Five random things

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I have long loved minutiae and believe there is tremendous meaning in the smallest things (“The more you respect and focus on the singular and the strange, the more you become aware of the universal and infinite.” – Gail Godwin)  I was happy when Casey Carey-Brown and Samantha McGarry tagged me to share five random things about me.

One: I really only listen to music in the car.  At home I prefer that it be quiet.  Right now I’m alternating between a favorite Christmas carol playlist and a new one of songs I love these days, which includes:

Orange Sky – Alexi Murdoch
Let’s Be Still – The Head and the Heart
Peace – O.A.R.
A Life That’s Good – Lennon and Maisy
Let Her Go – Passenger
Compass – Lady Antebellum
The Boxer – Mumford and Sons
Lost In My Mind – The Head and the Heart
Just Breathe – Pearl Jam

Two: I was a very small child.  I grew eventually – I’m not a small person now – but it was late.  When I moved back from Paris I started taking gymnastics lessons and the gym put me on their elite team until they realized I was 7 and not 5.

Three: I have broken nine bones (two bones in my arm, my ankle, three ribs, two toes, and one finger).  I asked Whit to come up with something random about me and this was his contribution.  I suspect anyone who knows me or has read this blog a bit know this fact.

Four: We had a guinea pig for a month when I was in grade school. The guinea pig was named Caliban (thanks, Dad).  This was Grace’s addition to the litany of randomness about me.

Five: When I was four or five years old I almost lost an eye to a wine press in France.  The handle of the wine press hit me right next to my eye, and I still have a scar.  My salient memory of the experience is of the winery’s dog licking the blood from my face. (this was Matt’s offering).

It gives me agita to think about tagging others, of course, so if anyone wants to share five things, please do, and come back and let me know!

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The Here Year: Wellness

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Halloween night, 5:30pm.  October blazed out, shining like shook foil, reminding me of the glory that is all around us.

The months are turning faster than I can catch my breath.  That’s always been true, and it’s a cliche for a reason.  I’m thrilled to continue down the Here Year road with Aidan, and this month’s topic is wellness.

I have finally begun to figure out what I need to do to take care of my body and my spirit.  Of course, I often fail at doing these things.  But at least I know what I need to do. And if I’ve learned anything in these 40 years of mine, it’s that I’m going to keep failing.  We all are.  In fact, what I aspire to now is to keep beginning again.

There is a short list of non-negotiables when it comes to health and happiness.  When I fail to prioritize these things I almost always get into trouble.  I need 8 hours of sleep a night, I need quiet time to write and to read and to be still, I need to feel safe and taken care of by the small handful of true native speakers in my life, I need to exercise, and I need to eat mostly healthily most of the time.  These things, which are, at the end of the day, all choices, help me feel calm and happy.  They help me to love my life.

In order to make sleep, down time, reading and writing, and exercise a true priority I have had to cut back on many other things.  Because I work full-time, write as much as I can, and, most importantly, want to be my children’s primary caretaker, I don’t have much other time.  I don’t do very many things socially, I don’t watch very much TV, I almost never go to movies, my husband and I don’t have very many date nights.  For me, it’s more important to read Harry Potter to Grace and to Whit, to be the one who packs their lunches, and to read and write and go to bed early in the evenings, and to get up at dawn to run.

There are many ways I strive to cultivate stillness in my life.  Believe me, this is not my natural state of being (one childhood nickname I had was “Lindsey Mead, she’s on speed” because I spoke and moved so fast).  I have been a sporadic meditator for several years, but these days I do five minutes most days.  Five minutes.  It’s manageable, I promise.  Sometimes I do guided meditations on calm.com and sometimes I just breathe in and out.  What I know for sure is the practice is in the beginning again.  I have to tug my monkey brain back to quiet over and over again, probably 25 times, in 5 minutes.  But I keep at it.  Five minutes.  I promise, you can do it.  I notice the sky, every day, and take photos (and often share them on instagram).  Writing here, a practice so ingrained as to be an inalienable part of my life now, reminds me to be aware of the details of my own life.

My best, truest friends remain essential and close.  I don’t see them as much as I want, but they know who they are, and I value their support and love and presence more than I can possibly articulate.

Exercise is important to me.  25 years of running have had an impact on my joints and I can’t run as much as I used to.  I think a marathon is out of the question now, unfortunately (though, as Whit likes to point out, I have run a marathon, just in two halves, 3 years apart!).  I have been doing yoga on and off for 15 years and I find that it is an increasingly important part of my life.  The hamster run of my brain is slowed and quieted by exercise, and it helps me sleep better.

Food?  As I get older, I grow increasingly aware that what I eat is hugely important.  I like Michael Pollan’s simple, powerful line: eat food, not too much, mostly plants.  Amen.  I have come to love – and crave – green juice, and I drink it most mornings.  I don’t, however, love smoothies.  But grapefruit, kale, ginger, through the juicer?  YUM.  We eat a lot of vegetables around here.  I often view it as a challenge: how many different fruits and vegetables can I eat today? But I also love sugar and try as I might, I haven’t successfully given that up.  I am going with the 80/20 rule on this one.  Mostly plants.  Not too much.  That I can do.

It’s not rocket science, is it?  In fact, as I write this, I’m a little bit ashamed that it has taken me almost 40 years to feel so clear on what I need to do to take care of myself and to love my life.  Sleep.  Down time.  Reading and writing.  Exercise.  Vegetables.  Lots of time with my children.  And, of course, a commitment to begin again.

I wrote parts of this post early this year, in a blog tour run by Katie den Ouden, whose example and work I can’t say enough wonderful things about.  Katie represents and models a life of self-care and gentleness, something I aspire mightily to and fail at often

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To honor our lives

To honor our dreams and to honor our loved ones and to honor our rituals and our lives is precisely what literature is endlessly trying to teach us.
– Allan Gurganus

Thank you to my friend Glenda Burgess, on whose beautiful blog I first found these perfect lines.

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The slipstream of life

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I dislike talking about being busy.  I’ve said this before.  We are all busy.  Everybody’s life is full.  I know this is true, and discussion of being busy feels like both an excuse and, frankly, a bit of a bore.

Lately, however, my own life feels particularly abundant, as it were, with demands, responsibilities, and, yes, joys.

Every single day it feels like I step into a slipstream in the morning and am carried along all day. Sometimes I am unable to take a breath. The truth is I can’t decide if this is good or bad feeling.  Sometimes the whitewater of my life makes me feel out of control, and that I definitely hate.  Other times, I’m aware that I truly love everything I’m doing, or at the very least I value all the responsibilities.  Furthermore, I choose them.  While I still feel somewhat overwhelmed, it’s hard to feel unhappy or complain in this situation.

I chose this.

Remembering our agency is a quick way to gratitude.  It’s an effective way to stop feeling victim-y and overwhelmed, too.  Busy is not bad.  Busy is not unique.  Busy does not have to be the end of the world.  How fortunate we are to have so many things that want our attention! (this reminds me of a piece I wrote a long time ago, about how the work-home tension is one of deep privilege).

Even so, it’s sometimes hard to maintain our – my – equilibrium when life is rushing at me like whitewater.  Still (continuing), I want to be still (not moving).

Years ago I wrote about stillness, and how I realized that it was never going to arrive, but instead be something I needed to actively seek amidst the activity of my full life. I think all the time – daily, at least – of TS’s Eliot’s lines from Four Quartets, We must be still and still moving. Being still in the middle of the busy-ness, that’s the goal, at least for me.  Finding ways to breathe and to be here, mostly because without doing that I miss my life.  And as I remind myself, over and over again, I chose this, this manifold set of responsibilities and identities which unfurl, shimmering, piling upon each other, beautiful and daunting at the same time.

More and more I’ve been instagramming with my made-up hashtag of #everydaylife, and I think in part that’s a way I force myself to stop and notice.  Sometimes those posts are the sky, sometimes they are the chaos of my kitchen island while the kids do a Chemistry project, sometimes they’re the scene as we head out the door in the morning.  When I stop and take a picture, and think to myself this is my everyday life, I am still.

For a brief moment, only, but still.  Still.

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Twelve years old

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Dear Grace,

Yesterday you turned twelve. It seems incomprehensible that you’re this old, and at the same time I can’t imagine you not being the right-now you. That day that you arrived on your due date, in a driving rainstorm after a long, long labor, seems like a lifetime ago. Many lifetimes.

For a few years I’ve been describing you as liminal, and maybe, in fact, all children are. Childhood is, after all, evanescent, and as I’ve said before every single day holds both new vistas and losses both big and small. It’s all an endless halleluia and a constant farewell. This moment feels particularly precarious, more on-the-edge than ever, though, as though we’re teetering on a fulcrum, about to plunge into a new world. And I’ll be honest: there’s a lot I fear about what’s to come. I worry our closeness will fray and never recover. I am trying to trust the red thread, even as I let it out, knowing that letting you go is my primary task right now.   But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I feel fears about your impending teenagerhood and sorrow about already being here in this moment of parenthood.

This was your fourth year at sleepaway camp but the first time you were homesick.  I can’t help thinking this was the last gasp of attachment before you push off for the other shore, for adolescence and young adulthood, for good.

You are already a young woman in so many ways. You are over 5 feet tall and I can wear your flip-flops. The physical changes of adolescence loom ever closer, and I’m watching puberty sweep through your peers. You are still all angles and planes, your body a symphony of sharp edges and long limbs. You have long, long legs that I like to joke you inherited from your godmother. You have thick brown hair and olive skin that tans on contact with the sun. The only features you inherited from me are your deep mahogany eyes and your cleft chin.

You have a wary, cautious demeanor and are always extremely aware of the world around you. You are sensitive and thoughtful and prone to take things too personally (I have no idea where you get this trait from). Despite my desire to focus on what your body can do, not what it looks like, and to protect you from society’s emphasis on female appearance, I can see in you a newfound understanding of how the world evaluates you by how you look, and it stirs panic in me.

This fall you started running cross-country for the first time. I wrote about your first race and someone wise commented that watching a cross country race is a good metaphor for parenting. I get to watch the start from an intimate distance, watch you run away, and then you disappear for a big chunk of the race. And then I stand there, vigilant, eager, proud, my heart fluttering as I wait for your return.  You are very fast; when we run together, which we occasionally do now, I can’t keep up with you.  Another metaphor: I trail you, watching as you take flight.

You are a true introvert. A few weeks ago a friend who is also on your soccer team came over after school to do homework, have dinner, and I took you together to practice. As I tucked you in that night you burst into tears and admitted that you were exhausted from the day. I asked what you meant and you explained that while you’d really enjoyed the visit, you realized you really needed the downtime alone between school and practice. Oh, how I relate to this need, this preference, and this tendency.

These are complicated social years, and I know you worry about friendship, loyalty, and what it really means to be popular. Though my goal isn’t to be your “best friend,” I’m deeply grateful that you still talk to me. I can’t protect you from the world., but I can make sure that home is your safe place.

You wear camouflage leggings and gold ballet flats, an orange down coat, jeans with flowers printed all over them, and dark brown Uggs. Your bed is your haven, as mine is for me, and you sleep on sheets printed with peace signs and clutching the two teddy bears you’ve slept with since birth. You need a lot of sleep and are quickly reduced to tears and frustration when you’re tired.  You  make your bed every single morning with a dedication that reminds me of, well, me.  I asked you recently if it made you feel like your life was under control and you nodded knowingly.  “I just have to make it,” you said.  Me too.

You sometimes leave me notes on my bedside table, on April Fools’ Day you and Whit short-sheeted our bed, and I have framed the painting of two people sitting by a lighthouse watching a sunset that you made for me while at camp this summer. You love to read though I’ll admit to disappointment that certain classics that I have eagerly foisted on you have failed to capture your imagination.  Some of my very favorite times are when we sit in my bed together, reading side by side.  We just finished Harry Potter #7, reading aloud together, and I felt a wave of real sorrow that it was over.  We started reading #1 together when you were in first grade.  Something big is over.

Every year of your life I have loved you more. It just keeps getting better and better. The reason I exist in a thick fog of loss and mourning about time’s passage is precisely because I love these years so much. The consolation prize for this sadness is, of course, that I get to be your mother always, even as the particulars of and landscape within which that relationship takes place change.

On Saturday night, as I put you to bed, you were sad.  You didn’t want to turn 12, you said, you didn’t want to inch closer to being a teenager, it’s all going to fast, you want life to slow down, you don’t want to grow up.  I ached as I listened to you, something deep inside me of course recognizing this sensibility, this sensitivity.  I wish you could just feel pure joy and simply rejoice at what comes next every day.  But I know I can’t, and I know now that you can’t either.  So I’ll just say that I swear, with every bone in my body, that as life gets more complex it also gets deeper, more rewarding, and more joyful.  I can’t tell you not to feel that sorrow that’s so inextricably wound around every transition, but I can tell you that there’s just as much breathtaking beauty and head-spinning happiness.  I promise.

I love you, Gracie girl, I always have, and I always will. Happy 12th birthday. It’s been a breathtaking, glorious, sometimes dizzying ride so far, and I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. I just hope you will keep holding my hand.

To the girl who made me a mother, my first baby, my only daughter, I love you.

Mum

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trust our heaviness

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall,
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.

~Rilke

I found this short passage on Jill’s beautiful blog, A Thousand Shades of Gray, which is a daily read for me.

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This is Adolescence: Eleven

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In the last week of each summer, we traditionally spend a day at a beach north of Boston. Lately, these outings have felt like encounters with the tide. Last year we stood on a sand bar, marveling at the way it shrank under our feet as the tide came in.  This year my children built a sand wall and watched it disappear under the onslaught of the rising tide.

Eleven is like this. It is the last visible piece of childhood’s sand as the tide of adolescence comes in, inexorable, welcome, but bringing anxiety in its wake, too. That tide whose approach we watch with both wonder and fear will change the landscape forever. It will dismantle many things even as it makes space for new ones.

Eleven oscillates between closeness and the distance I know she is supposed to be pushing for. Mothering an eleven year old is bringing to life all the academic study I did years ago about the mother-daughter relationship. I’m living that which I studied so closely, and though I understand what’s happening intellectually, it is still emotionally difficult.

Eleven walks a neighbor’s puppy by herself. She is responsible and organized, and lets herself into the house I have never seen, collects what she needs, and returns the same way. It is a small universe that she controls by herself. She also sleeps with four stuffed animals, all of which are dogs. She wants to be a vet.

Eleven can beat me in a set of tennis and can always, every single time, get a soccer ball past me. This summer we went for a run together for the first time and she left me in the dust.

Eleven can wear my flip-flops and is almost my height. She runs a six minute mile and is fluent with technology in a way I will never be. She doesn’t have her own phone yet but I know that’s coming soon. She still sleeps with the two teddy bears she’s had since infancy. She likes to snuggle before bed and still says prayers that include “thank you for giving me everything I need and most things that I want.”

Eleven started running cross-country for her school this year, and I can’t watch a race without tears in my eyes. There’s something about watching her go, seeing her take flight, cheering for her sprinting towards the finish line, that makes me cry. A wise reader pointed out the metaphor that I can’t stop thinking about: she’s running away from me, and I’m cheering for her, on her team no matter what, even when I can’t see her.  Though I can’t see the part of the race that happens in the woods, I can imagine it, based on my own experiences (of running cross-country as a high schooler, myself, but also of being an adolescent girl).  Her path and my own feel interwoven, but that identification is largely in my head.  The woods she’s running in, and the tracks she makes through them, are hers and hers alone.

More and more, Eleven is in the woods.  Her world is her own. I have less visibility into what she is doing at school and the use of email and instagram has allowed her to develop friendships I don’t know as much about. I trust Eleven and we still have a lot of rules about internet access and social media, but I’m aware of her autonomy and growing privacy. This is just another manifestation of the separation that I know is healthy and right.

This was Eleven’s fourth year at sleepaway camp but the first she was homesick. In the sagging middle week of her 3.5 weeks at camp, there were tearful phone calls and sad letters. Then, as the days towards pickup shortened, the mood brightened, and equilibrium was restored. I can’t help thinking this was the last gasp of attachment before eleven pushes off for the other shore, for adolescence and young adulthood, for good.

For now, I will curl up next to Eleven at bedtime and listen to her stories about her day and cherish every minute of time she wants to spend close to me, both physically and emotionally. I can see the tide coming in, and I know what it will bring with it. I’m still looking forward to what is ahead and trying to trust, that like on the cross-country course, though she’s about to disappear into the woods, she will circle around and come back towards me.  She will have a smile on her face as she sprints towards the finish line, and she’ll see me standing there, and I hope that will make her glad.

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This is Adolescence

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Last year, I was happy to participate in This is Childhood, the writing series that captured snapshots of each age, 1 to 10.  The series became a book, available now on Brain, Child (a great holiday gift!).  Now, I’m delighted to announce the launch of This is Adolescence, a series which takes off where This is Childhood ends.  This series is the brainchild of my friend, Allison Slater Tate, for whose company as I enter this next phase of motherhood I am deeply grateful.  My oldest child is 11, and hers is 12, and we communicate regularly about this moment’s particular joys and challenges.

Starting tomorrow, a writer will be sharing their reflections, personal and universal at the same time, on parenting children in adolescence.  I’m flattered (and nervous!) to be kicking us off with eleven.  The lineup of writers includes some of my personal favorites, and it is a distinct honor to join them.

Eleven – me
Twelve – Allison Slater Tate
Thirteen – Bethany Meyer
Fourteen – Catherine Newman
Fifteen – Jessica Lahey
Sixteen – Marcelle Soviero
Seventeen – Shannon Duffy
Eighteen – Lisa Heffernan

I hope you will enjoy this series as much as I know I will.

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Eight Ways to Be and Have a Friend

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This month on the Here Year has focused on friendship.  My friends and those I love the most have been firmly on my mind all month.  The thing is I’ve struggled with what to say that is new, to be honest.  I believe that true, honest, deep friendship is one of the most essential parts of a full and contented life.  I believe that certain fertile moments in our lives lend themselves particularly to making friends.  I believe that a person’s closest friends can tell you an awful lot about them and that who we truly love shows us a lot about who we are.

I have always loved my friends, and am truly blessed with wonderful people who are close to me.  Sometimes I hear from readers, though, that it all seems easy and smooth.  That’s far from the truth.  I’m not always a picnic to be close to, that I know.  I’m over-sensitive and take things personally, I react quickly and sometimes strongly, and generally I’m a pain in the ass.  I assure you: nothing in this life of mine is always easy or perennially smooth.  Please know that.  Part of why I feel so strongly about friendship is that I’ve learned, often through heartache, to value and defend those relationships that matter the most to me.

Aidan has often blogged on the Here Year themes with lists, which are a mix of reflection and action suggestion.  I love this format.

So, a few thoughts on ways to be, and have, a friend:

1. Remain Open.  I think the key to those particularly fecund friendship-making periods in our lives is that they are moments of real vulnerability.  When we let down our guard and reveal who we really are, that invites others in.

2. Be Loyal. Remember the other person’s feelings.  Include them. Consider how they will feel about something.

3. Be Trustworthy.  More than once people have been shocked to hear that I knew something about someone else and never said anything.  I’m always surprised by this shock.  To me, “don’t tell anyone” means don’t tell anyone.  Period.

4. Keep in Touch. It’s simple and doesn’t take very much time at all.  Just a quick “I’m thinking about you” means the world.  Email and text have made this so much easier.  Remember and mark birthdays (paper card is ideal, or an email or text, or, if it comes to that, a FB message) but the random “you’re on my mind” message or “I saw this and it made me think of you” can mean even more, in my opinion.

5. Say How You Feel.  I don’t think we tell the people we really love and value that enough.  Just say it.  To be maudlin, we never know when we’ll get the chance again.  Text it if you don’t want to say it out loud.  I can’t tell you how much I cherish the expressions of warmth, gratitude, and appreciation I’ve received from others.

6. Defend Each Other. That quote about what the silence of our friends hurting more than the words of our enemies comes to mind.  Oh, yes.  I’m watching this now with Grace, in 6th grade.  Sometimes we have to stick up for those we love, even if it means going against the easy current.  Do it.

7. Listen. Friendship is made of attention.  I believe this entirely.  I am still learning to listen without jumping in with suggestions, observations, reactions.  Just listen.  Pay attention.  Don’t be distracted.

8. Show Up. There are certain things you just show up for: weddings, funerals, christenings, big birthdays.  I regret missing some of these in the lives of some of those I love most, though I can honestly say the decision has never been a casual one.  Still.  Show up if you at all can.  It always means so incredibly much to me when others make the effort.

What are your thoughts on the most important things to remember about friendship?

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those moments when she stopped and thought I’m awake!

The sun was out after a sojourn behind some clouds.  Planes glinted in the sunlight and gradually diminished in the distance, leaving a trail of noise.  A light breeze took the edge off the heat.  The moment struck her as perfect, in the way that quotidian moments sometimes did.  She tried to freeze it in her mind: the acid sweetness of her apple, the crunch of it against her teeth, the smell of the grass.  It was cheating, in a sense, to circumvent the natural sifting process of memory, but she found that those moments when she stopped and thought I’m awake! as though in the midst of a dream, were ones she remembered with an uncommon clarity.

– Matthew Thomas, We Are Not Ourselves

Thank you, Lacy, for sending me this perfect passage.

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