The Blackberry Behemoth

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The summer after we moved into our house six years ago, these prickly, viney, branches started creeping through the fence. The people behind us were hoarders whose yard had become home to mountains and valleys of every sort of junk, from the mundane to the deadly. Finding the source of those creepers was damn near impossible, and we were two working parents with a toddler and zero time for playing yard detective. So, we let them come; up and over, in and around, decorating the plain wooden fence with a bit of prickly green.

Then, one day, midsummer, we noticed something dark sprouting at the tip of one of those vines. Blackberries; plump, sun ripened, and delicious, nestled between the leaves. At this point, we’d been apartment dwellers for a number of years with no yard or outside space to speak of. Just having a yard to call our own was amazing but having our very own blackberry bushes along the fence? That was pure magic.

The blackberries grew, along with our family, over the next few years. We had a couple more kids, and I watched as the vines turned into bushes that took over our back yard. Suckers sprouted in the grass, thorny arms reached toward the swing set. I was frozen, always with a baby on my hip, a clinging toddler, or a job to get to, incapable of action of any kind. Life marched on, the bushes grew into a spiny death trap, and I watched, powerless to stop it.

Every day in the summer, I’d come home from a fulfilling day as a soulless cubicle drone, and I’d see those bushes back there, mocking me. I’d scroll through Facebook and Instagram pictures of babies crawling through perfectly manicured backyards, or friends gathering for barbecues in carefully maintained, grown up spaces – free from the clutches of weeds and the dreaded blackberry behemoth. And I’d wonder what the hell was wrong with me, with us, that we couldn’t get our shit together enough to do something that everyone else seemed to be doing without a problem.

Are we so insanely terrible at adulthood that we can’t even manage to do something as simple as yard work? Why is everyone else so freaking motivated to DIY the hell out of everything? Why did we even buy a house to begin with?? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?

I love my husband. I adore my kids. And I truly believe that I do not suck at motherhood. But adulthood is something I can’t seem to wrap my head around. I want to do these things. I can Pinterest ideas with the best of them. When it comes down to brass tax, sitting on the couch, staring at pictures of the amazing things other people have accomplished and hating myself for failing at being a grownup is about as much as I can manage.

I’ve been struggling through this quagmire, hating this blackberry bush for the last five years. We’ve trimmed it back a few times, tried to get it under control, but no matter what we do, it always come back; bigger, bolder, and more luxurious in its prickly grandeur than ever. My fruit fiend kids think the berries are some miracle bestowed upon our yard by Mother Nature, albeit a miracle that comes with various pricks, scratches, and cries of, “Mommmmyyyy!! I’m BLEEDINNNGGG!” To me, it was the physical manifestation of everything I hadn’t accomplished in my life. And it just kept getting bigger.

This past weekend I was standing in front of my house, looking at the dilapidated flower beds, wondering where people get the energy and money to landscape, when I looked over at my youngest, happily attempting to catch and vivisect an ant, and it hit me. She’s two and a half now. TWO AND A HALF. She’s no longer a clinging, immobile bundle, or a barely walking baby who has to be shadowed constantly. She’s a toddler who basically stays where I tell her to and is more than thrilled to help Mommy rip the shit out of some gnarly weeds. And my older kids? Five! And seven! Holy grail ages that know the basic rules of staying within ear/eye-shot and follow them!

I bent and began tentatively weeding, encouraging my youngest to help, “Oh! Are you going to pull up weeds with Mommy? Isn’t this fun?” After about 20 minutes, I had a nice pile of weeds and, I swear, the hosta were smiling at me. I turned, walked around the corner of the house, and confronted my nemesis. The time had come.

After handing my daughter over to my husband, I pulled on a pair of thick, leather work gloves, and stared at the mess that was our back yard. It was so difficult to know where to begin. The vines twisted and turned, wrapping around each other in an impossible array of knots and tangles.

“Screw it,” I mumbled, grabbed the nearest branch, and pulled as hard as I could. It wasn’t easy. By the time I was done, my back and shoulders ached, and my arms were covered with scratches and cuts. But I had worked hard. I pulled every last one of those invasive suckers up by the roots. In the end, I lorded over a pile of thorny rubble as tall as my five year old son, surveying the blank dirt canvas that now ran along our back fence.

I’m not sure what I’ll do with the space, or when it will be done. It may never look like a suburban oasis, and the plants may start creeping back out of the ground at some point. But, for now, I’m basking in the glow of victory, content in the knowledge that if when they do come back, I’m perfectly capable of ripping them right back out again, one vine at a time.

 

And that’s OK

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So you know that whole “I’m going to write 500 words a day” thing? Yeah, well, that hasn’t really been happening. I’ve been writing maybe a few sentences most days. I get to the 500 mark once a week, if I’m lucky.

And that’s ok.

I’ve been struggling to let go of a lot lately. It’s tough to forgive yourself when you aren’t accomplishing every little thing you set out to do.

* I haven’t gone running in months- And that’s ok.

* I haven’t worked on my novel in weeks – And that’s ok.

* My house is a disaster – And that’s ok.

* I still have a good 10-15 pounds of baby weight to lose- And that’s ok.

* I haven’t posted on this blog for over a week- And that’s ok.

Some days it’s just so FREAKING hard to see past all of the negatives, all of the crap I’m not accomplishing. I NEED INSTANT GRATIFICATION, DAMN IT. Then I think, there are people in this world without enough food, there are children being abused, there are so many things worse than your stupid middle class white lady problems. And, you know, that helps a bit, having a little Oprah moment (is that still a thing? Because Oprah’s totally not a thing. Who would have thought I’d be dating myself with an Oprah reference?). But then that guilt just gets added to the pile and I end up feeling lousy about the fact that I feel lousy.

So, what was my point? Oh yeah, letting go. Rather than obsessing about not accomplishing things (You’re not making a living writing? Really?? FAILURE), I’m trying to focus on what I am managing to get done. Here are a few things, in no particular order.

I’m raising three awesome kids (with my wonderful husband, of course). My daughter started kindergarten, and my son started preschool this month. That was hard. I know it’s cliche, but they grow up so fast. There are two different kinds of time in this world- Time Before Kids, and Time After Kids. They change and grow so quickly that the years just fly by. You spend your time wishing they would stay little, while at the same time marveling at the amazing people they’re becoming. It’s a mind blowing conundrum.

* I get out the door every day. Seriously, this is HUGE. I’m giving myself mad props for waking up after just a few hours of sleep, getting my shit together, and my two youngest kids’ shit together, and getting everybody to their respective places (somewhat) on time.

* I started cloth diapering. Sounds silly I know. What kind of accomplishment is that? But it’s something I’ve always wanted to do for environmental and financial reasons. I started about a month ago and have been loving it. I feel so self sufficient.

* I’m blogging again. The fact that I’ve taken up with this little corner of the internet again is an accomplishment in and of itself. I’m trying not to get too caught up in feeling obligated to post regularly. I post when I feel like it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

* I have a happy marriage. From what I gather, this is a pretty big deal. We may not have all of the time and energy we once did for each other, but we’re still best friends.

*I started a new story. I’ve given myself permission to let go of the novel, for now. I don’t know if I’ll go back to it or not. I’ve started several other things in the last couple of years, but my focus is always clouded by the guilty feeling that I should be working on the novel that I put so much time into. I’m letting that guilt go and chalking writing the novel up to experience. I’m super excited about the new story I started. It’s a post apocalyptic girl power type thing (I know, I KNOW, not another one. Screw you, Internets, I do what I want.) and I think it has the potential to be pretty kick ass.

And that’s just the short list. The long one includes things like, I’m alive and I remember to brush my teeth twice a day, so I won’t bore you with that. All of these things may seem pretty mundane, but sometimes getting through the day is the best we can do. Why not give ourselves a little credit?

Beyond Belief

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Belief is an interesting thing. It’s personal and subjective, but most of all, it’s incredibly powerful. To say that you think, or suppose, or even know something is true is one thing. To say that you BELIEVE in it is something else entirely.

Cultures rise and fall on the premise of belief. Wars are fought, lives are lost, and hatred is fostered all because of one six letter word. I’m not writing this to rip into religion, or those who practice it. Admittedly, I’m not a religious person; I tend to fall more in line with the science crowd. But I do understand and respect the need people have for it, have always had for it, since the beginning of modern human existence.

What I have a hard time comprehending is the notion that believing in a particular thing somehow trumps basic morals and human decency. This strange occurrence crosses all religious and party lines. Mob mentality takes over without a mob even being present. And it’s always been that way. Blame the anonymity of the internet all you want, when it comes to political and religious beliefs, people have always been more than willing to turn into assholes to defend their cause.

In the last few years we’ve been battered over and over again with belief.  Each side insists they are right, and that you are somehow morally bankrupt if you believe anything else. Family and friends turn against each other without a second thought, attacking each other with shocking vitriol.

The other night I watched a documentary on the tribes of New Guinea (because that’s how I prefer to spend my Friday nights thankyouverymuch). At the time of the filming, the tribes had little to no exposure to people outside of their society. They knew nothing of Western science or religion. They believed that women were impregnated by forest spirits and that cannibalism was the only way to destroy the evil inhabiting a murderers’ body. Their cultures had followed these beliefs for thousands of years, untouched by the outside world.

So, do these people, these “savages” who run naked through the forest, practicing their own form of cannibalistic justice, need saving? Are we so much better off?

We eat each other alive every day, online and in the media, under the guise of debating religion and politics. We hide behind belief to justify hatred and discrimination. In our supposedly more “civilized” world, we turn fear of the unknown into an unmovable system of belief that clouds our consciences and warps our morals. We spend our lives screaming at each other, trying to sway the majority to our way of thinking because belief is a static thing that cannot evolve with the changing times.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Belief doesn’t have to narrow our minds and limit our scope. The whole concept of belief is an incredible testament to the ingenuity of the human mind. The world is full of strange and wonderful things beyond our basic comprehension. Instead of holing up in a cave somewhere and living in fear of the wonders of nature, our ancestors theorized and hypothesized, fitting the miracles of this world into a framework that made sense to them, and still makes sense to so many.

Over the centuries, many of the original ideas about our creation and existence have given way to scientific evidence. We know so much now, about ourselves and our universe, it’s mind-boggling. We’ve discovered that the Earth is round and older than comprehension and that we are literally made of star dust. Yet, incredibly, there is still so much to learn. That gap, the space that science has yet to (and may never) explain, is filled with belief.

The notion that people can take an explanation that they can’t see, hear, or touch and believe it with every fiber of their beings  is truly beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s been sullied by people in positions of power who manipulate it to fit their agendas. Belief is the currency with which our morals are bought and sold.

If we were, for just a moment, to reflect on its intended purpose, perhaps we would not allow our beliefs to be dictated so easily. If we were to recognize that we are all merely humans, trying to find meaning behind our existence, trying to feel worthy of the divine spark that lives in us all, perhaps we would treat each other a little more gently.

Inspiration

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I’m drawn to the ocean. I have been since I was a small child, gathering sea glass on the beach with my grandmother. When I look out at the vast expanse of water, I feel a longing that I can’t explain.  It’s more than just the sense that my problems are so very small in this big world, or an appreciation of the pure beauty of it. It’s a tugging, a pull deep in the recesses of my soul, trying to remind me of something I can’t quite grasp. As corny as it sounds, my heart actually aches at the sight of the sea. It is in those moments that I very seriously consider the notion of reincarnation. It seems to be the only thing that can explain the feeling that I’m lost and some little seaside village in another place and time is my home.

This sense, this crazy melodramatic feeling, is always followed by a strong desire to write stories. I just want to hide away somewhere for days, digging into that part of me that has lived a million lives. Instead, I usually just continue as I was, living day to day with a small, clearly defined hole in my heart and every excuse in the book repeating in my head.

The ocean does this to me. I know it, and I ignore it more often than not because, well, I see the ocean every day. Sometimes, though, that need to narrate is awakened by something unexpected; a photograph, a painting, or a song. I love when that happens, when inspiration strikes and I just have to sit down and write something.

The music of Mumford & Sons strikes that chord with me. Now that you think I’m completely insane, I’m going to end my slightly embarrassing diatribe right here, because the music really speaks for itself.

Here’s a little Mumford to start your Monday. Have a lovely week!

Sleep? Is that still a thing?

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My seven month old is teething. Either that or she’s a tiny, adorable assassin sent to kill me by sleep deprivation. Jury’s still out.

The last few nights (ok, the last several weeks) have been pretty hellish. She’s up, she’s down, she’s up, she’s down.. And every time I think I’ve got her totally relaxed and sleeping peacefully in her crib, every single time I climb quietly into my own bed and snuggle in, finally able to convince my body to release its ever present Mama tension, the fussing begins.

My thought process runs something like this:

“Ok, I’ll just let her cry a little bit. She just needs to fuss for a minute and she’ll go back to sleep.”

Five minutes later, as the fussing begins to escalate to a full cry, “Just a couple more minutes. She’ll find her binky and pass out.”

Another two minutes go by and a banshee has now replaced my sweet baby, “Sweet Jesus, is her leg stuck?? Did she poop?? Have I been laying here letting my baby suffer??? MAMA’S COMING!!”

So I go rushing into the room to find her sitting up in her crib, screaming hysterically while the binky sits, literally, two inches from her on the mattress. Every. Damn. Time.

Binky back in mouth, lay her down, she’s relaxed, breathing slows.. Ahh.. we’re good. Back in bed, oh my pillow is so soft and the blankets are so snuggly and my husband is this nice ball of warm behind me..sleep.. sleep…

‘Eh-heh, eh-heh, eh-heh, WAHHHHHH!!! WAHHHHHH!!! WAHHHHH!!!”

On and on until I finally cave and end up sleeping with her on my chest. Let me tell you, a seven month old on your chest is NOTHING like a newborn. As I struggle to breathe with a miniature elephant crushing my lungs, I wonder if I will ever get a full night’s sleep again.

Then I hear, “Mommy! Mommy!! I have to go to the bathroom!”

And I know for certain that sleep is a luxury I won’t be experiencing for another 18 years or so.

Somehow, even after a night of screaming and awkward sleep on a Mommy shaped mattress, my little monkey wakes up bright and early, ready to start the day.

“GAH!” a little voice says, and I crack an eyelid to find her face two inches from my own. As I struggle to accept the fact that I must now get up and get ready for work after 4 or 5 nonconsecutive hours of sleep, she wiggles and giggles and climbs, none the worse for wear.

People without kids wonder how anyone can possibly survive on so little sleep. Hell, I often wonder myself.

I’ll admit, there are times when the days are long, my temper is short, and I would sell my soul for a few uninterrupted hours of rest in my own bed. But there are also days when my son sings Baby Beluga to my baby girl as we rush to get ready to leave, and her face is filled with such pure, unencumbered joy that the night before becomes a blurry afterthought.

Teething, diapers, sleepless nights, it’s all really just a blip on the radar. In the moment, it feels like this phase, whatever it may be, is never going to end. You’re never going to sleep, or eat a hot meal, or sit for TEN FREAKING MINUTES. But before you know it, it’s over. A new phase begins and you’re left with just the memory of being awakened by a drooly baby kiss in the dim light of dawn.

Music Mondays

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Welcome to Music Monday!

Mondays totally suck. I thought that a little music would be an excellent way to start the week. My first Music Monday post is going to be a bit self serving. This kind of goes along with the whole taking risks thing.

I sing to my children every night before bed. Each of them has a separate bedtime, and each gets to choose from my mini repetoire of bed time songs, which includes everything from The Rainbow Connection to Leaving on a Jetplane.

As I rocked and sang one night about two years ago, I found myself thinking about how we connect with our children through music. An idea began to blossom. My initial thought was to create an album of mothers singing their favorite “lullabys”, whatever they may be, and have the proceeds benefit the local children’s hospital. It stuck with me and, over the next few weeks, evolved into the concept of an album of local musicians singing songs inspired by their children.

I loved the idea so much that I contacted the hospital and presented it to them. They were hesitant at first, but gave me the go ahead to try. Needless to say, I had no idea where to start. Things became crazy; I took on a second job editing for a website, and I found out that I was pregnant with our third child. About six months later, my husband, who happens to be awesome, offered to take the reigns. He knew I was overwhelmed and exhausted and that the project was important to me. He also has a passion for local music and was excited to get in touch with musicians and make it happen.

About a year after my initial meeting with the hospital, the CD went to print. The result is better than anything I could have hoped for. To The Moon, To The Stars is a fantastic collection, showcasing some great local talent. Through the process of making it, I discovered that Portland is teeming with brilliant musicians. While I’m happy to raise money for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, I’m also super excited for people to hear the music. It’s something I’m truly proud to have had a small part in creating.

The Great Writing Challenge

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Sometimes, despite our best efforts to accomplish something, stuff gets in the way. When that happens, it can be easy to just throw your hands in the air and give up, citing life in general as an excuse not to pursue something. Becoming a parent magnifies this about a hundred million fold. When you’re responsible for human lives besides your own, your own interests play second fiddle. It takes a concentrated effort to find the motivation and energy to achieve a goal.

Case in point, my son just came in the room while I was writing this.

“Mommy, when you’re done with the computer, can you read this book to me?”

Now, this request would be difficult to deny no matter what, but when you add giant blue eyes in an adorable, sweet little three year old face.. Well, there really just isn’t a choice.

So I stopped trying to get my write on and read The Trouble With Thor to a very happy little boy. Obvious, right? You’re a parent, kids come first. You don’t deny them attention so that you can write a blog post.

It is that simple, and it’s totally not. Yes, parenting your children should always come first. But in order to be the best parent you can be, you need to take care of yourself too. You need to find something you enjoy outside of parenthood, something that connects you to the person you were before you became Mommy or Daddy. It keeps you sane and grounded. It shows your kids that you value yourself. And it insures you will never utter the words, “Well, I COULD have been (fill in the blank), but I had you.”

Since I have a particularly difficult time keeping the ball rolling once I start a “me” project, I’ve decided to challenge myself to achieve a daily goal.

According to Stephen King’s On Writing, if you want to be a writer you should write at least a thousand words every day. Well, I’m pretty sure that Stephen King has never been a nursing mom of three who works full time, so I feel ok adjusting that goal to something a little more attainable.

My goal is to write 500 words a day. Period. No end date, no set time period; just 500 words, every day from here on out. I don’t care what I’m writing about. It can be fiction, a blog post, totally random drivel; it doesn’t matter. My only guideline is word count. Much of it will probably end up on this blog, but I’ll also post updates from time to time just to keep myself in check.

So, who wants to join me? Parent on not, overcoming the daily grind to pursue your passion is tough. I’d love to hear from anyone who is taking on a challenge of their own. Heck, I’d love to hear from anyone who has made it happen. A little inspiration goes a long way.

Note: You may be wondering why I can’t write when my children are asleep at night. I can, and do sometimes. But, when you rarely get more than 5 or 6 non consecutive hours of sleep at night, by the time 8PM rolls around you’re pretty much brain dead. Therefore, I take time when I can get it to write a few lines here and there; lunch breaks at work, quiet time when the big kids are playing and the baby is napping, basically any spare moment I have. It’s not ideal, but it works for now.