Trying to find the sun amid the storms

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To see the sun on these days of gray, I must make my own light brighter.

I woke up scared last Thursday night to a tremendous storm. Lightning flashed through the skylight and thunder shook my window. Two frightened dogs nuzzled my body, trapping my legs in a cage of down and my husband slept beside me. Rain pelted the roof. Wind howled. Water rushed in our gutters. For the first time in years, I was scared of a storm. If my boys had woken up crying, I’d have told them, “Come here. I got ya. It’s just a storm. Snuggle in beneath our covers and just fall asleep. I got ya. Everything is ok.”

But they didn’t wake up and I didn’t get to say those words. Instead I tossed about in pillows and sheets and dogs feeling a sense of ominousness. Is everything ok? I fell back to sleep. Eventually, around 5 a.m. with the storm still raging, Brian rose for the day and went downstairs, leaving me deeply asleep in bed. Is everything ok?

Bombs explode, Congress ignores me, the cold continues, grayness pervades, the marriage challenges, blogs go unposted, work remains unaddressed, the night seems so angry, the dreams are nightmares, the basement floods.

Is everything ok?

I want to bake brownies with mint chips for comfort. I want to buy myself a massage, or a pedicure, to make myself feel better. I want to flip on the TV and submerge my brain in someone else’s story. I want to eat chips fried fresh and the entire can of Herdez salsa casera. I want to escape from this moment, this sogginess. I want to see the sun.

I call my mom, because she loves the sun, too, and she has tricks for finding it when I don’t. She tells me to go to the store and buy something bright and springy, so that every time I look at it, I’ll be cheered. And so I get two cans of silly string, which the boys spray all over the patio with gusto, and I pour a glass of wine while I make Texas chili.

For a few hours, I feel better. And then night again falls.

Kids are in bed, I brush my teeth, I wash my face and I dawdle in the bathroom trying to avoid the room across the hall, the room where I meditate. The ickiness is back and I swear my hands still feel waterlogged from the morning of bailing debris out of our drain. In this moment, at the end of this damp, water-flooded day when everything seems drenched in hopelessness, I know I have one tool to make everything be ok.

I can meditate. I’ve been avoiding it lately. A few weeks ago I felt something indiscernible that scared me. I started feeling like certain prayers were being answered, and that scared me. And so I pulled the plug. No more asking God to use me. No more asking the Universe to make me more aware of God working in my life and through me. I’m not ready, I said. I’m not ready. I’m afraid. No more. I need a break.

I took a break, if you could call it that. A meditation moratorium, a spiritual time out. “I’m not ready,” I told God. “You understand, don’t you?” During this break I’ve dreamed of whales. Whales bringing me trash from the deep, whales inviting me to sojourn with them in the depths, whales stealing children from the seashore, whales accompanying me through shark-infested waters like bodyguards, whales telling me it’s ok, whales swimming with me, whales surrounding my kayak and escorting me to safety…

Nonetheless, I have avoided my meditation practice like the plague, for fear I’d have to continue on the path I was on, the path toward higher consciousness. I haven’t sat in my usual space for longer than two minutes. I haven’t followed the full extent of my practice in weeks. I haven’t made time for the exercise that makes my body feel vital. I’ve had very little mindfulness of what I’m eating. Everything does not seem ok.

The funny thing about spiritual living is that it’s a lot like falling in love. Once you’ve fallen in love, you cannot un-fall, despite your best efforts to take it slow, or even to stop it from happening. Once you hop on a spiritual path, you’re on it and you become like a surfer on a longboard, riding forever. If you bail, the board follows you, because it’s tied to your ankle. Forever.

And so, recognizing there’s no escaping from my sincere search for God and love and oneness with all things, I sit down to meditate. I do so begrudgingly, but it’s my last resort, so as I sit down, I close my eyes and stare hard at the place between my eyebrows. I’m ravenous for a solution. A few moments in, I know. At least for right now, I know.

Making my own light brighter is my best hope of seeing the sun.

It’s everyone’s best hope.

If I take care of my body, if I fill up my spirit, if I honor my heart, if I do what I know I need to do to make my light brighter, then maybe I’ll have enough light and love not just for myself, but for others as well. What if my sun is bright enough that someone who hasn’t seen the sun in forever suddenly catches a glimpse of it? What might that do for a person? If I genuinely feel that everything is ok, maybe someone else will sense it and believe everything is–or will be–ok, too, no matter how cold and gray it seems.

Wracked with the dis-ease of our nation, I’ve been praying for an answer to the question, “What can I do to help?” Apart from making donations, how can I help?

At least for today, it’s clear that I am to do the simplest yet hardest of things:  Make my own light brighter.

If we all commit to giving ourselves the very best in self care, thus making our own lights brighter, maybe everything really will be ok. You never know who you may touch, how God may use you today, tomorrow, every day. You can help. Each of us is the world’s greatest hope.

A prayer

Dear God,

We pray for Your revitalizing light to shine upon all people of the world, particularly on those wounded in any way in Boston and in Texas, and on those caring for them in any capacity.

Place in our hearts the knowing of exactly what it is we can do as individuals to create peace. Inspire us that we may be courageous enough to ask the question, “What can I do?” and to act on Your answer.

Reveal to us the part that’s ours to play in bringing heaven to Earth, no matter how small or grand the scale. And show us where and how we can heal ourselves, our neighbors, our nation, our world.

Bless all humankind in Your transformative love.

Amen

Broken bones and bibbidi bobbidi boo

We went to the emergency room two Saturdays ago. Kip broke his radius falling from his dad’s back while wrestling. He now tells everyone: “I fehwll off Daddy’s back in the hotehwl and bwoke my wist and I have to wear dis bwace. It hurt a wot, but I’m feeling pwetty good now.” He never cries like he did just after it happened, holding his arm limp in his other arm. He gets knocked around a lot by his big brother, and cries. But never like that. We knew immediately and left for the ER, where Kip decisively pointed to his pain level on the chart three times in two hours and, when we left, he was a smiley face. Hours later, he jumped from bed to bed in his grandparents’ hotel room, so excited to see them. Ever intrepid, three-year-old boys.

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They gave us silly bands and stickers when we arrived at the emergency room. Kip promptly adorned himself to his liking. (See: Kip’s notably tired mommy)

We were visiting for my niece’s baptism, a long-awaited family reunion in a city none of us call home, and seeing her after so many weeks was joy beyond joy. I haven’t written about my sister’s wondrously wonderful little baby girl yet because there are no words for how I feel about her presence in the world. Every time I try to write about her, everything sounds ridiculous; nothing lives up to how grandly I feel about her, how magnificent she truly is. I write, and I start getting teary-eyed, unable to articulate my feelings for this delightful package of peace, wisdom, sincerity, snuggliness, feminine power and ever-new joy.

Snuggling my sweet niece on the day of her baptism

Snuggling my sweet niece on the day of her baptism

It so happens that, in that weekend of broken wrists and giddy bed jumping, I became my niece’s godmother. My sister and bro-in-law even gave me a t-shirt that says “bibbidi bobbidi boo.” And I wear it. I wear it to yoga. I wear it in the house. I wear it just to look in the mirror and say to my reflection: “You have arrived, dear one. You are a godmother. Woot woot.” Little-known fact: Godmother is one of my select few dream jobs. It is an immense honor to be officially tapped to love my niece as God loves her—unconditionally; without fear, judgment or expectations; and with great joy. I have the sanctioned opportunity to support my goddaughter in her own journey no matter its twists and turns. And I have the chance to make sure she knows she is loved and supported by God and the Universe. I ineloquently wrote her a letter for the day of her baptism and, in it, I shared my first bit of godmotherly wisdom:  God is love, love is God, you are love and you are loved.

I wonder if my sons know this. I wonder if my friends know this. I wonder if, at all moments of the day, I know this.

After such a big day, Kip slept through dinner in his dad's arms.

After such a big day, Kip slept through dinner in his dad’s arms.

In any event, we got a chance to show Kip how much he was loved that weekend, too. A broken bone broke the pattern of Charlie: loud, Kip: quiet, at least for a day. And the poignant conversations between him and Brian, of apology, forgiveness and adoration, were some of the sweetest I’ve ever overheard. The snuggles, the love, the close quarters, the eye contact of the weekend were all such a gift. And so was the tricked-out dessert platter the hotel sent to our room with condolences for the broken wrist.

It’s hard to pinpoint the strange magic of that weekend, when Kip broke his wrist and I became godmother to a phenomenal baby girl, but magical it was.

Is this alien glowing more than yours is? Don't tell the Father, but this little guy took a dip in the holy water, courtesy of Charlie and Kip, during the baptism. (Brian did a valiant job of containing both the boys and his frustration with their charades while I stood beside my goddaugther and her parents.)

Is this alien glowing more than yours is? Don’t tell the Father, but this little guy took a dip in the holy water, courtesy of Charlie and Kip, during the baptism. (Brian did a valiant job of containing both the boys and his frustration with their charades while I stood beside my goddaugther and her parents.)

Lastly, a sidebar shout out to the art of occasional poetry:

Because words fail me when it comes to writing about my niece, and because I think art is one of God’s highest forms of expression on earth, and because love like this makes you need poetry, I commissioned the poet, cin salach, to write a poem for my beautiful goddaughter on the occasion of her baptism. In the end, cin’s poem made me cry giant tears of appreciation for all that my sister’s daughter is. Cin captured my feelings and wishes for her beautifully, and she left my goddaughter with her very first piece of original art, for which, at age three months, she herself was the muse. It felt like the perfect way to honor my dear, impeccable goddaughter in her first of many rites of passage.

If you have a special someone you’d like to immortalize in poetry, may I suggest you visit http://www.poemgrown.com/?

Aside: cin is the dearest of friends, so I know the beauty of her heart and the soulfulness of her process, but I also must vouch for the fact that she is an artist of inspirational proportions. If you need more than my word to vouch for her, she’s won a bunch of awards, has book deals, is largely responsible for popularizing slam poetry, is an Emmy nominee and she gets recognized by fans every time I’m out with her—people literally stop her in the street to talk about her poetry. I’ve never seen anything like it. So if you want to give someone a beautiful gift, if you’re an art collector or want to be, cin’s poetry is the real deal. Check her out!

Kids, I’d like you to meet worky mommy. Please be nice.

I have a plug-in massager at work on my shoulders, a hot bath filling up, Epsom salts at the ready and impossible plans for an early bedtime. I’m desperate to release the hundreds of tiny clenched muscles running up my back through my neck and fixing to my skull, pulling my head backward and making me walk like Frankenmommy. None of these ultra tensed muscles, which owe their workout to my habit of pitching my shoulders up and forward, among other unconscious postural offenses, will ever help me to look good in a bathing suit. Why don’t I flex my abs when I get stressed?

I have to flex my abs in this dress. (photo credit: “Mommy and Daddy going out last weekend” by Charlie Quinn.)

My kids have a scent on me. They know something’s up and they’re hot on my trail.

It’s my work. I’m distracted by it and they notice. (Note: For purposes of this post, “work” means stuff I get paid to do, not my mom job.) These boys are unrelenting about pulling me back into their space, using any tactics they can conjure…spilling stuff on purpose, hitting each other, chasing the dogs, whining, blatantly ignoring my voice, railing against going to school, refusing bedtime, etc.

Today, on making my customary twice-weekly ascent to my office, both Charlie and Kip erupted in tears and shrieks of “Mommy! Don’t go to work! Stay here with us!” Red faced and wet-eyed, they pawed and clawed and grabbed and screamed. “Oh, please, please don’t go work!”

Usually they pay no attention to my departure into work mode because they’re already playing with the sitter but, until recently, my work was easily compartmentalized. I am working. I am not working. Period. I’m still working part-time and the babysitter schedule hasn’t changed, but the work has, and it now inspires reflection outside of my appointed working hours, blurring my own mental lines between “mom” and “professional.” In the past couple weeks, the boys have noticed my mind is often elsewhere and it’s a little scary to them. Justifiably, I might add. They’re still so young, and suddenly I’m here but I’m not here. It’s typical for very young kids and their mothers to be ultra connected, and so it holds in our family that if I’m stressed, my kids are off the wall.

Here, Charlie is about to bounce off the wall, literally, while Kip looks to make sure his baby is safely secured in the “zip line.”

Instead of the soft, flowy, flexibly working, writey mommy to whom my sons are accustomed, I’ve been exploring professional pursuits that resemble my pre-motherhood work life, and that reveal a mommy my sons don’t know or appreciate much at this point.

Frankly, I’m not too sure about her, either. She’s hella distracted. I spaced the carnival tickets we had for Saturday, thinking the event was Sunday. The laundry is piled up (more than usual). The boys have no clean socks. We’re not having the slowcooker massaman curry I promised for dinner tonight because I couldn’t make it to the Asian market for all the ingredients. I haven’t posted to my blog in too long. I got a date wrong in a work email. I somehow missed the start time of a conference call. (shudder.) I’m feeling stretched. Transition is hard.

But we did end up making it to the circus. After tears shed by three of the four of us in this pic, I figured a way to get us in. As you can see, most of us look thrilled to be there.

How do I even do this? Work a part-time job in which I’m expected to be all fast, efficient and strategic while also working another job in which I’m charged to maintain an intentional, rhythmic, creeping pace for young children? Men and women do this all the time, I know. And maybe they struggle like I do at first, but they sure seem to execute the balance more elegantly than I.

I am intent on being the all-day-every-day primary caregiver for my children. However, let it be known I love working. I relish having my mind challenged and my skills pushed. I immensely enjoy the people I get to work with. While I’m doing professional work, it’s all very energy giving. But this distraction piece keeps cropping up. I do not feel good being distracted. I do not enjoy my sensitive children’s volcanic response to my distraction. Moreover, I reject the old instinct that I suddenly must revert to Type A-ism, say-yes-to-everything-ism, in order to succeed. Nonetheless, here I am trying really hard to be good at my professional work, and trying really hard to be good at my home life. Trying really hard? Ugh. I need a new approach.

Now that I’m working more steadily again, am I becoming a shadow of the mom my kids need me to be? A shadow of the professional I once was?  (here, Charlie plays in the dirt while my pregnant-with-Kip self looks on.)

And so, as an intentional full-time mom, my gut reaction is to chuck it all, work-wise, so that I can train my focus on the home and our family, ejecting this quick-thinking, list-making, money-earning intruder into an undisclosed location in the future when I naturally have more time and space for her all-business ways. (like, when both kids are in school…)

Oh, but that’s not the lesson for me here. The lesson, which my children are very boldly teaching me, is this: Here’s my long-awaited opportunity to learn how to maintain inner calm while juggling various aspects of the material world.

It’s easy to be calm while building sand castles, but just imagine what it would be like to remain calm with divergent demands flying at me… With this intention, back to the meditation room I go.

When I lack the wherewithal to be disciplined in my emotions (i.e., letting myself get overwhelmed to the point of a tizzy, or even just ruffled nerves), my wee little teachers are nearby to redirect me in their uniquely effective way.

It kinda feels like I’ve moved up a grade in transform school. My work adventure is just a new curriculum in being present and peaceful inside no matter what’s happening on the outside. It was helpful stumbling across Marayogini’s awesome blog last week. She writes:

“As Krishnamacharya writes: ‘The world exists to set us free.’  It is by being a part of the outer world, that we have our best chance to perfect our inner world. The transformation that occurs in isolation (cave, monastery, retreat) might be initially easier to obtain and can certainly be a shortcut to quick, solid results. Sooner, or later, however, that transformation should be able to withstand the test of being integrated into the world at large. We should ultimately be able to be IN the world without being OF the world.”

The world exists to set us free. As work is a part of the world, and having a family is part of my world, I’m getting the chance to practice stilling the winds of my emotions such that the ocean of my peace is undisturbed and, subsequently, my family and I may drift contentedly along as intended.

Eventually, I believe we will all grow accustomed to worky mommy, and embrace all that she brings to the family. In the mean time, I’ll be reminding myself to be grateful for the chance to juggle, and for the occasion to transform.

**For my yoga-inquisitive friends, if you’re not already familiar with Mara Healy, Universal Yoga teacher, she has a fantastic blog in which she joyfully explores all aspects of yoga and life. Check out some wisdom at www.marayogini.com

Why the marriage of cooking and TV triggers my deep shame, or, how I kicked in the windows at the shame factory

A few days ago, a friend asked me if I’d been cooking much lately.

“Uh…I guess so,” I felt a little forlorn. “Kind of. But not like I used to.” Like, Oh, that’s right. I used to cook kind of a lot. We must’ve talked about food before I started serving buttered noodles three times a week. What happened?

Following a discussion about cooking with kids underfoot, I remembered I used to make some pretty cool stuff. As I internally reminisced about intricate curry pastes, lamb racks, raviolis and tinga de pollo, she mentioned her kids didn’t flip for the eggplant pizza she made from scratch, dough to toppings, but they absolutely loved the battered-and-fried eggplant on its own. What’s more, the kids even helped her make it.

This is how radically unglamorous it looks when I cook with my kids. Here, I become aware that Kip has been snapping pictures of us sauteeing from his perch on my left hip.

When I observe talented friends like this one, and the mythical moms of the blogosphere, as they whip up balanced, beautiful meals that everyone eats and enjoys, all I can fixate on is this: What are their kids are doing while they cook?

I picture them helping alongside Mom; coloring at the kitchen table; cleaning up their toys; practicing their handwriting; building castles out of magnatiles… It all makes me want to cry because, clearly, either my own children are defective, or something is wrong with me. It must be one or the other, right? (insert ironic tone)

I have a confession that renders me exceedingly un-spectacular in the world of parading wonder moms: When I cook, and “cook” can mean “throwing cold cuts and grapes on a plate” or “stir-frying skirt steak and broccolette,” you know what my kids do?

They watch TV.

If I’m cooking in the kitchen, there’s a TV hookup going on in the sun room.

Of course I’d rather not plug the boys into the hypnotic box (have you seen the research?), but if I don’t, I do not cook. Instead, I yell. Loudly and sometimes till my throat hurts and everyone is crying. I clean up tremendous messes. I intercede because Charlie is stepping on Kip’s head. I snuggle Charlie close after Kip whacks him with a dog bone. I banish Ralph outside because he snapped after too many of Charlie’s attempts to put a knight helmet on him. Despite my most valiant efforts—Library books on tape! Playdough fun factory! Whisks and mixing bowls full of soapy water!—my boys simply do not play quietly on command. The moment I enter the kitchen, the library book is ripped, the playdough is in someone’s mouth and the whisks are swords. Without the distraction of TV, I sure as sunrise do not feed anyone. And, as love-filled food feels important to me in nurturing my kids, my husband, my friends, my family and myself, when it comes to conscious meals vs. the evils of TV, I’m in quite a pickle.

If my aforementioned friend weren’t a refreshingly righteous chick with charm and verve and likability even beyond her chef skills, I might’ve crawled inside my inner shame factory and sat there rocking, sucking my thumb and repeating “peanut butter is not a food group; TV is bad,” for 48 hours.

But that would be rather fruitless, now wouldn’t it? Much like the shame-laced affair between TV and cooking in my house, I suspect we all have triggers that plunge us needlessly into our inner shame factories. And I hereby implore you to shut that mofo down.

Grrr. No room for shame in this house. Photo credit: Kip Quinn (“Make a siwwy face, Mommy, bahcuz, I’m a gonna take a pit-cher of ya.”)

You may have a separate set of triggers as a man or woman, as a partner, as a parent, as a professional, etc. On some days, the shame factory is going off from all angles. On other days, usually when we’re living in the moment and with intention, it’s boarded up and prepped for demolition.

This week, I swung the wrecking ball at the shame factory and dusted off my cook’s cape to save the day with a meal that would expand both cultural and nutritional horizons. (Who’s a parading wonder mom now?) These things take a little longer than 30 minutes, so consciously—and without the usual guilt—I plugged the kids into a full hour of PBS. I made peanut sauce. It wasn’t valiant, and, yes, it did include peanut butter. I stir-fried chicken, onions, zucchini and bell peppers, then tossed the stirfry in the peanut sauce and basil and served the dish with rice. Voila!

Did I expand any cultural or nutritional horizons with this meal? Nope, but it sure felt good to take the time to cook it, guilt free.

The boys refused the zucchini and the bell pepper, and the last couple bites were given as reparations to the dogs for four years of torture, but the boys pretty much ate the chicken and rice besides. Victory? Not until the shame factory is razed and I can be definitively gentler on myself for all future mealtimes.

We human types slog our way through countless trivial dilemmas every day. As parents, even the most trivial decision seems monumental because the wellness of our spawn is often at stake. The question of “do I take the time to cook something more complex and turn on the TV, or do I keep meals simple and play with them longer?” raised my awareness of the judges everywhere, outside and inside. Either I chastise myself for turning on the TV or for not preparing a thoughtful meal, for feeding them frozen stuff or for not allowing them the important lesson of enjoying mealtimes.

No matter my choice, something always seems to be lost. But we can’t allow ourselves to feel like we’re always failing, now can we? Alas, we live in a dualistic world. There is no clear right or wrong in a catch 22. You just pick one and trust it’s right for the moment. The only thing we can really control is being mindful and intentional about our decisions, and doing the best we can in each moment to care for ourselves, for our kids and for the world. If that means serving up buttered noodles at every meal or turning on the TV so we can boil water in peace, so be it.

My remedy: Whatever I do, do it consciously.

My sample inner dialogue: “Feeding my kids good food is very important to me. Tonight, they will watch TV so I can take the time to execute the kind of meal that matches my value of good eating.” Or, alternatively, on a different day: “I feel more than 30 minutes of TV might not be the best thing for them today, so tonight, I will feed them PB&Js.” All is as it should be and, this way, I won’t get side tracked into shame. (BTW, this can be applied to everything, not just to mama stuff.)

Burn, shame factory, burn.

Charlie savors my creation. (Note the stacks of laundry in the dining room. Yet another reason I don’t classify as a wonder mom: my house is never ever even close to perfect.)

Kip opening wide for peanut sauce chicken

A soundtrack to de-sulkify my fall

Today the boys and I took an urban nature walk. We tracked grasshoppers, saw color in the trees and ate some delicious apples. I may be coming around on this change-of-season thing. This calls for some music.

I have a really neat friend named Andrew. He really gets the earth and her seasons. You’d almost think he was a farmer with how in tune he is with the light, the air, the colors, the feelings, the everythings associated with each season. But he’s not. He’s a law student. And a musician (www.andrewwarrenmorgan.com) And so much more. Not in that order.

After writing to him that I was feeling “sad and transition-y” about fall, deep experiencer of the seasons that he is, Andrew not only validated my feelings, but also recommended something akin to a playlist to carry me through. “It’s a weird time of year, isn’t it?” he writes. “…Walks in the evening help a lot because I love to observe the subtle differences in light from day to day. And for some reason I try to embrace the weirdness of the change and soundtrack my life accordingly.”

And so I’m going to take his advice on evening walks and new music. To the below albums, I add two more: Andrew Morgan’s own Please Kid, Remember, which houses his “Leaves” suite, my most favorite song, possibly of all time; and Grey Light of the Season, an unimaginably gorgeous two-volume masterpiece that will take me all the way through to the spring equinox.

This kind of evening light demands a new soundtrack.

Music for your fall (Albums recommended by the wonderful Andrew Morgan.)

The Clientele’s Violet Hour

Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew

Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On

Two songs from God Save the Clientele – “Bonfires on the Heath” and “Harvest Time”

Andrew Morgan’s Please Kid, Remember

Andrew Morgan’s Grey Light of the Season

David Axelrod’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience

Simon & Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

The Zombies’ Odessey & Oracle

Elliott Smith’s XO

Arthur Verocai – self-titled

Hello darkness, my old friend

I do love a summer picnic in the grass…one reason why I’m mourning the change in season.

Fall came too soon this year. I mean, the fall equinox comes in late September like clockwork, but this year I’m not only puzzling over what to wear between hot and cold, but also feeling full-on pangs about the end of summer.

I want to hold onto the feeling of my bare feet in the dirt, the sun on my skin, chasing two boys in the sand, the days stretching out warmly in front of me. I want to not have to be anywhere at any particular time, to pack picnics, to launch into water, to wear sundresses, to be breezy.

Autumn is so many people’s favorite time of year that I start to wonder what’s wrong with me. The crispness, the leaves, the colors and the clearness are all undeniably beautiful. Still, deep down, I don’t feel ready for it this year. I’m uneasy. I feel scattered. Among other things, I just don’t want to put on my effing shoes.

The need for shoes = my autumnal melancholy

The start of the school year hasn’t helped, but rather magnified the fact that transitions are hell in our house. My finely tuned four-year-old, who deeply experiences even the slightest gyrations, has given me a massive awareness of change’s impact in his short time on the planet thus far. When even the little things require mindfulness—moving from one activity to another, one place to another, one parent to another—the big things, like transitioning from one season to another, wham us into an unrecognizable state.

Sometimes, to help the kids feel secure in knowing what the day holds, thus avoiding the fallout of an unexpected curve ball, I draw visual schedules of the day. Right now, I wish someone would draw me a visual schedule of this time of year.

Occupational therapy for mommy…will someone make me a visual schedule for fall?

“Here, lookie, Emily,” some magical someone would say. “You will start wearing shirts with long sleeves. And shoes that cover your feet. And maybe even socks. You might sometimes wear a jacket. And you will cook more with greens and potatoes and apples. And squash. So much squash. You will be driving in your car a lot, because school is 20 minutes away. The sky will be darker much earlier, so you will begin to nestle in a lot earlier in the evenings and you might have a harder time waking up in the morning. And, this will seem odd, but you may even feel reluctant to fill your after-dark social calendar. It’s ok. You’re entering the season of darkness and it’s normal to feel this way. It just is.”

Lookie, Emily, autumn looks like all this, plus squash.

Yes, of course! The fall equinox is about the arrival of the darkness, the time of year specifically designated for going inward and for burrowing “underground” to enjoy a transformative hibernation. It’s dark outside for a reason:  the darkness encourages us to move more slowly, to rest more, sleep more, to cook nourishing stews and cinnamon apples. To retire within to quietly transform. We do this all winter long, even through the winter solstice in December, which is about the return of the light. Until the spring equinox in March, we can be about gathering up energy from within to burst forth when the days again grow longer.

And so it strikes me that my own self-invented mental constructs about fall are the very things keeping me from embracing it.

Somewhere in my mind, I’ve believed that fall is the season of go-getting, the time when you buckle down and do stuff. In my head, this is a time of year when you have no excuse not to have it together. (Aside: That bleak time from January through March feels similar to me.) In my younger days, the arrival of fall meant the start of a new training cycle in the pool, when the short two-week break at the end of summer merged into long practices and sore muscles, long school days and late nights of homework. So. Tired.

Early fall has always meant to me that it’s time to get down to business. However, with my whole being, I wish to avoid this business of busy-ness.

Fresh off a fall equinox celebration with some wonderfully earthy women last night, I understand why I’ve been so resistant for the past few weeks: I’ve had it all wrong about fall. So, with new understanding, off I go to embrace the darkness, within and without; to take things more slowly, even amid the endless driving to and from preschool; and to hibernate a little more than usual in hopes of a quiet transformation energetically supported by the season. And, of course, to fall back in love with my boots.

Sunny days, bare feet and dozing in the grass give way to crunchy earth, fall boots and cozy nights at home. (Charlie took this pic of his brother and me.)

Wow. The world around is kinda nice to look at.

Kip in the trees

On most days, I’m a chronic phone checker. Email. Facebook. Texts. Voicemails. Being distant when I’m with my kids–or with anyone, or with no one–goes against everything I believe, yet I, too, get sucked into the technology vortex. I’m usually oblivious while I’m there in the moment until someone says, “Hey!” and I snap out of it. However, today, after I dropped Charlie at summer camp and ventured to a new park with Kip, I decided to set my bag, my phone, my to-go cup of coffee and even my shoes on a bench. Kip and I wandered around the park, playing, chasing, climbing, touching, hanging and marveling.

Grass so green, so soft. Mushrooms growing inside a hollow tree. Bark the color of eggplant. More bark shaped like a peacock feather. A giant iridescent beetle. A guy dancing a little bit while running.

It seems ridiculous to be just now realizing this, but this kind of beauty is always around. I only have to notice it.

It’s hard to see just how big and iridescent it was, but this was one large, shiny beetle. And it was actually pretty cool.

Shoes off, the grass felt almost feathery.

Peacock-feather bark

Kip and his twig art

A magical hollow tree

Enjoying our time together