listening clearly

September 28, 2016 § 3 Comments

Years ago our daughter told her elementary school nurse that she was home sick. The nurse and secretary called me so that I might offer encouragement, but our daughter patiently explained to me that she was the kind of sick that needs to go home.

It was a time when our daughter’s language was jumbled in order, when we had to listen intentionally to the entire thought and then double-check her meaning.

Less patient teachers, family and friends would finish her thoughts, rush the pattern; leap to false conclusions in their best efforts to demonstrate understanding. Most times our daughter gave up, burdened by the frustration of being misunderstood, and waited in silence to unpack her feelings at home.

Our daughter is no longer flagged for needs, her diagnosis no longer invites intervention or special care like her older brother. There are still long pauses and endearingly obscure turn of phrases, but she’s become better about speaking out and standing up for her thoughts.

It’s made her a more generous listener, more conscientious speaker; it’s made me a better listener, too. Sometimes.

I was thinking of this during our son’s school conferences. Specifically, the manner in which we are constantly assigning and infusing meaning with little clarification or confirmation.

In two classes our son had fallen behind, but both teachers spoke generously of his ability and gently of his anxiety. The language of his grades was an incomplete picture of his relationship with his teachers and classroom experience.

I had attended the evening’s conferences with a list of worries and questions, but I found myself listening, rather than speaking, to an unexpected pattern of meaning. Our son was repeatedly identified as a perfectionist with extreme anxiety over performance. He was noted as a respectful student and a thoughtful peer. A young man with artistic ability and unique math skills struggling with an internalized set of doubts and fears.

In the space of an hour I stopped worrying about performance and became immeasurably curious about our son’s emotions and the gaps between our conversations.

What I wanted to see was secondary to what my son might need his father and I to know.

The past couple of days I’ve been speaking less, listening more; changing my expectations and asking new questions. I’m assigning a different value to those worries I used to dwell on and double checking red flags for meaning.

Listening clearly.

pace, rest, joy

September 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

This year my One Little Word has been an active exercise in mindful balance; a bending and flexing of conscious intentions. More than years past, this year the monthly directives have complimented the serendipity of my life’s change with invitations to greater presence.

Designed by Ali Edwards, the guided monthly prompts keep me more firmly tethered to the spirit of my New Year’s Eve’s wishes. September’s assignment directed me to consider the pace of my days, the space of rest, and celebratory acknowledgments of simple joys as they pertain to my chosen word: wholehearted.

The timelines of this prompt allowed me to reflect on the day-to-day experience of my family’s adjustments as I stretched beyond familiar routines to embrace new experiences outside our home. I’ve shuffled priorities and adjusted my expectations, created new rhythms from old routines.

The pace of my days has been unhurried and intentional. I’ve taken comfort in the predictability within my priorities; I’m utilizing my time more productively, but I’m also resting more intentionally. I’m grateful that our schedule as a family was calm enough to incorporate change without toppling our collective patience even as I recognize that we are in the honeymoon phase of change.

For now there is still time enough for the quiet cup of coffee before sunrise and a simple homemade breakfast. My husband and I still cherish the short walk to the bus stop to see our children off to school. At this moment change has been less a sacrifice and more a reorganization of existing responsibilities.

I no longer indulge in late nights between pages of a new story or lengthy morning bike rides. There isn’t time enough to write in the familiar hours with reckless disregard for time. Instead I am making time intentionally for those beloved interests, while spending less time drifting between errands. Gone is the urgent impulse to move, in its place is a physical contentment with mid-day stillness as my thoughts chase new ideas over temporary distraction.

If rest is as much about nourishment in activity as it is replenishment in sleep, then joy is an old friend and a new awareness.

I’ve found greater joy in existing practices at home and discovered happy surprises at work. I like the simplicity of my tasks at the library, the sense of accomplishment in measurable goals. I’m remembering how rewarding work used to feel; the purposefulness and appreciation of a task well-done the same way I’m savoring my children’s curiosity and pride in my new adventures.

Joy is also countless small things with little rhyme or reason.

This month I’ve celebrated the crunch of early autumn leaves and late summer sunshine, birthday cake and sappy love stories. I’ve delighted in a friend’s remembrance of my childhood love of elephants and the sound of other friends singing to my voicemail. New classes and weekend dinners with old friends.

September has been a month of happy celebrations and everyday moments bound by joy and mindfulness. Even as the days shorten and the air turns cooler, I am holding the lesson of this month close as we usher in Autumn’s traditions and Winter’s holidays.

what’s in a name

September 23, 2016 § 1 Comment

Mother is my first name, my favorite word.

As a child I wished for another name for self. Marie was my grandmother’s middle name. My middle name, my mother’s. Both wore like ill-fitting hand-me-downs.

I did not yet know that we name children in languages of sentiment and hope. Motherhood has made me mindful of the tenderness with which we gift one another belonging and individuality.

I have also come to understand we are forever becoming the person remembered by a name too small to eclipse a single lifetime.

One word begins a story that strings exceptionally ordinary moments into an extraordinary lifetime.

the right light

September 22, 2016 § 9 Comments

For a moment, I felt beautiful. Every limb flexed in repose and still. I might have napped if the dog hadn’t insisted we play.


The picture was an impulsive frivolity. I was bookmarking a place I wanted to find my way back to; trying to remember the landmarks to such gentle contentment.

It was only later, when I viewed the image, that I marveled over the shape of my neck, the happy lines around my eyes, the casual sweep of dirty hair that fell lazily into place.

I wanted to whisper to this other self that I see her. Not the tired, broken woman I look for, but the tender soul just beneath the bravado.

I wonder why it is so easy to search an image for disappointment and criticism, instead of appreciation and kindness.

To see ourselves in the right light.

parenting character

September 21, 2016 § 2 Comments

In so much of parenting, success is a bit of a mystery. We see the difficult consequences of perceived error, but the evolution of accomplishment is not always confined to the tidy measurements of academics. Character is something we craft from challenges, not ease.

Our son is struggling in a particular subject, one I could not fathom performing myself. It is a class he has chosen for himself, work he has struggled through alone. By all accounts he is succeeding in his college preparatory choices, failing at mastery over material.

Our daughter is forever eschewing those interests others deem valuable to her future in favor of her own less notable interests. Recently this created a rare opportunity for her to mentor another from a place of ability in an exercise I had undermined by over-valuing the paths not taken.

Tonight as I juggle a poor grade and unexpected messages of praise, I’m thinking of the way we speak validation and encouragement for personal success in moments of struggle. The ways in which we parent for character over accomplishment and the work of recognizing the difference.

dressed down

September 20, 2016 § 5 Comments

In cultivating a new wardrobe for work, I had time enough to play at dressing up; fitting room productions of curious costumes for uncertain scenarios.

I slipped into elegant pencil skirts and feminine dresses, sharp slacks and pristine blouses. High heels and kitten pumps, practical penny loafers and functional ballet flats. The combinations were endlessly entertaining and mildly exhausting.

I wondered briefly at who I might have been had I ordered my choices differently; turning appreciatively to gauge the stranger that seemed at once both familiar and foreign. Store clerks acknowledged these alternate versions kindly, but I could only weather the work of each effort with disjointed appreciation.

I felt less myself without my feet braced barefoot for balance or fabrics gentle enough to accommodate my tendency to curl into a ball. Beautiful pieces were lost to the hair I more often let fall and the face I prefer washed clean.

For all the years I might have wanted to feel beautiful or sexy, I am most myself undone; happier outside the attention of dress and lost more peacefully to my thoughts.

I wonder if we ever outgrow the art of playing at self. Perhaps I have failed colorfully at growing up by too casually dressing down.


September 19, 2016 § 4 Comments

As the rhythm of my days adjust to accommodate new routines, I’m noting unfinished scraps of scribbles. To keep them safe for another day and to honor an authenticity in the timelines of my reflections, I’ve decided to publish fragmented musings. The notes to myself you might find hurriedly scrawled on napkin corners or store receipts tucked haphazardly in the messy nooks of my distraction.

Sometimes they are notes of gratitude in a moment of sentiment:

There are people we carry with us our entire life, those who hold us to a place we never fully leave and allow us to be a little more ourselves. Keepsakes of self too often shuffled beneath the responsibilities of the day, the frenzied busyness that interrupts our mindfulness. Fragmented memories scattered to the far corners of our attention, but held present in trust by guardians of the past.

Other times they are an observation on the obvious:

In change so much of what we know is reconfigured into another image of familiarity. It is a yawning accommodation that pulls our thoughts beyond our expectations to allow for something unknown. It is an invitation to make space for discomfort, to clear the energy that surrounds uncertainty of invisible limitations.

Then, there are the longer ramblings of partial truths and play. A piece of a story out of order:

Sometimes I want to say your name out loud, just to hear the sound. So much of our truth is lost in old lines of misplaced time, stolen moments from years past that linger in distracted memories. You are ever here, even in your absence. A ghost of something I cannot speak even as I fight to forget. How is it that two people can know so little and be certain of so much? To be eternally connected and forever apart. To choose, consciously another path, without ever wandering.

Mismatched and messy, I’ve lost the threads of thought that bound them to my words. Here, however unfinished, they are part of a larger whole.