Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wanted: A Strong Home

"What's it made out of?" Lorelei and Ben wanted to know.

They were talking about the new house we're moving into in a few weeks.  We finally broke the news to them, our two oldest children, that we are moving.  (Our youngest, almost 3, has been there a few times but didn't realize what was going on.)  We're not going very far--just 10 miles or so down the road, closer to their school and my husband's office.  

But their question is a good one, so when we got to the house--which we don't own yet, so we just drove up to the front like friendly stalkers on a sunny day--I pointed out that the house is made of brick.  It's a strong material, one that is resistant to damage dealt by almost anything Mother Nature might throw at us, I explained.  I said to them, "This is a strong, sturdy house.  We can weather anything in this house."

In deciding where to move, Jonathan and I weighed each item on our long wish list carefully, and we found a house that felt good in our hearts and made sense to our heads.  Its location would decrease commute time to his work and their school.  Its layout would let him work from home more frequently.  I could have my own bright office to write in.  (!!!)  Lorelei would not have to share a bathroom with her brothers.  The house felt like it could be Home, both inside and out.

We had not really considered what the house was made out of, so I was a little surprised by my kids' question.  Their curiosity would make a whole lot more sense if we lived in the middle of America, in tornado alley, where a basement is a good idea for safety reasons.  Or if we lived in the South or the Caribbean where hurricanes rip through and rip off roofs.

Nope.  We just live in Northern Virginia.  

But, to be honest, the intangible item on our wish list was: a place to start over.  The past few years have been difficult ones in our marriage.  I mean, tougher than tough, darker than dark, harder than hard.  Maybe it seems like I'm exaggerating, and as I look back at that sentence I realize that some couples go through tragedies much worse than the inevitable struggles of marriage and the added difficulties we created for ourselves.  But this is what I know, and I'm glad that time is behind us, and we did, in fact, weather it all, together--maybe not with flying colors, butwe did it, and we stayed together.  We've spent hours and hours talking about and working through issues that threaten to pull us down and break up our home.  

It's tougher than I ever expected, this marriage stuff.

So I look at our new house and I wonder, too, "Will we be safe here?  Will we be stronger here?" I realize my own question is very similar to my kids' question.  

My fingers are crossed--and my toes, too--that the answer is a resounding yes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Right and Wrong

I drove Guidry, our 11 year old weimaraner, back to the weimaraner rescue organization from which we got him 10 years ago.  It was fitting, though heartbreaking, that I was the one to take him.  It was a long drive, over an hour, to the rescue lady's house.

My husband and I rescued Guidry before we were even engaged, though I'm pretty sure Jonathan was carefully selecting the ring I now wear at the time.  We wanted an energetic dog, one that would run with me, and we liked the idea of taking in a dog that somebody else had rejected.  Murphy was a dog whose family had three small children and a live-in, very ill aunt--they had too much going on to take care of his neurotic, spastic moods.  We changed his name and thought that we could change his behavior just as quickly.

We were wrong.

Within a few months of adopting him, he had bitten our neighbor's nanny and nipped a child at a dog park.  Both were eye-opening incidents, and rather than correct Guidry's behavior with serious training we enabled it by shutting him up anytime anyone came over.  When walking him, I'd cross to the other side of the street if someone was coming on the side Guidry and I were walking on.  When we had company over, he went into the garage (crating him made him foam at the mouth--I tried it once with disastrous results).  My sister, having been attacked by a dog she knew well, politely refused to let her growing brood near him.  Having a dog with aggressive tendencies was tough.

One wedding and three kids later, Guidry was still as nervous and neurotic as the day we got him.  We got another weimaraner a year after rescuing him in an effort to provide a calm companion.  It didn't work.  We moved from a house in the suburbs with a dining room table sized yard to a house in the ex-burbs with five acres in an effort to provide space to run.  It didn't work.

Noble, crazy Guidry.
Guidry paced the floor every morning for an hour, trotting back and forth, preparing himself to be shut in the garage for the morning when our sitter watched our youngest son.  His scared, little brain never realized that it was only twice a week when we did this; he paced and worried and fed his anxious mind every day…just in case.  My mornings were already full with kids and school prep: one child in school, one child in preschool, and one child waking up too early seemingly for the sole reason to add more--of everything: motion, noise, love, laughter, demands, cries--to the mix.  And I still have my husband, whose good mood impossibly requires utter peace and happiness from all those around him.  I said, "Guidry!  Go lie down!" a whole lot.  Like, every minute on the minute, if not more.

And then he bit my neighbor's son.  And then her other son.  And then, a friend.  I realized, sadly but surely, that it was probably just a matter of time until he bit one of my kids.  I made the call to the rescue organization, hoping they'd take him despite his behavior issues.  I'm grateful they did.

So I drove him back.  I stroked his long, silky ears and patted his strong back.  When they weren't tightly shut and sleeping, he looked at me with sad, droopy eyes.  Crazy Guidry.  Poor guy.  I weighed this decision the whole way to the rescue lady's house.  Yes, I rationalize it.  It's not completely wrong--it makes sense for my family, to protect them from a likely bite, and to decrease the stress and strain among us.  But it's not completely right--I'm giving up on him, un-committing to him, un-becoming his Person.  I have to live with the discomfort of doing something mostly right, but a little wrong.

My front seat empty, I cried the whole way home.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tick. Tock. Get a Move On, Says My Clock.

The clock behind me in our dark kitchen is ticking and tocking loudly in the unusual quiet of this early morning.  It's a finger-wagging tick tock: that Clock knows how long I've been sitting here with my coffee cup full, laptop open, screen blank.  Tick!  Tock!  Tick!  Tock!  Get a move on, it seems to be saying.

I get my move on a whole lot, Clock, I fire back defensively in between its rude ticks and tocks.  Overlooking the kitchen and the playroom, it has a a perfect vantage point to bear witness to all my moves, all day long.  I'm in that kitchen many hours each day, recommitting myself to healthy meals for my three kids, my husband, myself.  Every day I want to take a shortcut and call the pizza place a mile down the road or reach for processed, boxed items from the pantry rather than take the time to assemble and create fresh meals from the refrigerator.  Most days, the non-pizza, non-boxed, time-intensive fresh stuff of my own making wins.

That time-keeper, minute-counting Clock knows how much time, how many minutes I spend cleaning up our kitchen.  As my friend says, you can start on one side of the counter, and by the time you're finished and at the other side of the kitchen, the spot you started is cluttered again.  To be honest, I'm not the cleanest person, so serious effort is seriously required.  It is a Sisyphean task of Herculean proportion.

And if Clock looks out its other eye, towards the playroom, it knows I get my move on over there.  I'm one of those get-down-on-the-floor-with-the-kids mom.  I build train sets and help with puzzles.  I craft my own Lego creation and help figure out why the Lincoln logs are falling over.  I sing "Let it Go" with my daughter and applaud after my son sings and strums "The Bear Necessities." The proximity of playroom to kitchen is often not conducive to having me help--the siren call of a messy kitchen often wins over assisting another child in another way.  But overall, it works.

Overall, I work.  Imperfectly, of course, but there really is no other way.

The ticks and the tocks never stop.  They never, ever stop.  That clock always reminds me to hurry up and pay attention to these kids, this time with them.  To do them well in these early years with my own time and my own energy.  Hurry up and slow down, Kate.  Spend more time in these two rooms, nourishing and playing.  (And not just them, but you, too.)

Tick!  Tock!  Tick!  Tock!  Tick!  Tock!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Yoga and Commitment

Jafar looks like he should rock out blissfully while playing drums for a Rastafarian band.  He looks like he's from Jamaica, with dark skin and tattooed arms, black dreadlocks, and a cool, cool vibe.  Instead of drumming on a steel drum, he teaches yoga.  He breathes deeply and listens intently, speaks slowly and pushes us gently. 

Jafar is a popular teacher.  Our mats are lined up with just an inch or two of space in between; the floor is a quilt of rubber color rectangles.  Three times already Jafar has quietly showed us how to make even more room for more people who are still showing up.  The room is crowded, and pretty noisy for the minutes before a yoga class.  I'm trying to take a few minutes to find my intention for the class, but the chatter of friends greeting each other and catching up definitely challenges me, tempts me to become distracted before class even begins.

But Jafar gets all of our attention and, with a few words and within a few seconds, the room is silent except for him.

"Let's get started right away.  Lay back on your mat and breathe in and out through your nose.  Deep breaths, big breaths.  Take it in, let it out.  Start to be present.  Start to figure out where your body and mind are at this morning."

I lay back on my mat.  I do my best to turn off my competitive, driven, work out ego and turn on my yoga mindset.  That work out part of me gets so much fuel; it is my normal mode.  I am so good at determinedly trying to do more, be more, do better, be better.  To set goals and work hard to achieve them.  I tried to dial back that part of me while breathing in the cool, calm vibe that Jafar was giving all of us in the studio. I try to settle into the mode I'm trying to develop: the I'm-enough, accepting of myself belief.  It does not come naturally to this American girl.

"Today I want you to focus on committing to this practice even though you don't know what it involves.  Commit to being present even though you know your mind will wander and you'll struggle with some parts of this.  Commit to yourself, to this time, even when the outcome is uncertain."

Commit, even though the outcome is uncertain. 

Despite the fact that a crowd of spandex-sporting mamas on yoga mats surround me, I'm confident Jafar is speaking to me.  He's handing me the definition of commitment.  He knows I need it.  And, without processing why I need it, without beating myself up for not intrinsically knowing it, I try to be my best yoga self and just accept his definition without judgment (of myself).  And forgive myself for not having learned it and lived it before.

And then, I commit.  To my yoga practice.  To this class.  To this day.  To myself.  To lots of stuff.  Even though I can't see the outcome and even though I know that parts will be difficult and other parts will be sad and still other parts will be wonderful, I commit.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


When we fight I clean
It just makes sense to me
Miscommunication, misunderstand, missteps
I cannot control
But tidy countertops, neat stacks, open surfaces
I can

When we fight I clean
It just makes sense to me
Past issues bubbling through new happenings
I cannot control
But made beds, washed clothes, organized drawers
I can

When we fight I clean
It just makes sense to me
Hurt feelings. Valid feelings. Tough feelings
I cannot control
But swept floors, tucked in chairs, lined cans
I can

When we fight I clean
It just makes sense to me
Turbulent arguments, disappointments all around
I cannot control
But the appearance of my self, my home, my life
I can