On Friendship, Both True and Blue.

She is simultaneously a thick slice of Portland sunshine and Portland rain, the likes of which produce double rainbows dancing in the sky.

Like a song forever in my heart, she waltzed herself into my life more than a decade ago with tales of faraway lands: Copacabana, but not the one that you think you know.

Standing together in our white lab coats, Spanish floated between us with a curious ease. She taught me to fearlessly draw blood into a needle from a tiny vein. From her, I also learned to love a friend most uncommonly, and without surrender.

Her beauty is immeasurable, the glow seated in her soul. You would miss its depth entirely if you were not to dig deeply.

She is the tranquil eye of the storm, endlessly and without pretense showing us all of the pretty and sometimes most peculiar things.

She speaks in harmonious metaphor, mostly in lowercase i, if that is a thing.

Her eyes see things ordinary folk do not see. She captures the world through her camera lens: barbershops and brand new babies, bougainvillea and true blue love on the shores of Mexican beaches. She finds the soul in nonliving things. It is both extraordinary and beautiful.

She is a mama-bear to two gorgeous children, and you can feel the burning heat of her love if you stand too close.

She is a light so bright. She is gleaming turquoise in the hot desert sun. She is tide pool starfish, fourth of July sparklers. She is street tacos and black tea, organic milk and backyard bee honey.

She is all of these things to those fortunate enough to land in her circle,

and I am blessed to have spent time in her orbit.

She was there for both a reason and a season, but I will adore her all of my life. I miss my dear and true blue friend. Perhaps distance makes the heart grow fonder, but I sure do wish she and I lived next door to one another.

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Thief of Joy

 

It’s middle school season for my eldest and his peers: applications to private schools submitted, decisions made, and futures solidified. These are admittedly privileges of Seattle wealth, opportunity, test preparation classes, and IQ. I am the first to acknowledge that fact, as a woman who paved her own way through public school in this city, and self-funded her college education through hard work and a few academic scholarships. These choices of privilege were not part of my childhood. My destiny was in my middle-class hands, and it was entirely my job to erect my own damned ladder and rise.

Bear with me for a moment as I veer off in a seemingly disparate direction. I recently heard this parenting analogy and it’s all I can think of lately. In a nutshell, we prepare for parenting our children the same way in which we prepare for a trip to Italy. We buy the guidebooks, we study the maps and memorize all the inner workings of public transportation. We book our hotels and secure our well-qualified guide for the leaning tower of Pisa, who surely will have some novel, never-before-heard explanation about the four-degree lean. We have our entire itinerary planned out to the very last detail. We board the plane, lean our seat back into the knees of the poor woman behind us, and close our eyes with the secure knowledge that we have crossed every last “t” in preparation for this adventure. The plane’s wheels hit the tarmac twelve hours later, and the pilot announces, “Welcome to Peru. We hope you enjoy your trip.” Wait, what?

Many of my friends have landed in Italy this spring with their middle school acceptance letters. They are basking in the glow, because their children have landed in the country for which they have been preparing for the past eleven years. I am the first to wholeheartedly admit that it is a little bit hard for me to join in celebration. If I am to be a truth-teller, I recognize  that these feelings are a mainly a reflection of my own history of being a competitor, an achiever, and a goal-accomplisher. I have always been a round peg, and it’s hard not to want the same for my son, but he is wired differently and let’s be honest: he doesn’t even care. (Which is so very beautiful.) Yet still, having my son follow the unscripted path is hard for this mama who, despite my very best intentions, cannot help but succumb to comparison with my girlfriends and their children.

Here’s the thing, though: parenting Malcolm has been a journey of absolute immersion into the unexpected and unplanned. With him, we have been exploring the countryside of Peru for the past eleven years. There is no Colosseum here, but have you ever been to Machu Picchu? I have, and it’s beyond explantation and it makes no sense that it even exists, but it will take your breath away the first time you experience it. There are terraced potato fields here, a type of superstructure you never even knew existed from your extensive research on Roman architecture. The language is a different one than I had studied in my phrase books, but it is beautiful and I’m learning vocabulary I would not have otherwise needed to know. Also, what I’ve come to realize here in Peru is that I soak up the sun at a different latitude with my boy, but at its essence, it is the exact same sun as the one that bathes Italy in a warm summer glow.

Traveling in Peru without the guidebooks, one must come to the realization that in order to survive, you have to throw out all your expectations and instead just bask in the fire of the experience as it burns before you. Sometimes it is so beautiful that my heart nearly bursts: witnessing my boy’s intrinsic empathy, compassion, independence, self-sufficiency, encyclopedic knowledge of world history, and true-blue love of our planet and every last inhabitant (including fire ants), for example. But that beauty is tempered with the frustration and challenge that accompanies trying to understand and correct things that are seen as deficiencies in the round-peg world. For Malcolm, writing does not come easily, math facts bounce around but rarely stick, test taking is akin to putting him in front of a firing squad, and social connection is never a guarantee. These are all formidable obstacles to fitting into that box of privilege that is the straight arrow path to some private schools. I’m pretty sure it’s not quite like this in the parenting world that is Italy. (Actually, I’m 100% sure, because our second born son has taken us on a predictable and perfectly-executed, nine-year-long guided tour of Italy, including jaunts into sunflower filled fields in the countryside and weeklong stays at formerly undiscovered beaches on the Mediterranean Sea.)

At the end of the day, more often than I wish were true, I must take a moment to remind myself that comparison is the thief of joy. Imagine a life without having ever explored Peru, without having experienced the heartfelt joy of discovering its existence. Peru was never meant to be compared to Italy. The color and culture of this journey is beautiful all on its own. We are lucky parents for having the opportunity to explore this wondrous world.

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***** Eleven years of Malcolm *****

Brené Brown’s Parenting Manifesto

In case you missed it, may you find wisdom, compassion, and validation of your own parenting journey in Brené Brown’s essay, The Parenting Manifesto, which follows below. Her words brought me peace and perhaps a bit of validation today in my own journey of imperfection and vulnerability with my kids. If one thing is certain, Malcolm and Oliver hear me say, all too often, “I screwed up. I am an imperfect human, and that is perfectly alright. I will do my best to learn from this experience, and I will try to do better next time.” Onward, parents.

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(That one time we took the kids to Costa Rica for a month and faced plenty of fears,  made 1,000 mistakes, sat with sadness and joy together, practiced gratitude together for our good fortune, and also found plenty of bliss.)

Above all else, I want you to know that you are loved and lovable. You will learn this from my words and actions–the lessons on love are in how I treat you and how I treat myself.

I want you to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections.

We will practice courage in our family by showing up, letting ourselves be seen, and honoring vulnerability. We will share our stories of struggle and strength. There will always be room in our home for both.

We will teach you compassion by practicing compassion with ourselves first; then with each other. We will set and respect boundaries; we will honor hard work, hope, and perseverance. Rest and play will be family values, as well as family practices.

You will learn accountability and respect by watching me make mistakes and make amends, and by watching how I ask for what I need and talk about how I feel.

I want you to know joy, so together we will practice gratitude.

I want you to feel joy, so together we will learn how to be vulnerable.

When uncertainty and scarcity visit, you will be able to draw from the spirit that is a part of our everyday life.

Together we will cry and face fear and grief. I will want to take away your pain, but instead I will sit with you and teach you how to feel it.

We will laugh and sing and dance and create. We will always have permission to be ourselves with each other. No matter what, you will always belong here.

As you begin your Wholehearted journey, the greatest gift that I can give to you is to live and love with my whole heart and to dare greatly.

I will not teach or love or show you anything perfectly, but I will let you see me, and I will always hold sacred the gift of seeing you. Truly, deeply, seeing you. –Brené Brown

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The Six Week Smile

Moxk5rMERESPGXaHmIt4qgWhen I brought Malcolm home from the hospital nearly eleven years ago, our beloved next door neighbor Randy looked deeply into his freshly minted eyes, the way you do across a candlelit table on a third date when you realize that you might be sitting across from the elusive one you didn’t know you were seeking. Randy’s was not an uneasy gaze, but more of an inquisitive meeting of souls. Randy, in his ethereal, woo woo, semi-omniscient manner said, “He’s an old soul, this one. Just wait, Stephanie: about six weeks in, when you’re ready to kill him because your entire life has been turned upside down, he’ll capture you with his smile and you’ll never be able to look back to that other life, the ‘before.'” Randy was right. I was not even remotely prepared for motherhood, and those six weeks were an unending (and upending), arduous, mostly self-defeating winter season with no apparent end in sight. And then, just as Randy promised, our first-born son smiled.

Zoe and I were out for a walk last night, and I as I inhaled the intoxicating scent of daphne blossoms, I audibly exhaled with the realization that spring had finally arrived, not quite in all her glory, but certainly approaching that zenith. I walk without headphones, but sometimes with my nose in a book I acquire along the way from one of the myriad little free libraries in my neighborhood. Last night was different. Zoe and I paid attention: she to wayward bunnies, me to the first blossoms of spring.

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Clover is in full force around here, although you won’t find me looking for the four-leaf variety. The euphorbia with their brilliant yellow inflorescence stand tall, impossible to miss. There are the grape hyacinth, so aptly named that Malcolm as a three-year old wondered if he could eat them. It’s easy to miss the petite forget-me-nots peeking above mottled green leaves, doing their job as I am reminded of Amy’s wedding a zillion years ago. But my favorites are the magnolias: magnolia stellata are usually the first to bloom, but my heart will be singing some Taylor Swift tunes with the base turned all the way up when the big guns, the magnolia grandiflora, finally burst onto the scene. Right now, their blossoms are fuzzy little fists raised in indignation to perfect blue spring skies, bound tightly and waiting for their cue to join the chorus of blossoms.

The entrance of spring reminds me of those first six weeks of motherhood: the grey, dark dismal days with no light in sight. Just like Malcolm’s first smile, spring’s arrival caught me completely off guard, but has left me a different version of myself, this year. Seattle’s winter this year has truly been impossible. The promise of spring felt almost beyond reach in the deep snowmageddon months of winter, where school was cancelled day after day after day. Parenthood is like that too sometimes, with the ebb and flow of perfect moments interspersed with unanticipated darkness in the middle of the light. Every once in a while, I would welcome a good old-fashioned snow day where I’m excused from parenting.

Anyway, perhaps it goes without saying, but I’ll say it nonetheless: I’m so glad Mother Nature finally decided to smile this week.

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*All photos are mine, taken with my iPhone. Please don’t borrow without permission!*

Pura Vida in Tortuguero, Costa Rica

The boys think it’s amusing when I fall off the sidewalks here in Costa Rica. “Why do they build such tall sidewalks?” they wonder. Last night provided the answer: torrential rain, unending thunder, and a night sky illuminated by so much lightning that our boat captain scarcely needed headlights at midnight as we sped through the dense jungle canals of Tortuguero. Those elevated sidewalks keep you from sloshing through the temporary rivers flowing everywhere.

Midnight adventuring with two young boys in a rainstorm like none you can imagine, you ask? Well, the thing I’ve learned in the past 18 days is that once you’ve committed to something here, it’s pretty hard to reverse course. Changed your mind about the zip line while you hover 200 meters above ground on a platform just large enough to hold six medium sized humans? Salada (too bad). Get your booty up there and terrorize the cloud forest howler monkeys with your own screams of trepidation and delight.

Now, about last night: in my opinion, you don’t come to Tortuguero without signing up for a slot in the coveted turtle tour. Back in the old days, this meant joining your 66 year old mom and a knowledgeable park ranger on a casual after dinner stroll down the beach, in search of giant nesting sea turtles. You came, you saw, you conquered. That was the expectation last night, but it’s 2018 and at this point in our journey, I really should have known better.

The boys and I set out at 8:30pm for a boat ride to the National park. We arrived at 9:15, and were promptly informed that our tour would begin at 10pm and end at midnight. (Remember: no turning back here.) The maximum-capacity-Oliver-whining thusly commenced as we trudged about a mile though an unlit dense forest path in knee high water, two hours past his bedtime. Our waterlogged rain boots were handy, I suppose, to defend against venemous snakes and brushes with poison dart frogs. After Oliver lost a boot in the mud suction cup swamp one time too many, I engaged my Jillian Michaels biceps and carried his 64 pound body to the beach. I recall, vividly, barking at his whiny little self that he was no longer entitled to complain; that the only complaints our group would hear for the rest of the evening would arise from me. I did pull out all the mama stops and agreed that the level of crappiness of this trek afforded the boys the opportunity to practice a few choice swear words. Everyone’s mood lightened substantially with each “This is so crappy, mom!” uttered by a school boy.

At long last, we reached Turtle Mecca. The Caribbean surf was deafening under the night skies, and tight groups of ten tourists gathered around dim red lights scattered along the beach. Our guide Giovanni, whose English was limited strictly to his memorized script, did his best to provide zero assistance in navigating across palm fronds, discarded Coke bottles and soggy coconuts in the pitch black night to our first mama turtle.

She was an enormous green sea turtle, about as long as Oliver is tall, half-buried in sand and clearly exhausted after hours of laying eggs (supposedly upwards of 500, according to Giovanni, although if he’s anything like me with foreign language numbers, he very well could have meant 50). Malcolm was over the moon: bucket list item, check. Oliver? “Well, there goes my dream of actually seeing a turtle lay her eggs. All we saw was some digging and then a slow shuffle back to sea.” He’s such a gracious kid, and fills me with a constant sense of parental pride.

Elated or disappointed, our grupito headed back to Tortuguero town. About ten minutes into the swamp trudging affair, Giovanni got a hot tip from guide #38 that another mama had come to the beach and was laying eggs. We all agreed, despite the time of 11:45pm, to stumble back to the beach to watch her in action.

When we arrived, zen mama had already excavated a deep cavern in which to lay her eggs. One by one, shiny eggs the size of golf balls fell into her hole. If I could have seen their faces, I’m certain the boys lower mandibles would have been rooted firmly on the beach. Even Oliver grumpy pants, three hours past bedtime, was ecstatic.

Adventuring with eight and ten year old boys through the urban and wild landscapes of Costa Rica is not easy, to put it as benignly as possible. There are arduous bus rides, waiting in lines, sweating buckets, fending off mosquitos, refusing to eat “weird” foods, drinking Fanta (so much Fanta!), dodging cars in San Jose, visiting a Costa Rican ER, smashing spiders as large as my palm (sorry, giant araña), making peace with the meaning of “ahora”—which technically means “now” but could be anywhere from ten minutes to three hours. But without a doubt, these spectacular moments convince me in some convoluted way that the family journey has all been worth it. My kids may never try gallo pinto or stare out the windows at endless jungle on long bus rides as I do, but I feel 88% certain that neither child will forget this trip filled with lessons in resilience and a whole lot of Pura Vida, mae.

The Single Parent, Married-Style.

I am both married and a weekday single parent, and knowing little else, I cannot imagine doing this life differently. I see “the other way” at birthday parties, parent-teacher conferences, on my instagram feed: two parents handling the cake and candles, two parents fielding questions from teachers, two parents touring schools and standing impatiently in the aisles of Fred Meyer, weight shifting from foot to foot while the kids painstakingly select items on which to spend their birthday money. I am uncertain if I would like the “other” way, the two parent model–not so much because it’s unpalatable, but more so because it’s unfamiliar terrain to me nearly ten years into this parenting journey.

There is no right, there is no wrong, there just is–that’s the only truth I know. I refuse to judge either model, because frankly, most people don’t have a choice. Dave is unexpectedly in Israel this week, and I sent him off with my blessing. Because ISRAEL, y’all. (Why can’t I be Dave? The wanderlust never leaves my heart.) I know his going could be my undoing, as tomorrow is Oliver’s birthday party and I’m on my own. But again, not unfamiliar territory. There is strength in practice, a fact learned through soccer and half marathons, careers gone wild, epic life failures, knitting, and parenting, and somehow, I feel like my game is strong going into this weekend. (Although I just realized I kind of forgot about the cake. Whoops.)

I fail a lot as a parent. Like, a LOT (see previous paragraph). I’m late to school pickups, my kids play far too much on their iPads, dinner rarely qualifies as a complete meal, though my kids do eat their fair share of broccoli and raspberries (a small parenting victory, hard-fought). There is an occasional wistfulness for the “other” way; the ability to ping my beloved and ask him to swing by school and pick up a kid or two. The meeting with the head of school. The grocery list and laundry piles that never, ever end.

But there is also liberty in this custom of single parenting, married style. There is guilt-free booking of tickets to Costa Rica for a party of three, while they are young enough to be non-teenagers, and old enough to hold their own on the chicken buses. There is knowing that the hubby will be fine in his lone wolf style way back in Seattle, and that he can join us for the tail end of the adventure. There is meeting a college girlfriend in California next month with the kiddos, just two moms and three boys and one crazy half-planned adventure. There’s the part about doing it mostly all my way five days a week, and not having to check in to make sure my values and these life experiences I create for our kids align with the expectations of their dad. I get to operate under the assumption that they do, and that is so very liberating. Does this always work out? 99% of the time, yes. We are lucky in having found our weekday parenting equilibrium, I suppose.

None of this single parenting I describe would be possible without Dave’s support as the so-called “working” parent. I didn’t imagine myself wanting this gig (ever), and I also didn’t imagine myself loving it as much as I do. Every day is summer vacation. Well, not exactly, but I do pinch myself sometimes to remind myself of our good fortune. Dave works a lot, mostly by choice as I have observed, although there is no question that his job requires an intensity many cannot fathom. He thrives around high-drive individuals, and I cannot imagine him finding happiness without some degree of that in his life. Time will tell, though. You should see him luxuriate in the hot tub and on the slopes at Whistler!

It is possible that Dave could retire in the near-ish future, and this worries me a bit because our weekday parenting boat would rock wildly. The two of us, the four of us, really, would have to relearn the equation. The kids would eat more pizza and french fries and nutella brioche. There would be a lot more weekday skiing, I imagine. Lunch might never get made, and the kids would have to learn to fend for themselves (which at this point usually looks like triple-decker sandwiches with chocolate sauce instead of peanut butter). Oliver’s math skills might just go through the roof. Malcolm would be understood more clearly from 3:30 on, because in some way, he and his dad are kindred spirits in the way their brains see the world. It wouldn’t be bad at all, I suppose, but certainly different, in the same way that newly divorced individuals have to learn single parenting, our family would have to learn the other way. It’s quite possible that more of this:

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would lead to this version of me, because she’s in there guys–in all her glory, itching to join the Peace Corps and raise chickens/honeybees/goats/quinoa/potatoes/etc in the Andes. Dave can handle the boys and they will be just fine. I trust his parenting, just as he trusts mine.

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Photographs and Memories

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On paper, she is completely relatable, profound and insightful, even. She might actually be a kindred spirit, I think to myself as I read her posts. In real life, she is on the spectrum, eyebrows knitted, finding the negative in everything, including lilac blossoms. It gives me pause, pondering for a moment the image I project versus the human that I am.

Photographs and memories in the making are constantly shared on social media, but the reality? I’ve been ice-cold chilled to my core here in Whistler, and couldn’t wait tonight to hop into the hot tub after devouring half a bag of Old Dutch Canadian salt and vinegar chips and a homemade margarita. We all do this, I suspect, knowingly or otherwise. We consciously choose to paint ourselves in pastels and watercolors, when reality often suggests a page delineated with a permanent black marker scribbled haphazardly about.

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I’m not sure which part is true, though. My smallest boy, on the brink of his eighth birthday, is still half-clothed in sweaty ski gear, lounging on the couch with the dull roar of cartoons breaking up the peaceful vacation vibe, his head warming my arm as I tap away on my iPhone, stream-of-consciousness style. These are the real moments, the life bits we fail to share because really, they aren’t worth mentioning. But they are also the moments I don’t care to let go of; the moments that disappear in the blink of an eye when he has a wife instead of a mom, when I’m the least important person in his life.

Maybe it’s the tequila talking. I don’t know. I’ve been looking forward to Costa Rica like nobody’s business–you just can’t imagine all that I want to share with my family this summer. But I’m also terrified that the reality won’t match the virtual reality in my head. The Arenal volcano no longer erupts on the daily as it did when I lived there in 1997, and I hear that Monteverde looks not one iota as it once did. Will this make our experience any less, that it doesn’t match the Costa Rica of my memory? Does the fact that we lounge on the hide-a-bed couch watching cartoons at Whistler aprés ski make this experience any less memorable? Or will this be the moment I remember, his heavy head resting on my forearm, my fingers combing his unruly cowlick into submission, the ice cubes in my margarita melting from the heat of the fire?

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What constitutes memory, anyway? We don’t get to choose, do we? I look at my boys, wondering if their nostalgia will mirror my own, and I know in my heart the chances are unlikely.

Photographs and memories–disparate moments captured in time, perhaps rarely aligning. I’ll have another salt and vinegar chip (even though potato chips are not my thing). I’ll head down to the pool with my family, chat with an articulate, arrogant, and altogether intriguing local Israeli-Canadian man, fat snowflakes falling noiselessly through the night sky all the while. And I will find myself thinking about stepmother number one, Marlene, the Canadian who in some small part brought a piece of this experience to me. She was short, red-headed, and with a fiery personality and the cajones to throw salad and steaks against the kitchen wall in a fit of frustration. She loved me like her own baby girl, and I don’t remember what we had for dinner that night…probably salt and vinegar chips. Memory is such a trip. No beginning, no end, just points on the continuum, none that we get to choose.

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Unlocking Malcolm

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He sat quietly in the backseat of the Subaru this morning, as he always does on the way to school. He’s usually staring out the window, eyes fixed on the distant Olympic mountains as we cross the Aurora bridge, imagination at level extra-ordinary. If I attempt to engage him in conversation, he’s usually startled, caught off guard. Today we were driving along and he interrupted the silence with, “Mommy, why are so many people reliant upon technology?” As is often the case with Malcolm, I didn’t quite understand the direction of his question, so he clarified at my urging. “I mean, I keep a bunch of stuff in my head, and my teacher has to look stuff up on the internet. All my classmates do that, too, but I just have so much in my head that I don’t feel like I need to do that.”

He’s not talking about what one might assume. He doesn’t have all his math facts perfectly memorized. He doesn’t know who the first twenty presidents were, and in fact, depending on the day, he might not even remember the name of our current president. He struggles to learn phone numbers and has an incredibly poor concept of time. In fact, last week he shared with Oliver that he would be starting college when he turned ten. True story.

The depths to which Malcolm’s brain dives aren’t ordinary, though. They aren’t predictable, and for the most part, they’re challenging for my linearly-aligned brain to understand. I believe he has an imagination the average human can’t fathom, one that he struggles to express because, as he says so often, “You just won’t get it.” This big imagination, all-consuming that it is, might leave little room for the mundane of 9×8=72. But this imagination, unfortunately, doesn’t serve him in traditional schools. After years of watching him struggle in school, I would venture to guess that the majority of his former teachers, while they may not have admitted it, felt the same way.

You see, Malcolm learns differently. He is dysgraphic, dreamy (aka inattentive), and introverted. He’s also a voracious reader. These are labels, but they do not define this boy. What I have learned, and this journey has been arduous, is that Malcolm’s brain is like an ancient lock, one for which the key was long ago misplaced. We’re still combing the fields with our metal detector, looking for the perfect key. It has been trial and error, hit and miss, failure and success.

I suppose the one lesson we have learned is that Malcolm is the cardinal opposite of one-size-fits-all in terms of learning. Group skiing lessons: total bust. One on one lessons: he was skiing down intermediate hills within his first season. Writing assignments in his first two schools: puddles of tears, anxiety, depression. Writing with tools that support his differences: five paragraph essays. (Just kidding! But we will take a five sentence essay any day with Malcolm.)

For as long as he has been a human, he has drawn stick figures and little else. Stick figures holding swords, stick figures with a leash, stick figure families. He broke down last week, perplexed by his inability to draw. I knew the key to his success: one-on-one art lessons. Yesterday, after one hour with a teacher, he skipped out of the studio and said he really actually loved art. Malcolm made this charcoal drawing yesterday. I’m beside myself. From stick figure to three dimensionality, in a matter of hours.

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Much of this journey is owed to privilege, and I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that fact. My heart is heavy for children like Malcolm who are left behind, with either parents who can’t help the child find his way, or who don’t have the resources to do so. I wish there was an easier solution.

T.E. Lawrence said, “All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” We are truly just perched on the middle rungs of life’s ladder with Malcolm, anxiously awaiting our climb to the top. I can’t wait to see what the world looks like from that second story, but I will also do my best to immerse myself wholly in the journey along the way.

Pearl.

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She passed me at the lake today, a Cheshire grin plastered across her face on an uncannily blustery day. Her name was Lucille but she preferred to be called Pearl, because it was her prerogative, she insisted if pressed for a reason. She woke up this morning, piling her coarse grey locks on top of her head in a messy bun, much like the 20-something nannies pushing strollers she would pass along the shore today. She hopped on her Schwinn whose tires, circa 1979, had been recently replaced, whose spokes had been polished with vinegar and her own spit, whose life had been reincarnated after years of solitude spent in the basement of her old home.

She had lived in that little bungalow for 42 years, but the house knew secrets dating back over one hundred. Some of those secrets were stashed away in the walls, old photographs, poems and memories secretly stowed away between studs, covered in age-old dust alongside the knob and tube wiring. She knew none of this. She knew only her own poetry. These secrets were there waiting for the next family to discover.

She lost her husband six years ago and her only son ten years before that. She spent a whole entire eternity in grief, days stretching into months and then years, darkness hovering over her and obscuring the light. She forgot about the existence of joy, instead shrouding herself in shadow. She spent her days caught up in the details of the fabric, analyzing them under magnification. She saw the grey, the blue-grey, the grey-green, the storm cloud grey. Last Tuesday, she put away her magnifying glass and wrapped herself up in the quilt. She caught a glimpse of herself in the full-length mirror, surprised by the colors she had been missing all along. “Choose joy,” it murmured. And so she did.

One by one, she began to learn the names of the trees she had walked by, unnoticed, thousands of times. She started with the deciduous trees, as it was autumn and soon those leaves would drop en masse, leaving her one less clue to their identities. She was surprised to learn about the bald cypress, a deciduous conifer she mistakenly believed to be dying a long slow death this autumn. She was perplexed at having walked by it every year, never noticing the seasonal changes. It’s all metaphor, she was certain. Death begets life every spring. Without death, there is no life, even mother nature understood this truth. She finally understood after ten long years in this moment of her awakening: she had to live through the death, embrace all of the sorrow that arrived alongside death at her doorstep in order to move back into the land of the living. She pedaled on, meeting eyes along the pathway, enjoying at long last the light that was seeping through the darkness all along.

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I saw this woman this morning, my loyal companion leash-pulling and squirrel-wrangling at my side as we walked at Green Lake. Her smile perplexed me, beguiled me just a little. I wrote her story in my head as I logged miles on my feet, because we all have one and we all deserve to be heard. It has been so long since I have written. I too have been caught in an eternal state of hibernation like Lucille. I am happy to have woken today.

 

Windshields and Mirrors

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These are things we find ourselves leaving behind: Expectation. Predictability. Bits and pieces of our innocence. Shards of glass and glitter, tears. Muddy paw prints and footprints in the sand. Cleverly crafted up-cycled projects, growing soggy in the rain. Eggshells, gingerly tiptoed upon two days ago. Bibles, crappy novels, wallets on bus seats. Our very essence, some days.

And then we do our very best to return our gaze through the front windshield, recognizing that the past is a tiny reflection seen in our rear view mirror, when we bother looking up from our screens. The egg shells don’t matter. Yet thinking, in those forward-facing moments–aren’t I clever, wasn’t that a smart decision, world, look at me. And watching it all swirl away in one shit-storm of tears and realization. Forward and backward, forward and backward. I wish I could perch myself on the fulcrum of life: balanced, in reverent silence, content.

My boy is a being all his own, fitting neither here nor there but always finding an enormous room in my heart, where he folds up inside me seeking safety, comfort, belonging. He does that a lot lately. He has a limitless imaginative soul, tuned in to Mother Earth in a way I can only dream of, energized by her quiet, unrelenting beat. When he was still in my womb, I read a book about Eustace Conway, a man who belonged to the woods, because it was most where he needed to be. We toyed with the idea of naming our son Forest. I often think Malcolm is much like Eustace, as if my own reading of that book lit his spirit on fire nearly nine years ago. I often think too much, if you ask me.

I fast-forward a lot with Malcolm, perhaps out of necessity, perhaps to find respite from the struggle. I try to keep my eyes peering out the windshield, eyes on the horizon. I remind myself to run the wipers, turn on the defrost, see the future down the highway. Forward is the only direction worth heading, and I owe it to him (and myself, frankly) to carry on.

This journey–leaving behind, picking up the pieces, rebuilding, loving, learning, holding space, holding hearts–it’s unrelenting. It is exhausting. It is empowering, mind-numbing, and heart expanding all at once. I’m so tired, and yet, I remind myself to continue onward, upward (and maybe sideways, from time to time, buoyed by a glass of wine, a line of chocolate). Courageous warriors, all of us.