Another Year Older

Y’all I got older! I am delighted each year to wake up on my birthday and find that I have made it another year. At some point I expect I may feel old, but it hasn’t happened so far. 34 seems ridiculously young. Am I old enough to be own a home, be married, have children? I’m not too sure yet here I am.

My body is the only thing that seems to show signs of wear. Some from age, some from use. I am still surprised to see how my body has changed from carrying babies. Such a strange thing I never understood growing up, how your body keeps morphing and changing as an adult. But another human lived and grew inside me- two in fact! How could I possibly be the same?

When I reflect on the last year, it reminds me of 2016. A year where everyone seemed to be saying, “politically a terrible year, though personally it was a good one.” Similarly, over the past year the world has seemed like a chaotic windstorm of events outside our home, many of which were hard to comprehend. But inside my home, within my family, we have grown stronger. I have grown stronger. My commitment to myself continues to waver but never falls away the way it has in the past. For once I can recognize the progress instead of focusing on where I am not, where I would like to be, how far I have yet to go. 

This past 9 or so weeks have brought to light just how incredibly lucky we are. While Tyler’s job was affected, we have not struggled and he’s back working this month. I will likely work from home for many more months and although I have not yet learned how to take regular breaks, I am getting used to this “work from home” thing. The slower pace of life has taken away my desire to always be productive. I threw the sourdough starter away. I put my embroidery back in its box. I’ll get to it again one day, but when I simply just want to. Not because I feel I have to be doing something.

Whether it’s due to the pandemic or my new super-healthy attitude, I find myself more in the present than ever. Not being able to plan trips or see friends does really help, but I’d like to give some credit to the work I’ve done to get here. I am still improving. I am still short tempered with my children and my spouse. I am still reminding myself to exercise and that m&ms and cheese is not a well-rounded snack  (but shouldn’t it be?). I’m okay with that.

I’m looking forward to celebrating another year with some takeout food, my sweet family and a little back porch time.

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Remembering Dance

Today I was listening to a friend’s podcast that he recently launched (because if you’re not going to bake sourdough, then you’re going to start a podcast during a pandemic). At first I was pretty skeptical as I knew the focus would be on dance and despite a love of dance, the topic makes me feel uncultured, uneducated. There is something about the topic of dance that feels unattainable, like I cannot belong.

But dance is not unattainable and this podcast reminds me of that each episode. We don’t all dance the same way, but we all experience its impacts.

Garth, podcaster extraordinaire, and I danced together at my wedding reception. Although my dance with my dad and my first dance with Tyler were wonderful, this is the dance that stands out to me during the night. In fairness, Garth is a trained dancer and one thousand times more talented than either of them, but that alone is not what made it special. As we were flying around the dance floor, I remember saying something along the lines of, “We’ve never danced like this before.” Garth clearly thought I was insane (just a little drunk) as we had danced together in college all the time. But what I couldn’t articulate in the moment was I had never felt whole, felt connected, felt strong, felt confident when dancing before, the way I felt then. I had never not cared with others thought. I had never danced with a dancer I admired and felt sure of myself.

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Photo credit: Chris Torres

I enrolled in tap class in elementary school. I was the only student who didn’t take ballet or jazz on top of tap. Ballet and jazz were too quiet, too subtle. I wanted to hear all the taps in unison, feel the shake of the stage with everyone dancing together. For me, dancing wasn’t about subtlety and grace, I didn’t have that. It was about living out loud. But I quit dancing in middle school after an obnoxious kid made fun of me for wearing a leotard. It didn’t seem cool anymore and to be honest, I wasn’t that good.

In high school and college, dancing was everything. It was being front and center at all of our friends’ shows, dancing even when no one else was. It was weekly house parties with crowded, loud living rooms. My senior year my roommates and I went dancing every week. My memory of this time is a blur of dark bars of slick bodies and cheap drinks. The problem was, by this time, my self-confidence was at an all time low. I loved to dance but I could never shake being self-conscious. I could never dance without comparing myself to those around me.

When I moved to Texas, dancing meant two-stepping. It meant dancing with a partner. This was foreign territory for me, but it was the social highlight of my new community so I jumped in. While I never lost the stiffness that comes from caring too much what others think, I learned to love sharing a dance with someone else.

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This past week I had one of my parenting dreams come true. Haines asked me if we could have a dance party. I put on some music (okay, it was Daniel Tiger songs on Pandora) and we danced around the living room. He danced his strange 3-year old dance moves (he holds one armpit at a time) to every song with intense joy and enthusiasm. Austin, in true toddler fashion, bounces his big diapered bottom around to the music and claps at the end of every song.

My first memory of dancing is swing dancing in the living room with my dad. I was ecstatic to be picked up and swung around. My dad is not a great dancer but he is an eager and enthusiastic partner, ready to accept my every dance invitation and as long as I wanted to listen to the “golden oldies” he kept the music coming. 

That little dance party has encouraged me to bring more dancing back to my life. To take more impromptu moments to turn up the music and dance around the living room. Is my family always on board? No, but I no longer care what anyone thinks.

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Stay Present

I have spent most of my life thinking about what’s next.

What will we have for dinner? Will the boys actually eat it? 

What do I want to try to get done tonight? Check the budget or take a bath? 

Do we have any plans this weekend? What can I plan? Who should I call?

When can we take a vacation? Where will we go?

I hang signs all of my cubicle and write in my journal, “slow down”, “one thing at a time”, or “be present.” I am never present. This has always been the case for me. I have always dreamed of a life just out of reach. My high school self believed that happiness was waiting for me in college. My college self sought my life’s true purpose backpacking through Australia and then by putting down roots in Austin. As a parent of young children, I often think how much easier things will be when the kids are older, despite that everyone with older kids tells me this is not true.

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23 year old waiting for an epiphany in Australia

If not now, when?

The pandemic, for all its havoc on the world, is teaching me to be more present. Most of my questions these days are pointless or cannot be answered any time soon.

When we will go on a vacation? Hard to say.

Do we have any plans? Absolutely not.

Will the pandemic end? When will it be considered safe to do all the activities we did before? No one knows. Stop asking.

At first, I spent my initial pandemic days planning what I would do when this was all over. What adventures would I take? My mind still wanders there from time to time, but now I stick with today. Today’s project. Today’s fun. The little ins and outs of the day.

The boys help with their demands for right now. They struggle to think about tomorrow, let alone any time farther in the future. Anything they want is only in this very moment. It’s frustrating and freeing to live with people who have no concept of time, who believe they are being patient by waiting 20 seconds before shouting their desire again.

We spend as much time outside as we can stand. Each weekend we wake up to decide what adventure we might take next. Which nature trail will we go to? Should we take a bike ride? Go to the beach? We don’t know where we’ll go until that morning and then we pack up the snacks and hit the road.

Teaching the boys the joys of being outside is one of the things I dreamed of from the moment we decided to have kids, but it is typically far from idyllic.

Austin hates riding in the bike trailer, spending most of his time taking off his helmet and throwing things onto the road, but loves when we go on nature walks. At 18 months old though, he is constantly trying to wander off trail to grab everything and frequently cannot be persuaded to leave a mud puddle behind. We let him walk every so often but mostly carry him on my shoulders or in a carrier.

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Haines could ride all day in the bike trailer but refuses to walk any trails. We leave him on a bench thinking he will get up and follow us eventually, but have to go back and get him. So we take a stroller everywhere now, which drives me insane. Tyler, more tolerant, pushes him over tree rots and carefully navigates down hills. When I have to push him for even a few minutes I am instantly angry and annoyed.

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But when you are out 3 miles from home on a bike ride or mid-trail walk, you just have to deal. You pick the pacifier up out of the road and put it in your pocket for the 5th time in 15 minutes. You shove the stroller through the soft sandy trail and look up. At gorgeous green trees, at yellow butterflies, at birds. When Austin hears a bird, he will grab his ear to indicate he is listening or shout “caw caw”. He bounces up and down on my shoulders with delight. Haines wants to see every flower, wants to know about every animal that might live out where we are. What do birds eat? Why?

These bouncing boys, our beautiful surroundings, the world seemingly on pause, are constantly reminding me to just be present. And for once I am listening.

 

Eat. Move. Read. Write. Repeat.

I went to Target today. I’d like to say I needed some items but honestly, I just wanted to go. I wanted to feel normal. Walking the aisles of Target, child free, is an embarrassingly basic and boring joy but it’s one I was craving. But on the way I listened to the news of the impact on the music industry driving past empty parking lots and shuttered restaurant windows. Inside Target I felt guilty for indulging myself, silly for thinking this trip was a necessary boost, walking past employees in masks and gloves.

At work we’ve been discussing the long term impacts of the pandemic on the way we work, the way we interact with one another. How will corporate office life evolve? Some of the outcomes will be for the better, but it’s still overwhelming to think that this is one of those events, where we’ll never be the same. Whatever generation my children are, this will be one of those markers that defines their childhood.

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But those thoughts are bigger than today.

Every day I try to do four things- eat, move, read and write. It’s not much but it’s what really matters to my mental health. Eat food that nourishes me. Move my body, after sitting all day at my desk alone. Read, rather than watch TV, which I do too much of. Write, even it’s just a journal entry or a letter.

Read

I’ve started staying up later because we don’t have to get up as early to get the kids going. Getting up at 6:45 am is pretty luxurious so I often stay up to 11 these days which gives me time to binge TV AND read my book. I’m embarrassed to say on my nightstand tonight is a parenting book, because tantrums are ruling my life, but I also just finished two less embarrassing titles, both of which I would recommend.

Cape Fear Rising Philip Gerard

Disappearing Earth Julia Phillips

Move

I definitely get some movement chasing after the boys every day. Their favorite game right now is to climb on my back and pretend I’m their “mama monkey”. Since they climb me at the same time, this is quite a workout!

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This is always my view. It’s adorable but I’m about to get clobbered.

But I’m also trying to run a couple times a week, even short distances, as well as practice yoga. I have always been skeptical about doing yoga videos, but I’m now converted. Yoga with Adriene has been a total gift.  I recommend her Yoga for Uncertain Times videos.

I’m going to try Dance Church this week to feed my soul with music and move my body. A few evenings a week, I’ve been glad to get my toes tapping along to different artists via Cabin Fever Tunes. Most are country artists connected the Austin music scene if that’s your type of thing.

Write

I’d like to say I’m developing a nice consistent writing habit but my writing is as sporadic as my emotions in this pandemic. Still each day, I’m checking in and seeing what works. Today a blog, tomorrow a letter and so on.

Eat

My postpartum depression and anxiety took a toll on the way I eat this past year. When I got stressed out, I’d simply stop eating. If I ate, I would turn towards junk food- ice cream and Cheetos, that sort of thing. Now that I’m on medication and feeling better, I’m trying to ensure I eat all my meals and that I’m focusing on food that has actual nutritional value. The sweet tooth I’ve developed from months of terrible habits isn’t easy to kick, but I’m getting there.

We started a garden this year that appears to actually be growing things. We’ve been able to eat a couple arugula salads thus far so basically we’re doing better than we have the last 4 years!

Today I’m able to check off all my goals. There’s a new book on my bedside table, a blog ready to post, a yoga video kept me moving and I did some living room dancing. Tyler, current resident chef, fixed pizza for dinner.

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Love in the time of Coronavirus

My Corona

In a land where every day is the same, I’ve been surprised to discover, I like staying at home. I even like working from home. I wouldn’t mind the casual workplace encounter. A run-in at the water cooler. Waiting for my turn at the microwave.

To my surprise, I am the kind of person who quarantines in jeans. Yes, I am trying to prove something- that I am not a lump on a log. But when a child doesn’t have to be dropped off at daycare, when I don’t have to drive to work, don’t have to dress nicely or even pack my lunch, it turns out I am a morning person.

In full disclosure, my childcare has had no interruptions. My spouse and mom take care of the kids while I work. This puts me in a very privileged category, I know. I would not feel quite so warm towards working at home if I was also responsible for two small children.

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The problem that has become clear, is actually how easy it is for me to melt into my couch, to feel content behind my house walls. I could easily pretend the world outside does not exist. Keep the news turned off. Binge TV all evening. Take my walks, wave to the neighbors from a safe distance and play with the kids.

Tune out. Separate. Distance. Build up walls. Believe my world is an island.

I never would have described myself as a homebody. I don’t go out much under normal circumstances, but I always felt a part of the world. But was I? Am I? I’m comfortable at home. Comfortable behind my laptop, stack of books nearby, no new hobbies on the horizon.

There is something to be said for having to leave your home each day, your creature comforts. To have to go out and be a part of your community, see the signs of poverty or wealth, interact with your coworkers, complain about traffic. Feel invested. 

And so I read the news. Shout at neighbors across the fence. Buy gift cards for local restaurants. Donate to the food bank. Text friends to check on them. Instant message coworkers. Write letters. Pretend that this is definitely going to be the night I make sourdough bread. Spend too much time on Instagram.

And enjoy my solitude a little bit too, in anticipation for the day we can all be together again.

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Raising Boys

Every time I imagined having a family when I was young, each time we got pregnant, I always thought I’d have daughters. I thought since I was one of two girls and my sister had two girls and I was such a damn feminist I was destined to raise girls. That sounds stupid, but if I am totally honest, that was my logic.

So obviously I have two boys (or children who are biologically male but may later identify otherwise). I am jealous of my friends with daughters who will get to pass on stories, advice, experiences that are specific to women. There is no relationship that is more powerful than that of female friendship, which can often apply to mothers and daughters.

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Sisters. I’m the one who can’t sit up by herself. 

Will I have a special bond with my boys that is totally different and equally wonderful? Yes, of course, but the story of uplifting women is the one that is most familiar to me.

This week at work we had a guest speaker talk for International Women’s Day. She was a bad-ass former CFO of a major pharmaceutical company and while she said many humorous/poignant/thought-provoking things, the one still with me is “Raise your sons differently.”

Exactly.

I am mindful of many things as we raise our children. I want them to be more resilient than we have been, with inner resources that they can rely on when they feel down, when a challenge seems too much to bear. I want them to be kind and have empathy for themselves and their fellow human, even when that person’s experiences are very different than their own. I want them to appreciate nature and music and the internal freedom those things can bring.

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Early on, I was more worried about addressing “this is for girls and this is for boys” topics. I don’t want my boys to feel limited from interests, hobbies, careers that society identifies as feminine. You want to sew? Learn it. You want to be a nurse? That’s a noble and important job, work hard for it. You want to be a stay at home dad. More power to you. Now I’ve realized it’s the modeling that we do as parents that is so much more impactful. It’s not just the targeted conversations we have, but our behaviors. 

Together I am hopeful that Tyler and I can model a partnership where my boys will see two people who treat each other as equals, both with valid opinions. Where we compromise and attempt balance. Where we are human and learn from our discussions, from our mistakes.

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So, here’s to raising boys that are feminists. Boys that believe their mothers, sisters, daughters, wives, friends, random female strangers are capable of anything and have never thought otherwise. Boys who give as much as they take. Boys who approach each situation with the idea of shared responsibility and accountability.

Happy International Women’s Day!

 

Getting My Fancy Back

Let’s be honest, I’ve never been fancy. I’m a self-described plain Jane but really, I just like things simple- furniture and home decor more purposeful than pretty, jewelry more minimal than statement, and my look more streamlined than statement-making.

I look the minimalist, natural aesthetic but between this and simplifying my life due to children, I’ve lost a bit of my fun and fancy. At one point I had pink hair. My clothes were very colorful. I had solo dance parties in fancy dresses alone in my home. I used to wear my wedding veil around the house for no reason. I delighted in making homemade, overcomplicated gifts for all my friends. I painted our garage apartment all fiesta inspired colors. Fancy. Fun.

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Actual outfit I wore in high school. This hair is pink.

My mental fog has cleared from babes enough that I have started to envy people with a bit of fancy. Before I just shook my head and said not for me. I am function. I am survival. Now, I want to dip my toes in the waters of fancy.

Fancy does not mean money. I’m not willing to invest a lot into feeling fancy because this isn’t something I’m trying to cultivate externally. Bringing back fancy is about igniting a feeling within. I wasn’t sure where to begin (and truth be told, I’m not sure I have begun) so I made a list of things that make me feel fancy. Don’t judge me, I’m new at this.

  • Fancy hair- AKA getting regular haircuts, braids, curls
  • Charcuterie/cheese boards
  • Bubble baths
  • Dancing/music
  • Picnics
  • Massages ($$$)
  • Painted nails
  • House plants (this feels lame but true)

For some of you, this may feel basic but these last few years have felt like it’s all efficiency. How can we simplify our lives? My world is all strict sleep schedules, meal prep, budgeting, “work/life balance” bullshit. But some things are worth complicating. So this weekend I painted my nails and curled my hair. My houseplants are freshly watered and looking fine. The work to bring back fancy has begun.