs impatiently sat in an office chair; waiting for a choice to be made and unhappy about all of it.  I saw the decorative picture of the tree on the wall.

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I am stuck in my life; finding disappointment in circumstances and people.  I can’t see past the weeds and am not bearing fruit.  I am ego centered; letting the prickly thorns pervade my view.  The forest is unseen.  I felt the tears prick my eyes; standing in the crowded showroom.  I stood alone.

I heard the words from earlier, the ones that reminded me that trees have multiple branches.  I thought of my family and friends who occupy those places and who offer me ways to grow.  It is in times like these that we must put ourselves out on a limb.  To look past the details to see the wider view and varying perspectives.  To believe there is more to this life besides ourselves.  My growth does not lie in my own hands.  I must give it up and trust it to something greater than myself, to become un-stuck and grow.  I do not want to be ego-centered.

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It is in letting the ego go that one can bear fruit.

The hubs found me standing there and, hand extended,  I grabbed his proffered, roughened palm.  I thanked him for the broken table and shattered glass as I decided.  My choice was made.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Corinthians 13: 4-7 NIV.

I am deeply rooted and bound by those who love me and those whom I love.  But I often need the reminder; blinded by the weeds of ego: greed, envy, pride and self-importance.  I seek my center outside of myself.  Love was the olive branch I had needed.

Family, School

growth, perspective & finding my rhythm

wpid-img_20150221_171153.jpgLast weekend I looked into our backyard; admiring the lush green growth upon our landscape.  ALL WEEDS.

Tackling my side yard had not been on my to-do list but I found myself digging out shovels, my gardening boots, gloves and our yard trash bin.  The hubs awakened and groaned; finding me outside.  Between the two of us our yard waste bin was full to the brim in one hour.  It had brought me perspective.

Sixteen years ago when the hubs and I bought our first home; we imagined planting our roots.  We had just returned to our home state after three years of military moves and we were excited.  With each apartment we had resided in,  I had always planted something in a container and looked forward to the time when we could settle into a space we could call our very own.  To finally plant seeds into the ground versus a container.

Perspective. noun. the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance” Def. 2b. Merriam-Webster Online. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

Four escrows later I looked upon the weeds and neglected garden.  There are no more impending military moves in our future; having finally reached our destination.    There are no seeds planted in the garden we always dreamed about.  Only weeds.  I set to work to clear the canvas.  I had gotten too caught up in keeping with the Joneses and in doing things for reasons unworthy; forgetting the things that really mattered.  I need to plant seeds once again.

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I am experiencing growth in many ways.

Clearing the weeds I discovered the growth from the stems transplanted from my late cousin’s backyard.  They were huge elephant leaves; a mini tropical jungle hidden in my side yard.  It is literally, a part of my family tree and  I hadn’t been able to see them.  I touched the glossy elephant ear-like leaves ; the tears of joy silently coursing down my cheeks.  It is in gardening that I return to my roots and recall my father stringing rope for string bean vines; my mother clipping her roses and humming happily to herself.  These memories had been buried deep and it has been a long time in finding them.

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I am finally giving voice to the white elephants sitting in the room.   I say the things that are hard; the things people don’t want to hear.  For years I have kept my thoughts to myself; trying to keep the peace. I’ve realized this is my cowardice.  No longer do I rely on others to affirm me.   I am done hiding within the weeds and busywork; losing sight of the forest for the trees.

East of the sun and west of the moon,
We’ll build a dream house of love, dear.
Close to the sun in the day,
Near to the moon at night,
We’ll live in a lovely way, dear,
Sharing our love in the pale moonlight.
Just you and I,

Forever and a day;
Love will not die,
We’ll keep it that way,

Up among the stars we’ll find
A harmony of life to a lovely tune,
East of the sun and west of the moon, dear,
East of the sun and west of the moon.

~ written by Brooks Bowman.  Performed by Diana Krall (1999).

The song above was given as part of a wedding CD from the bff in 2000; serving as her seven month pregnant matron-of-honor.  I had played it in my car stereo while my son kicked within the confines of my ever growing belly.  Recently I had been searching for one of my all-time favorite jazz songs, “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet when I found Diana Krall instead.   As a soon-to-be mother I had become immersed in the Mozart effect; constantly playing classical music to create my baby genius LOL.  But this particular jazz tune had become my fave as I planted our garden; anticipating the arrival of our firstborn son and happily thinking of my newly married bff.  It became my go-to lullaby for all three of my boys. We were creating our dream house; building a life for our growing family.
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As I stared at the YouTube video I turned to find my eldest son sitting beside me.  He had remembered this song too and I glanced at him with watery eyes.   Many nights I had rocked this jaundiced son to sleep in my arms after nursing; singing the words.   Each day I had rejoiced as my seedlings began to grow; nurturing the green stalks and taking pictures weekly to track their progress.  When the hubs left for deployment I had journalled the six months with our son beside the plants, to show his growth and the garden’s progress.  His aircraft carrier was due to return September 11, 2001.  A week later was our son’s first birthday.
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Gardening was forgotten when life got in the way.  We soon moved to our second home, became pregnant with our second son and my mother had called on a daily basis to tell me someone had stolen the deed to her home.  Some days she couldn’t recall who I was.  Two years later we buried her and two years after that, arrived our third son.
I am finding the music once again.
The seeds, planted years before, began to break through the surface after years of busily shuttling kids to and fro to activities that didn’t appeal to them. After years of exposing my children to various team and individual sports and extra-curricular classes I had lost sight of the forest in the trees.   I, the one who played piano at age five through sixteen; the saxophonist who played through college, had never considered this option for my own kids.  The Mozart effect hadn’t made my sons smarter.  It had given them appreciation for music.    Their one true love had been sown long ago and I had been deaf and blind.
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I am now learning to sit still in the darkened room; to give up the various schedules and to-do lists and just listen.  For the sheer joy of it.  Music has given me purpose; to till the soil and allow new things to grow.  It was the perspective I had needed.  I am creating my garden in my house, one sown seed at a time.  I have found my desire to serve once again; to advocate for something important to me.  The music swells within and I finally hear it.  I have found my rhythm.
Family, friendships

verbs

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I pass this sign, in the morning, at the end of my walk.  It is my reminder as I tiredly, but contentedly, make my way home.

“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'” ~Mark 1:3 NIV.

My paths have taken many fits and starts on not through streets.  They are never straight.  I’m far from being prepared.

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This morning, to my surprise, the middle son rose to walk with me and I found myself answering his questions about religion.  His bff is not allowed to celebrate birthdays or holidays in his religious practice.  Why are there so many types of religions? he asked.  Isn’t there just one God?

This past weekend, amidst a flurry of activity, our youngest son received his First Holy Communion (FHC).  In our Catholic faith; this is huge.  His brothers were allowed to altar serve; their father asked to usher.

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Sadly, the birth order effect rings true.  With my eldest son his FHC was planned months in advance.  Four families of friends chose to celebrate this sacrament together, and we held a separate celebration with just our very own.  The middle son’s ceremony was planned six weeks in advance with a plethora of family and friends.  The youngest’s, one week.  Work, vacation and the older boys’ schedules and projects had caused us to forget the passage of time.  The fancy invites were never sent.  Family was notified via Facebook and text.

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A mother’s work is never done.  Doughnuts were requested for the middle son’s “un-birthday.”  I was notified of this the day before and the Krispy Kreme location is nowhere near our home.   I haven’t frequented this place in years!    Later, I sat in the high school parking lot as the eldest auditioned on trumpet.  Parents lined the hallways and I retreated to my car to read Dr. Leman’s book about teens.  When this son slowly and dejectedly made his way, an hour later, I gave him a hug.  He tried his best.  It is out of our hands.

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The RSVPs came in by Friday afternoon for our early Saturday morning ceremony.  Almost our entire family, on both sides, chose to celebrate with us.  My initial reaction of stress became replaced with a sense of calm.  I was humbled.   With short notice my house would be full of family members encouraging my youngest child’s religious faith.

And so I cleaned with alacrity.  For the first time we had a party catered.  We scrubbed and washed and when my blood pressure rose; I breathed deep.  I was thankful to have a house full of people to clean for.

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Each son held a weeding implement, the hubs a mop.  They shooed me out the door, Friday night at 7:30 PM, to spend some time with girlfriends to talk books.  I had not planned on attending our reading discussion group; to prepare my home.  This is my religious faith and it is my responsibility to nurture it.  Mop-in-hand; the hubs made his stance clear.  He chose it, as well.

And with shouts of goodbye my sons and hubs returned to their tasks without a second glance or complaint.  The best gift ever.  I mean, EVER.  On the short drive to bookclub my eyes misted over.  The hubs.  My kids.  They never cease to amaze me.

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The only child who escaped life through books can now live it.  And talk about it.  With friends.  It is easy to get lost in the pages, alone.  It is quite another to walk the pages, to write your own story with people alongside.  It occurs to me that this is why I like to blog vs. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and email.  It is the journal of our days; my own paradise in plain sight.

paradise in plain sight

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The simple pancake  and eggs breakfast.  Dinner amongst mothers.  I think of the quote by Cheryl Lacey Donovan.

“Mother is a verb. It’s something you do. Not just who you are.”

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And so I walk.  It is clear to me now; my purpose.   I am a mother gardening; tending to my children and eradicating weeds.  I hope they choose to grow in their religious faith; for their compasses to point north.  If they get lost on their walks along the way, I hope they will remember to find the compass/ GPS in their hearts.

Their paths.  They will never be straight.  I hope I can give them the tools to make their choice; to get there.

Family

sifting

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I stood in my garage, this morning, keys in hand.  I held two mismatched gardening gloves; about to climb into my vehicle to head off to the nearest home improvement store.    I thought of the rows of cute gardening gloves ready for me to purchase.  Maybe a set of knee pads?  And cute Crocs to fit the part.

And caught myself.  Why did I need to spend money to get motivated? 

This is the question the hubs ALWAYS throws at me when I tell him of my new projects. To motivate myself to get fit I wanted a treadmill.  With new Brooks running shoes.  And the super cute Adidas shorts that would wick moisture away from my legs as I jogged.

This has been a long-standing argument between us; for  years.  Like twelve.

Soon after I birthed my middle son the hubs had bought me a gym membership.  Of my three pregnancies; I gained the most with this son.  The expensive gym membership expired two years later.  Total amount of times I went?  Two.  Why?  Because whenever I left my toddler and infant son with the babysitting service offered; they always got sick.

So I hit the button to automatically close my garage door. I grabbed the mismatched gloves; thrown on the garage table and headed outside. I snatched an old chlorine pool bucket, a spade and a sieve; made for me by my father-in-law.

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The sieve has sat by my garage door for almost six months.  In November, last year, I grew tired of looking at my overgrown begonias in my front entry.  Much to my husband and neighbor’s surprise, I dug all of the plants out; leaving my plantars bare.    I had wanted to plant tulips and other bulbous plants to hibernate through the winter and emerge in the spring.  Upon sharing this with my father-in-law, I was shocked when he created a sieve for me to sift my clumpy dirt.  I always admire his garden.  He thought it would motivate me to create one of my own.

And it sat next to my garage entryway.  I guiltily stared at it as I entered and left our home.  Today, I determined, I was finally going to use it.

I sat and began to dig, making mounds and troughs.  With the spade I placed dirt upon the sieve and sifted it through the mesh.  Rocks and root debris remained on top as the clumps of dirt disintegrated.  The dry topsoil became mixed with the moist loamy soil beneath; changing to a deep brown.  Humus.

noun: the dark organic material in soils, produced by the decomposition of vegetable or animal matter and essential to the fertility of the earth.~www.dictionary.com

The rest of my household remained asleep as I methodically worked through late morning.  The only sounds to be heard were the chirping of birds, the rustle of leaves in the dry wind and the occasional whipping of my outdoor flag.   Ironically, most weekends I long to be outdoors but am usually tied to my computer catching  up on personal email or something PTA related.  Busywork.  To-do lists that need to be done.

But as I sifted through dirt I noted the thoughts in my mind were also shifting; transitioning.  At my neighbor’s suggestion I had grabbed a towel to kneel on.  I was arriving at something important and I only figured it out as I tiredly adjusted my position.

I didn’t need to purchase anything new to self-motivate to garden.

The to-do lists could wait.  The picture organizing, the files and endless emails.  The heaping mound of laundry from work; as well as home.

The only thing I needed to do was carve out time.  Most people carve out time to do important things and this plantar is a low priority.

But I’m discovering that what’s really important in my life, right now, is to carve out time for myself.  I always try to make time for others, doing things that need to get done.  But rare are the moments where I have time just for me.

This does take some sacrifice.  To fit exercise into my days I awake before the sun and work-out in the pre-dawn.   The endorphin high feels great but it is the mental time that is priceless.  It has become routine; a necessity.  It is time I can call my very own.

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Three and a half hours later the weeds and roots became aerated black gold.  Farmers leave land fallow to allow the soil to rest and restore its nutrients to become more fertile.  I have been complacent in recent years.  I am hoping that with my shifting thoughts I can restore my foundation.  To become renewed.  To grow.

The last time I really dug my hands into the Earth was in 2010 when our backyard fence was replaced.  We had dug up the old plants and started new.  Tiny dwarf trees were planted and we watered and weeded consistently.  Some trees sent out long shoots; others remained stunted.  I didn’t have the heart to pull out these sad, bare looking sticks jutting out of the ground.   I continued to water them.

And life got in the way.  Transitions.  Marriage.  Health.  Kids.  Work.  Finances.  A drip system was installed but I had severed a pipe in my digging.  But still the trees stood; continuing to slowly grow.  My lack of gardening mirrored my life.  I had grown tired and could barely think from one day to the next.    I didn’t want to put down roots.  The weeds grew tall.

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Because the one way I had learned to move from place-to-place, as a military wife, was to claim my space.  I always found a Catholic church; longing for the rituals.  The familiarity of the mass is something I know; somewhere I belong.  And I always planted herbs in a container garden.  As I waited for job offers I cultivated my herbs; reminded of my childhood.  My mother always grew wildflowers and rose bushes; my father vegetables.  These were my routines and they sustained me.  It reminded me of where I came from.  My roots.

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When we bought our first home we immediately began to garden.  We put down our roots.  I transplanted a calla lily from my own mother’s yard and it blossomed.  I continued to do this when we moved to our second home.  And our third.  When we moved away and returned I brought a succulent from our rental and it thrives in its container; reminding me of that time in our lives.  The trumpet vine was transplanted from my late cousin’s yard  The rhododendron and azaleas from another cousin.  The large fronds from my in-laws.  The green thumbs come from both of our families.

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But in recent years I have been unsettled.  It is only now, as I sift through dirt, that I realize this.  I fill my bucket with rocks and I stagger to my trash bins; heavy.  My gloved hands are cramped.

I made my way toward the back; sitting in the shade.  It was then that I noticed the trees in our backyard.  I haven’t, truly, looked at them in ages.

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The “dwarf” lemon tree is tall; its branches full of flowers.

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The avocados beckon from the lone branch from my neighbors’ yard.  It is laden with the wrinkled skin of Haas.  My neighbor had apologized for the large branch crossing our fence line and said they would cut it; allowing us to partake of its bounty.  And partake I did.

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But most astonishing was our plum tree; the sad bare trunk I never had the heart to pull.  This tree never grew and it is only in this past fall and winter that it has finally taken root.  There are plenty of green orbs upon its branches.  It is this that makes me smile.

I am grateful.  The roots are deep.

 

 

 

 

Family, friendships

the gardener within

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On Sunday I sat in a church pew staring at my youngest son’s holey (not holy) pumped up kicks.

And instantly felt the pang of regret.  Before spring break my younger boys had asked me for new shoes.  I had promised them some after their track meet in mid-April; to make sure they could run in comfort in their well worn soles.  That was two weeks ago.

As we exited the church foyer I looked at my middle son’s pants and grimaced.  The new pants we purchased in January were already two inches too short.  He had also complained about the length of his jeans; opting to wear shorts with his Stance socks.  How is it that I’m too busy to provide clothes for my children?  What a terrible mother I am!

I thought to the group of seven women from Friday night, discussing our latest book.  Amongst tears of laughter came the discussion of relationships and expectations.   Most times our expectations are unattainably high or unrealistic.  Usually the focus is on ourselves.  The things we want sometimes makes us forget to consider the other participants.  I know.   I’m guilty.

As we walked amongst stores, in search of shoes, the tweener asked if there was anything I wanted.  I noted that we had just passed a women’s store advertising Mother’s Day.  The list ran in my mind of material things; over-priced house improvements; things unrelated to mothering.  I thought of my empty garden beds; imagining my kids toiling the soil with me.   I had just lamented to the girls on Friday how my gardening hobby is non-existent.    I never answered my son.  But I think I will let him know this wish.  To spend time outdoors gardening.  Together.  While I still have them at home.

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Because gardening is akin to mothering.  You prepare the soil making sure it has the proper nutrients; just as a mother provides food, shelter, clothing.  You plant your seeds; hoping they take root.  You allow them sunlight and water; gauging the location and placement to make sure the plant can optimally grow.   You weed constantly, clearing out the things that hinder growth.  You vigilantly watch for bugs and spray (in my case) natural pesticides.  In inclement weather (such as frost) you provide cover to weather the storm.  You hope and pray that your seedling will bloom; making it to maturity.  There is great satisfaction to watch seeds flower or fruits/vegetables ripen on the vine.  It is then that you reap from the harvest; thankful.  With love.

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Anyone can do all of the above.  But if you don’t love what you do and appreciate the work you’ve done; it’s all for naught.  If you cultivate and continue to predict the end crop; you’re not enjoying the stage that is right before your very eyes.  If your focus is on the harvest you’re not seeing what the plant needs, right now.  The expectation of the perfect flower, the succulent fruit bring disappointment if it does not come to pass.  You’re too busy to notice what’s right before your eyes and what it needs.  Growing seasons vary and some seeds do not produce in the first season.  Sometimes, they are late bloomers.

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Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day…these are Hallmark holidays which promote consumerism and disappointment.  If I don’t get recognition (as a spouse/mother) with a large bouquet or presents; I am not valued.  These are silly things.  I work hard to let these expectations go.  They are unrealistic.

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I need to rediscover my love for gardening; to get my hands dirty.  To make the time for it.   I’ve lowered my expectations because that is the easy button; survival in a world of mindless instant gratification with no meaning.   I have become impatient; expecting that at a click of a button I can purchase anything I want with a plastic card to make things perfect; happy.  Toiling for material possessions, glory, recognition..these are fleeting.  Motherhood is a thankless job; one that I chose willingly.  But I have become complacent; allowing the weeds to grow and the land to lay fallow.

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The simple question from my son has given me purpose.  I hugged each one, in turn; just because.