Catch and Release

The mornings unfurl before me now, expansive, open ended. Suddenly there’s time to sit on the screened porch, the cicadas humming, their white noise infiltrating the silence, the rain playing its staccato beat, and write. Think. Be. Suddenly there’s endless time to swim and train, to run errands, unencumbered. To meander around bookstores, the colorful spines of the books lining the shelves, a running rainbow of words and stories.

It’s unsettling, this free time, and I’m unsure how to navigate because in the midst of exhaling, of realizing this gift of quiet and time to myself after years of very little, is the immutable reality that my role as a mother is always changing. We spend years knitting together our own version of motherhood. We question; we cry; we laugh. We sigh exasperatedly and feel that we will never quite get it right. And all the while, as we furiously create new layers, new textures, and designs, we realize that the other end is slowly and methodically unraveling.

Motherhood, it seems, is a catch and release, a ceaseless practice of gathering close and of letting go. And the unraveling around here lately has reached a furious pitch; we are on the cusp of change, just dipping our toes into the liminal spaces between the shadows of childhood and the hazy beginnings of becoming.

The sun hadn’t yet begun its wide arc across the sky as I stumbled out of bed and downstairs to find Pacey already dressed, packed, and ready to catch the bus on his first day of high school. Over the rim of my coffee cup, through the steam, I examined him, memorized the few remaining round, boyish features that lingered along the lines of his face. We’ve grown together; we’ve argued and said many harsh words; we’ve snuggled and watched movies and read books; and now that he’s tipped the scale towards more man than boy, now that he’s starkly taller than I am, I see that I’m releasing more than I’m catching. Our orbit grew ever so wider as he walked to the corner, backpack-less despite my futile protests, brown paper lunch bag in hand, his plain black lunchbag quickly becoming another unwanted relic of middle school. I couldn’t help but see the boy he was, the knock-kneed, striped polo shirt, backpack so large that it almost swallowed him figure that I sent to kindergarten in a release that was no less large, no less wrenching than this.

I know our time together, this day to day getting on with school and soccer and home and endless summers has already reached its pinnacle. We are on the downward slope, quickening with each day towards even more difficult releases, and I frantically want to grasp at every scant piece of his boyhood that remains on the edges. And while I know that the teen years are a time of reckoning, a time of push back and brassy behavior, I can’t help but want to soften my response to the increasing chaos and embrace the crazy, emotional, and sometimes obnoxious ways they embrace the world. Because I’m learning that softening, a more emollient and gentler approach with my children and maybe more importantly myself is the answer to the tumultuous way life refines us.

To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. —Pema Chodron

Every part of me wanted to panic and rattle as I struggled with gracefully allowing Rowan to board the bus later that morning. It was now her turn, with her too-big backpack and knobby knees, another image that will be a fallback, a marker, one to draw up when we need comfort. The bus drove away with a loud rumble, and I saw in such sharp relief that our entire reality shifted in that moment. Another orbit dramatically expanded and our slow mornings and drawn out and placid days are now the stuff of memory: another release, more merciless unraveling.

We talk of how babies change our lives, how time to ourselves becomes something of luxury. We move sleepily through molasses infused hours that bind each day indistinctly to the next, and then we finally come to the day we send everyone to school. I’ve been expecting to find more clarity; I expected to be invigorated by the freedom, and it’s surprising to find it feels just as hazy but with less noise. We will find our way, our comfort with this new routine and schedule, but for now, it feels strangely foreign and ill-fitting. It’s scratchy and unfamiliar, and in an attempt to not unravel myself, I’m softening my approach here, too. I’m, begrudgingly at times, giving myself the space to feel completely raw and uncomfortable because I’m learning that this constant knitting and unraveling is life’s way of refining us. The unraveling will relentlessly continue, but on the other end, unfurled and beautiful, ragged and undefined, there are new intricate layers and designs surfacing.

06-13-2016

Pitching Tents

Our campsite sat alone at the edge of a winding array of freshly groomed and perfectly square parcels of temporary residences. Slowly, we pitched our tent, what would become our shelter for the weekend, vulnerable and thin. Carefully choosing a corner of our site that had just enough tree cover and just enough space to hold the rectangular base of our tent, we brought the tent to three dimensions.

This trip, poised perfectly at the cusp of summer and fall, was a reaching, a narrowing of my purpose to provide my children and myself with what I believe we need in this world: nature, the rhythm of a day lived wholly outside, living by the sunrise and the sunset, simple, quiet togetherness. A longtime camper, our recent lives have included no weekend excursions. It simply wasn’t something that we found worked as a whole family, but recently, I’ve longed for the simplicity of the mountains, the way the crisp morning air provides a stark contrast to the day’s waiting warmth and humidity, the pungent campfire smoke, and the ambling way the hours drift by.

Just as my meager and out of practice fire began to finally form in the ring, a summer thunderstorm rolled across the tops of the trees and rain began to fall, slowly at first and with just enough time before the skies completely opened to dash on the rain fly and find solace in the tent. The rain pelted on the tent in a disparate but comforting rhythm, the delicate rivulets decorated the outside walls haphazardly in a veiny and translucent roadmap. Our new tent was being water tested within an hour of its debut, and we laughed at the impeccable timing of a surprise storm when the weather had shown no chance of rain.

Like the tent, I was also being tested within an hour of our arrival. This camping trip was the beginning of a different story I’m choosing to tell myself. Different than what I believed was capable of doing on my own. Different from the story I had been telling myself for years. A story that has had a rigid perimeter and a stringent middle. A story that says the idyllic, the ideal, the normal is the only definition of success and happiness.

It’s so easy to get absorbed in the caricatures of life we see every day, so easy to become enamored with the vision of a curated life, an exacting script to follow, a carefully plotted beginning, middle, and end. What I’m beginning to learn, what I’ve been learning over and over, is that there is no such script, no such predetermined plot line for a perfect life. Our decisions, our actions, and our desires form the plot line as we go, and it becomes perfect in its own design. It leads us to where we are meant to be.

And so I found myself alone with my children in a tent, during a thunderstorm in the mountains, making shadow puppets on the tent’s walls, laughing about the gibberish the lines of rain created, telling scary stories. I felt myself relax into this space just a little, the rain slowly peeling away the murky layers I’ve carried in a futile attempt to control and create a life that fit my exacting mold.

The storm finally waned but the rain drops deposited on the trees’ leaves relentlessly pelted the tent’s roof throughout the night, and it left me feeling raw and vulnerable, cracked open and exposed. My nerves were already on edge from venturing into this space on my own, and in the thick darkness I could hear Gage stir, sniffle, and then turn with a garbled release of sleepy words. In turn my emotions ran rampant and fluctuated between courageous and terrified. We knew no one else in the campground, my cell phone defiantly displayed No Service, there was word that a bear had been nosing around campsites at night in search of food, and within an hour of our arrival my story of how our weekend would go had been changed, wetted, and shifted.

Suddenly I had an intense and almost uncontrollable urge to go home, to frantically disassemble the drenched tent, pack my sleepy children into the car, and crash through the closed park gate, leaving the rain and the bear behind. I questioned my purpose in bringing us here, alone, without another adult to lean on for support. The sense of being utterly alone and unmoored in the world for that moment was inescapable and oppressive. I wondered: was I really interested in bringing us closer to nature and an easier way of living, if just for a few days, or was I trying to prove something?

Without the mind-numbing escape of social media or games on my phone, I found that my only way through this rainy, restless night was to breathe through the panic and to hold my fear gently. The soaked leaves finally dried, and we emerged from our soggy cocoon to face a new day, the fears of the night before fell away as we set to the morning duties of drying off chairs, making coffee, setting up the stove and making breakfast. The frantic questioning of the night before was silenced, quieted in the way that mountain mornings can hush most stress, and I trusted that we were here, in this magical place, amidst strangers and maybe a roaming bear, for exactly the reason we needed to be.

There was nothing left to prove because in the uncomplicated morning air, it was clear that this exodus from our normal lives was simply about us being together in this space that felt magical. It was about creating the plot line for our lives, in all of its messiness and unexpected turns and soggy tents. Rather than living in a desperate attempt to prove myself and create and curate my identity and our lives to others, what was brought into sharp focus was a need to simply be, to exist together in this splendid slice of time, a halcyon way to close the summer out, unfettered and free.

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Merry Christmas!

Whatever holiday you celebrate, I hope it is full of love, happiness, and friendship. And good food. Always good food! Thank you for being a part of my journey and allowing me to share my life and my clients’ lives with you. <3

As we enter into the holiday fun, capture the moments however you can. Here are some moments from our visit to Dickens’ Christmas Towne. Grainy. High ISO (5000). But completely perfect. (If you haven’t visited it yet, it is so much fun! And it’s open until 12/28, so there’s still time!)

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Rowan’s First Haircut | Personal

I had put this off for as long as possible. I didn’t want to cut those sweet, curly ends that have been around since her newborn days! But lately, the mornings have become a battle when we comb her hair. The ends were so dry and thin that they were constantly tangled. After two boys, I am still not used to the daily hair fight! We talked about it for weeks, and finally Rowan seemed like she was ready, so Pigtails and Crewcuts was our first stop on Saturday morning!

Jon said that I was more excited than Rowan, and I think he’s probably right. There’s just something different about a girl. It felt more like a rite of passage than a milestone, and it was just so emotional to see how big she was sitting in the fire truck getting her hair cut! She amazes me everyday; she’s such a perfect combination of sass and prissiness. She’s a princess who sometimes moons us. She loves her dinosaurs and her tiaras. I love that she is such a strong feminine force. I’ve learned so much from her already!

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What the big brother does. Video games, of course.2014-12-22_0002 2014-12-22_0003

That’s her I’m just not sure about this face!2014-12-22_0004

Those curls. I was so sad to see them go.2014-12-22_0005 2014-12-22_0006 2014-12-22_0007 2014-12-22_0009 2014-12-22_0010

I had to take this one. This is her life!2014-12-22_0011

Her stylist asked her if she wanted an Elsa braid. Of course this Frozen addict said yes!2014-12-22_0012 2014-12-22_0013 2014-12-22_0014 2014-12-22_0015 2014-12-22_0016

Growing Pains | Personal

Rowan is next to me doing the same puzzle for the fifth time. It’s a challenging puzzle for a three year old. Twenty-four pieces. Several different patterns. She’s had it since last Christmas, but still she needs help with it each time. We’ve shown her how the edges and corners work. We’ve talked about working on one animal at a time, breaking the puzzle down into manageable bits. But still, for the last eleven months, all of that advice just hasn’t stuck: she tries to force middle pieces along the edges; she leaves the pieces in a jumbled mess instead of flipping them over so she can see the pictures. And she usually ends up in frustrated tears when she tries to do it on her own.

But tonight, tonight is suddenly and amazingly different. For the most part, she’s doing the entire puzzle on her own. The pieces are still a bit of a mess. Every so often a middle piece is forced along the edge. And she might slam a piece in place out of frustration before she finally asked for help. But her independence is stunningly obvious.

Cue the sixth puzzle attempt.

Lately I’ve been feeling these same sort of growing pains. The same sense of frustration at where I am in my learning and growing process. I know I’ve made amazing progress in the last six months. But the internal struggle of admitting that I am growing and still have so much to learn is hard for me. I’ve always been a perfectionist; I like to be right and feel secure in what I do. Photography has shifted all of that for me.

It has forced me to embrace myself exactly where I am at the moment. After a session is over, I have to find peace with the result because there isn’t usually a chance to change anything. And gratefully not one session has been disastrous. I know I am being very critical of myself and my work, but I believe that is where my growth comes. At some point in my past, I would have experienced just a touch of this awkward stage and judged it too hard, too challenging to continue. It is much safer being stagnant, but stagnancy doesn’t bring happiness. Ever!

So I’m trying to find peace amongst the dissonance of each session’s learning moments. I’m pulling all of them together and moving forward. Sometimes it sticks immediately. Sometimes I have to learn it again and again before I really own it. Most recently, after being frustrated with too many soft images for my liking, I’m celebrating finding the absolute sweet spot shutter speed for my 135mm lens to avoid camera shake. (1/640 if you’re curious!)

Some days the pressure of growing so quickly feels too much; some days it feels like an amazingly exciting ride. I can equally be ecstatic and terrified about this journey all at once. Finding balance between these two extremes is never easy, but it helps to have others who have been there. They help me flip over my own puzzle pieces and guide me to putting them in the right place. Even if that means putting them aside for the night after a meltdown over the seventh attempt. They understand and encourage me to breathe and believe in myself and come back again later. And trust in the process, growing pains and all.

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First Days | Personal

2014-09-15_0023Last week I sent a fifth and seventh grader off to school. Over the next two weeks they will turn eleven and thirteen. I look at myself in the mirror and wonder how it is that I’m suddenly the mom of a teenager.

2014-09-15_0021I remember anxiously worrying about these days when I was still pregnant with Pacey. I fretted that he would be one of those teenagers. The disrespectful, rude ones. One of those skaters who would intentionally block the street at the entrance to our neighborhood. Those teenage days, a bit hazy and still so far in the future, seemed like the end of all that could be good about motherhood.

2014-09-15_0022And now, teetering precariously on the cusp of those hazy days, so close that they are sharply in focus, I tenderly hold that scared soon-to-be girl-mom in my heart. The lanky, deep-voiced, almost thirteen year old that has taken the place of the round face and soft curls is no more frustrating or less lovable than he was at three. The circumstances have changed. The frustration points are much different. But underneath the lank and rasp, he’s still Pacey. He’s still curls and cheeks and snuggles. And I find that I expected a sudden disconnect because of an age humorous.

2014-09-15_0020So it’s first days around here. First days of seventh grade and fifth grade. First days of three year old preschool. First days of the teenage years. All at once they are the squinty-eyed newborns, the curly-haired and ornery toddlers, and the freshly minted teenagers. First days of seeing again and again that motherhood evolves and grows with our children, but is seamlessly and gently timeless.

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Rowan is clearly more interested in the camera than the boys are now!

Ebb and Flow

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I drove down the interstate and saw the morning sun’s rays streaming to the earth. They drew me into a warm hug, and the feeling of wholeness, the understanding that the intricate gears of life really are working for my higher good overwhelmed me.

It’s what I needed to remember; it’s exactly why I headed to ocean’s edge that morning.

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Sometimes I want to smudge a few memories, erase parts or wholes of what have become the colorful canvas of my past even though I try to remember they have all lead me to this very place. But recently I was confronted with a sensitive and very important situation, and I was able to witness how important and integral all of those experiences are.

I approached the boardwalk, anxious for the healing way the waves have about them. The ebb and flow that mimics life, the methodic and expected dance that reveals the sand as ever changed from before the rush of water seemed to have drowned it. My run that day was slow and easy at first and then speed work intervals: two minutes of sprinting, and one of recovery. Like the waves and the sand, the speed attempted to destroy me, to erode me, but in those recovery minutes, I resurfaced renewed and stronger. Maybe microscopically at first, maybe with strength that is yet to be seen in its fullness, but infinitely better for experiencing a painful edge.

Photo Feb 20, 10 01 55 AMI’ve observed before that life tends to come in these two to one intervals, in these waves of anxiousness and relief, in an ebb and flow of joy and despair. And in those moments of joy and despair last week, in the intense speed work followed by easy running, so many things that have ever happened in my life all came rushing in on me in a powerful way. There wasn’t one particular memory or situation that contributed directly to last week’s experience, but I could see so clearly how they have all worked synergistically to lead me here.

Within that gift of clarity, life has never felt so alive and incandescent. So perfectly informing me that I am on the right path and that if I’m open to it, life is a spiritual practice. Every run, every exhale, every sharp inhale, the smiles and tears, the moments of disconnecting and connecting to those we love, a sip of a cold beer, the first scent of hot coffee in those bleary-eyed first morning moments is a prayer, a meditation. That within the crashing waves, in those moments of silent withdrawal into the great unknown, there is a fragment of awareness, a chance to bask in peace and wisdom.

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Stay the Course

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Before sunrise this morning we headed to the oceanfront for the start of the Shamrock Marathon weekend. Jon was running the 8k: his longest run ever. Gage was running the Operation Smile Final Mile: his first race ever. I was nervous about keeping everyone happy for the day. Jon raced at 7:45, and Gage didn’t run until 11:30. What would we do in between? There would be tens of thousands of people contained in a very small portion of the resort area. How would I wrangle three kids within that chaos? Rowan is just now comfortable with potty training. How would we handle port-a-potties, crowded bathrooms, lines, and the potential for no toilet paper?IMG_1251 copy

As I started worrying about all of these things last night, I reminded myself to stay focused on all of the good. We were supporting each other as a family. Jon and Gage were both doing something they’ve never done before. I got to be crowd support for Jon along a race course for the first time. The weather would be sunny and warm. We would be within sight of the ocean all day. It held tremendous promise, so I packed us a picnic brunch, the running stroller, extra clothes for Rowan and trusted we would be fine.

And we were. We parked quickly, saw Jon off at the starting line, caught my friend, Courtney, the 8k Elite for the Day win, and found Jon easily at the finish line. There was a neighborhood park and picnic area next to our parking spot, so we had a relaxing brunch and some time to play before Gage’s race.IMG_5162

I love that running brings people together– friends, communities, and today, for us, a family. We had so many different opportunities to just be together today, to root for each other, to see that a morning spent together has possibilities for joy and growth that we could have missed out on if we had chosen to make it easier by leaving Rowan with a babysitter or to divide and conquer the races. Instead, we were all in, all together. Photo Mar 15, 11 15 31 AM

And that’s new for us. Over five years in as a blended family, and I feel like we are just reaching some understanding of what it is that works for us. Of a space where we can feel cohesive. And maybe a little of it is finding the courage to step out together instead of finding ways to make it quieter, easier, and smaller. Today, we ventured out as a unit, the five of us, and did much more than run races and cheer. We found joy and happiness and ease with each other in a situation that isn’t vacation. That was fairly simple and everyday. IMG_5155

Tomorrow I am set to run the Shamrock Half and hopefully put to rest a very ancient PR from 2008, which was also my first half-marathon. As I was worrying about goal times and paces and strategies this afternoon, my coach Denise, from Red Hammer Racing, called. We talked about a pacing plan. It’s conservative, but it should lead me to a PR, and it will put me in control of this race. It will teach me how to better pace a race consistently, and it should put me in a place to run the Cherry Blossom Ten Miler very successfully.

My PR stands at 2:14:13, which is a 10:14 average.

My goals:

A: 2:08, 9:46 average
B: 2:10, 9:55 average
C: 2:12, 10:05 average

Based on all of my training runs, my B goal, which is how my pacing strategy is focused, should be within reach. Denise told me today that as I increase my pace over the thirteen miles if any pace begins to feel like a struggle and if I feel like stepping to the next level would create problems, to stay where I was. Hold the pace I was running and fight for it. Tell myself whatever I needed to hear to keep my focus.

When I was talking with Jon about the plan, he reassured me that I’d do great. And told me to stay the course.

Stay the course.

There is so much wisdom in those words. It is ridiculously frustrating to me that my first half-marathon from six years ago is still my fastest. It has been maddening that it can be incredibly hard for us to bond as a family. I question both situations frequently, and with those words, I understand a little more what I need to do, what we as a family need to do.

Stay the course.

For this family and for this race. They are worth fighting for, and this weekend is teaching me to believe in both even more and to remember to trust in race day magic and the magic of a family intent on succeeding.IMG_5163

Bringing Spring

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Yesterday the sun shone brightly, a swift breeze kicked across the still barren and wintry landscape, but the temperatures climbed steadily towards seventy degrees. Life buzzed in and around our neighborhood. We washed cars and rode bikes and lifted our faces towards the blue, sunny sky.

And today it snowed.

Such is winter. We are on our fourth no school snow day of the season, and we are all restless. Today’s bleak grey skies, gusting winds, and gathering ice make yesterday’s brilliant and golden hues seem the stuff of dreams.

A coming spring seems the stuff of dreams.

The morning plodded slowly towards lunch time, and instead of sulking into our gloom, which was beginning to happen, we unceremoniously tore down the tired snowflakes from our kitchen window.

Winter may be circling and pawing its way to an extended nap, but we are ready for spring. Even a glimpse of it from our kitchen window. And even if there is snow on the other side.

Ready for a touch of spring?

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Make your own. Bring some spring to you. Even in the midst of the snow. This was simple and spontaneous and completely unplanned, but it shifted our day. Around the kitchen table, in an impromptu mess of paper bits and glue and tape, we created a little of our own sunshine.

Maybe you need the same? Here’s what we did.

We used washi tape to make flower mosaics and tissue paper for a paper flower.

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Muffin cups became birds and construction paper and ribbon and twine for kites.

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Tissue paper and a paper plate for a sun and a little green construction paper grass for the flowers to call home.

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Springtime in our kitchen! (Ignore the snow.)

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Invested, February Edition

It always seems as if February is here and behind us before we even have a chance to settle in. After January, my goal was to take pictures specifically with the idea of “invested” in mind, but that’s not how life works. We moved along through the month. We watched the Olympics, ran races, baked and baked, even crafted. We enjoyed friends and family; we enjoyed dating again, and somewhere mid-month, I felt a little guilty for not focusing on that intentional photography part of this project.

But once I started pulling pictures for this mosaic, I was overwhelmed by what they demonstrated. This month has been happily, overwhelmingly full: full of invested moments, of invested living, of a thudding, vibrating life. Were there days that were less than fulfilling? Were there moments less than invested and less than loving? Yes, of course. But that’s living, isn’t it? The trick I’m learning, and it isn’t an innovative thought, is to have those bleak, grueling days be fewer than the alive ones. And maybe that doesn’t always happen, but I this quote that came across my Facebook newsfeed last week reminded me that usually, it’s up to me:

It’s never too late to start the day over.

I’ve tried to remember that when we are running late for school and Rowan has changed back into her pajamas and pulled out her already crooked ponytail. Or when stomach bugs and colds take us down again and training becomes nonexistent. I might not be in control of the situation, but I can always be in control of my reaction to it and how I move through it.

So I’m using this line that I wrote just the other day as my mantra moving forward:

If invested is my aim this year, then that requires investing in the moments that are important to me then and there, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

It’s really as simple as that.

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