August break

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Photo by Grace, the weekend before camp.  We are standing in front of the tender in which we left our wedding (photo here), many, many years ago.

For the I’ve-lost-track-of-how-many year in a row I’m going to take August off.  I plan to spend the next month living this vast design a little more than usual.  For the first half, it will be just me and this guy, above.  For the second half, all four of us.

I will be back in September and I hope you will be too!

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camp drop off

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Another year.  Another camp drop off.  Her sixth summer, and his fourth.  The camp I adore.

Another reminder of the dizzying speed with which this world is spinning, with which the years are flying by.

Three years ago I wrote that I love right now more than I have any other moment of my life.  And that is still true.  I still love right now more than any other moment.  That fact is heartening, yes, but it’s also bittersweet: the years with Grace and Whit at home grow shorter, the shadows behind us lengthen.  I feel the same way about that indelible fact as I do about looking into their echoingly empty rooms: it’s like pushing on a bruise.  I can’t avoid the reminders of this life’s breathtaking beauty or its keen sorrow, nor the ineluctable drumbeat sound of time’s passage.

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The truth is it was a difficult drop off.  There were some tears, which had also filled the days leading up to the 21st.  I wasn’t entirely prepared for these tears, this anxiety, this fear.  My children are getting older, camp is a familiar, joyful place – where was this uncertainty and clinginess coming from? Maybe it’s just about age and stage, as I’ve described before, a last gasp of attachment before the children (the teenager in particular) push off for the other shore for good.

It was a difficult morning, last Thursday.  I left even though I was being begged not to.  As we drove down the Cape, I was sad, confused, reminded yet again that the minute I think I have understood this life – her sixth summer, his fourth, we’ve got this! – I’m shown that in fact the only constant is change.

What I do know is that her cabin – Courageous – is well-named.  I know that she and Whit (who, in case you’re wondering, despite some challenges last summer, bounded into his cabin and shooed us out before his bed was even made) are in excellent hands. I know they will flourish. I know that even if there is some homesickness, the opportunity to face our difficulties and triumph is one not to be squandered.  We watched Grace do it last fall with cross-country, and I’m confident she will again.  In fact maybe the point is this discomfort; without some sorrow and some tears, we wouldn’t be maximizing this summer opportunity. Maybe. I am not sure. I know I miss my little soul mate, and her entertaining brother around whom everyday is a celebration. I miss them, but this is the right thing for them. So, courageous all, we forge head, separated by miles but connected by the raveling red yarn that ties our hearts.

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heroism in a class all its own

Rabih’s awareness of the uncertainty makes him want to hang on to the light all the more fervently.  If only for a moment, it all makes sense.  He knows how to love Kirsten, how to have sufficient faith in himself, and how to feel compassion for and be patient with his children.  But it is all desperately fragile.  He knows full well that he has no right to call himself a happy man; he is simply an ordinary human passing through a small phase of contentment.

Very little can be made perfect; he knows that now.  He has a sense of the bravery it takes to live even an utterly mediocre life like his own.  To keep all of this going, to ensure his continuing status as an almost sane person, his capacity to provide for his family financially, the survival of his marriage and the flourishing of his children – these projects offer no fewer opportunities for heroism than an epic tale….The courage not to be vanquished by anxiety, not to hurt others out of frustration,, not to grow too furious with the world for the perceived injuries it heedlessly inflicts, not to go crazy and somehow manage to persevere in a ore or less adequate way through the difficulties of married life – this is true courage; this is heroism in a class all its own.

– Alain de Botton, The Course of Love

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Things I Love Lately

Seven Signs You’re Overparenting – I don’t generally love instructive posts about parenting, but I find this one illuminating.  Helicoptering is so pervasive as to be almost passe now, but I love the concrete behaviors this writer identifies to help us parents understand what it really means.

Unsolicited Advice I’m Sharing with My Three Sons – Agreed on the coffee!  Also on the notion of collecting words, the power of being self-deprecating, the mentors, the truth, and having children.

My Favorite Vacation: Summer Camp – Dominique Browning on the power of summer camp made me both smile and wipe away tears.  Anyone reading here knows I worship(ped) camp and enjoy watching my children there now.  “And this is being a grown-up camper in the world, forever young enough to wonder at the mystery and magic and pleasure of it all.”  Amen. May we all stay forever young (Forever Young is a song that reminds me, incidentally, of camp).

Before the Fall – I can’t put Noah Hawley’s book down.

Grace and Whit are off to camp tomorrow. There are some pre-drop-off jitters at our house.  I’m thinking back to Michael Thompson’s Homesick and Happy: How Time Away from Parents Can Help a Child Grow and reminding myself this is precisely why they go.

I write these Things I Love posts approximately monthly.  You can find them all here.

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sacred. scared.

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out the window last week (shared on Instagram)

I read my friend Aidan Donnelley Rowley’s post last week with great interest.  I love what Aidan has to say about permission and privilege and playing if safe.  She was moved, as I was not long ago, by Tara Sophia Mohr’s powerful book, Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead.  I encourage you to read both Aidan’s post and Tara’s book.

I texted Aidan to tell her I liked her piece.  And I shared one tiny typo I found in it (aside: those people who email me to let me know of my typos here – and there are usually at least one per post – THANK YOU!).

Then my heart stopped.  She had misspelled “scared” as “sacred.”

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But aren’t those things close to each other? How have I never noticed before that they are the same word?  What is sacred scares us?  So we should listen to and pay attention to what scares us, as it might point us to what is sacred?

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this.  It reminds me of the way that longing lives inside of belonging.  Words carry so much power, so much meaning, don’t they?  I don’t have much brilliant insight today other than the awareness that scared and sacred are the same word, intertwined in an inextricable way, two sides, perhaps, of the same coin.  I vow to pay more attention to what scares me.

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now and then pilgrims

So it is we connect with one another, move in and out of one another’s lives, teach and heal and affirm one another, across space and time – all of us wanderers, explorers, adventurers, stragglers and ramblers, sometimes tramps or vagabonds, even fugitives, but now and then pilgrims: as children, as parents, as old ones about to take that final step, to enter that territory whose character none of us here ever knows.  Yet how young we are when we start wondering about it all, the nature of the journey and of the final destination.

– Robert Coles, The Spiritual Life of Children

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what if?

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Last weekend at the beach.  Grace and two cousins swimming to the raft on an overcast day.  I was preoccupied with the work call I had to do, but for a few moments, I was just there, too.

I met an old, dear friend for a walk early on Monday morning.  As I headed out of my house to meet her, the air was cool.  I walked down the steps and breathed in, enjoying the fresh air for a moment.  Then, of course, thoughts flooded in: fall must be on the way.  Snow comes next.  This season I love best is almost over

It’s July 12.

What if I could just welcome the moment that is without allowing it to be occluded by fear of what comes next?  What if my experience was just that, a moment-by-moment life, rather than a harbinger of what’s to come?

What if indeed.

Teach me how to live this way.

Experience, without all the associated emotions.  That’s what I’m after, right?  But I have no idea how to do that, how to unhook my day to day living of this life from my instantaneous emotional flinging, both forward (what’s coming) and back (what I’m reminded 0f).  Of course the way that the past and the future are animate in the present serves to enrich my life, but it also takes away from it.

Still, a little less of that echo might sometimes be nice.  I think of TS Eliot’s line, “teach us to care and not to care,” and think that’s what I’m really saying.  I want to care – be present, be awake, be engaged, but not too care too much – to release my white-knuckle hold on what was and sometimes-paralyzing fears of what will be.

Yes.  Teach me how to live this way.

 

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The struggle and the beauty

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this picture, which I took yesterday morning and shared on Instagram, reminds me of the photograph below

I have written about how I listen to On Being podcasts in the morning when I run.  I do so at 1.5x, a detail that Matt thinks is a metaphor for my whole life.  Last week, I listened to Brene Brown talking with Krista Tippett.  She said many things that made me think, but among them was the assertion that “hope is a function of struggle.”  She goes on: “You know, the moments I look back in my life and think, God, those are the moments that made me, were moments of struggle.”

I agree with this on an instinctual level.  It also reminded me instantly of Freud’s beautiful quote that “the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful,” and of this much-less beautiful post I wrote many years ago on the topic.  It seems fitting to repost it here today.  I’m aware that Matt and I are coming to the end of the particular season of struggle I wrote about and had in mind.  Our years with young children at home are short, and their challenges are different now, less physical, more emotional.  Of course the closing of this struggle will usher in new ones, and they’ve already begun to.

It has been six years almost exactly since I wrote this post (7/26/10).  The landscape of my life looks very different from it did that day.  But in other, essential ways, it is precisely the same.  The guiding principles and, yes, struggles, are unchanged. The beauty still exists in those struggles.  I know that even more surely know.

“One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful.”
– Sigmund Freud

Many thanks to Anthony Lawlor, from whom I found this quote on Twitter. I do believe this to be true, absolutely, though it’s so incredibly difficult to remember in the moments where the struggle seems overwhelming. The struggle which occurs for me on so many levels these days. The struggle to stop my crazy squirrel brain from frantically spinning over and over on the same questions. The struggle to remain patient and present with my lovely children who can be charming, curious, and incredibly aggravating. The struggle not to over-identify with Grace, to maintain the distance and perspective I need to parent her well. The struggle not to crush Whit’s effervescent spirit, whose enthusiastic bubbles sometimes challenge the rules and norms. The struggle to try to keep alive my professional and creative selves, as well as to have enough left over for those who need me.

“These are the day of miracle and wonder”
– Paul Simon

For some reason that lyric was in my head nonstop this weekend. My subconscious was trying to remind me of the richness of the present moment, I suspect, which can be so hard to really see.

It was a weekend with plenty of struggle as well as ample beauty. Somehow the struggle is so quick to occlude the beauty, so much more urgent and immediate, so hard to shake off. Does this make sense? It is here, on the page, and through the lens of my camera that I am more able to see the beauty. It rises more slowly, over time, asserting itself in memory rather than in the vivid moment. The beauty is in the smallest moments, infinity opening, surprising me every time, from the most infinitessimal things, like a world in the back of a wardrobe (there really are only two or three human stories, and we do go on telling them, no?). Why is it, then, that the struggles, also often small, can so quickly and utterly yank me back to the morass of misery and frustration, away from the wonders that are revealed in the flashing moments of beauty?

I wish I could change the dynamic between these two, but the beauty, fragile as it is in the moment, seems sturdier over the long arc of a life. Freud’s quote supports this, the notion that the beauty develops over time, like a print sitting in the solution for a long time, image gradually forming on the slick surface of the photo paper, slowly, haltingly hovering into being. It is, of course, the photograph that is the enduring artifact of the experience.

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we’re here to give praise

John Updike was once asked why — for an ad, I think, like a whiskey ad or some crazy thing — why are we here? Why do we live? Sounds like a ridiculous question, but he had an instant answer for it. He said, “We’re here to give praise.” We’re here to give praise.

– Adam Gopnik, On Being interview with Krista Tippett, November 2015

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Things I love & things I don’t: the minutiae version

I love small details.  I even have a whole section on this blog devoted to minutiae.  I recently told friends that some of those tiny things are, I believe, hugely telling about who someone is (for example, I love to ask what people, if they’re married, have engraved inside their wedding bands).  I think often of the Gail Godwin quote, which I’ve written about before, that “the more you respect and focus on the singular and the strange, the more you become aware of the universal and infinite.”

I don’t know whether our preferences are innate, learned, or some amalgam of both.  Some of them probably fall into each category.  I know that Grace and Whit, who are growing up in the same kitchen, have strong views on certain foods that are almost entirely opposed.  Which would argue, of course, that we are born with our biases (at least towards food).

Things I love:

the smell of laundry
books
flowers, especially peonies, ranunculus, parrot tulips
the mail (I still get ridiculously excited when I hear the mailman on the porch)
libraries
playground swings, bobbing in a pool, or skating circles around a rink (repetitive activities that I find soothing)
the smell of pipes (reminds me of childhood)
the Quiet Car on the Acela
the words luminous, archipelago, inelectuable, ineffable
Christmas carols
chocolate

Things I do not love (and I don’t say hate, because my grandfather used to say, “takes an awful lot of energy to hate”):

black jelly beans
flat gladiator sandals
broccoli
salmon
listening to the radio while driving with other people (or, frankly, often, alone)
strong lotion/soap/candle smells (Bath & Body Works is one of my nightmares)
the smell of cigarettes
rap music
fruit desserts of any kind

I’m curious, what are some things you love and some things you actively dislike?

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