Tuesday, September 27, 2016

On Effort

This past week, I received yet another rejection for one of my picture books, my long-time critique partner bailed on me yet again and I realized I need to find another person or group, and my husband's work schedule and my children's sports schedule requires me to miss half a day of a writing conference I was excited about.

There is definitely a part of me that wants to throw my hands up in despair. "Everything's against me! The world doesn't want me to write!" this part of me wants to whimper.

But I can't give in to that part of me. I'll honor it with a little time, some chocolate and wine, and then tuck it away and ignore it like I always do when these feelings crop up.

This time it's a little easier to get on with it and get back to writing, thanks to the example my kids have given me on what effort looks like.

This past Sunday, my children had their first cross-country meet. They are only 5, 7, and 9; the younger two (boys) run 700 meters and the older one (girl) runs a full mile. The two boys think they're pretty awesome and are big smack-talkers...for weeks before this race the two were perfecting the  Usain Bolt-style "dab" they'd do at the end of their race when they won it. When they won their individual races. There was never a doubt in these boys' minds. Big egos indeed, and the two of them together made the other keep on talking. My husband and I warned them that 40 boys would be in each race, that there are lots of speedy little runners in our new home state, and gave them the proverbial "Just give it your best effort and we'll be proud" speech.

The first race of the day: kindergarten boys. Our youngest child strode up to the line, his chest puffed out with pride, his shaky smile trying to look confident, his mind totally focused on what he was about to do. You could see the excitement in his face, but there was no mistaking the sprinkle of fear there, too. The starter blew the whistle, and he was off! He sprinted to the front as fast as he could, and ran down the hill with 39-ish boys close behind, chasing him.

The course wound down into some trees, then along a path before it followed a fairly steep hill up, up, up before the course leveled out to a nice, flat straightaway before the balloon-arch finish line. After I watched him and the other five year old runners disappear into the woods, I walked over to the top of the hill. I waited a bit, then saw other people further down the hill start to clap. I knew the boys were on their way out of the woods and up the hill.

But I was wrong. It wasn't a group of boys. It was one boy. It was MY BOY! His bright neon yellow shorts were moving in rhythm: left, right, left, right. He was in first place! MY BOY was in first place! I yelled like only a crazed mother could. I could tell from his face that he was tired, that gravity and exhaustion and the heat of the day and his ridiculous fast start were pressing on him, trying to convince him to quit running, to walk, if only for a moment.

But he didn't. He charged up that hill as fast as his legs could carry him, then gave a final sprint to the finish line, where my husband and I cried and lifted him up and treated him as if he just beat Usain Bolt in the Olympics. My boy gave no "dab"--he was too tired, too spent. He had given that race every ounce of his effort. He was totally and completely spent.

I was so proud, I thought I might burst!

So today when I'm feeling a bit mopey about my seemingly stagnant writing career, I realize that I have more effort to give, and I'm looking to my son (and my older son who won his race with equal effort and my daughter, who surprised herself in the mile run by finishing in the top ten and was shaking from her big effort) to remind me how to push myself.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

My cousin Agnes

My cousin, I'll call her Agnes, traveled across the country to help my family settle into our new digs in Washington State. We did our own cross-country trip, once nearly meeting up with Agnes at the Grand Canyon, except she was visiting the North Rim and we were on the South Rim. We pretended to wave to each other from one side to the other. Turns out she blindly followed her GPS and was on the South Rim!

Though we didn't bump into each other at that National Park, we did follow each others' travels on Instagram. Me with my three kids posed and posted. Agnes with her good friend snapped silly pictures and wrote sillier captions. I was no match for her, and I'm totally okay with that--she's cute and sassy, snarky and self-deprecating in the funniest of ways. She can go from tank top hiker to red lips hot mama so fast it makes my head spin. The fact that she posed in bad cheerleader poses across the country in historic places, national parks, and in front of state signs particularly cracked me up.

We're a decade apart, Agnes and I, but the cousins in our family have always been tight. When Agnes was barely eating solid food, my sister and cousin and I would feed her Sour Patch Kids to watch Agnes scrunch her face and stick out her tongue out of shock for the strange flavor. The three of us would howl with laughter, then hug Agnes tight. Once my sister told her that if she walked on the floor of our great-aunt's musty-smelling, haunted-feeling apartment, the floor would cave in. She cried when that aunt asked her to come sit on her lap, a trip that would require her to walk across the floor. Again, we howled at the joke, but loved Agnes all the more because she believed us.

Still, I hadn't realized how much respect I'd feel for her by the end of our month together. Agnes came up with a simple but powerful saying in her 29th year: say YES! She was a fantastic example to my kids in her approach to new things, of which there were many for my crew. She said YES! to new gyms, YES! to new workouts, YES! to new food, YES! new places to swim (like the cold Puget Sound in our backyard), YES! to new adventures of every and any size. Her enthusiasm for life was as contagious as her laugh, and my kids and I soaked up the time with her, appreciating every minute. Agnes taught us car games and we all experimented with the crazy stuff you can distort yourself into on SnapChat (is that even one word? Clearly I do not have an account!).

There was another side of Agnes that my kids didn't see--the thoughtful, openly confused, but still very hopeful young woman still searching for her home. She and I drank craft beer and local wines each night, watching the sun sink slowly down over the Olympics out our window, talking about how difficult life can be--scratch that. How difficult life IS, regardless of what you're doing and what particular road you're on.

We are both children of divorce; we spoke openly about how difficult it is creating a relationship that lasts when your parents set a poor example of marriage. We both stumbled into wealth, sharing in lifestyles others earned but we play in; we spoke candidly about how awkward this is, how guilty we sometimes feel, how responsible we feel to improve others' lives because we've got it easy--too easy, we both feel. We sat down at that table at dusk but sat chatting until we sat in the pitch dark. I felt so lucky to have her there, in my kitchen. And in my life.

Once, while walking in and out of the cutest shops you can imagine in our new little town in Washington, Agnes pointed to something with her left hand. I caught sight of her wrist. I grabbed it, and gently pointed to the lines I saw on the inside of her arm.

"What's this, A?" I asked, hoping I didn't already know the answer.

But I did.

"Cuttings," she said quietly. Honestly. Bravely.

We both gulped. Tears sprang to my eyes and I didn't know what to say.

"Ten years ago, when I was 19, I remember a friend of mine asking me where I thought I'd be when I was 30. I shrugged and thought to myself, 'I don't know if I'm going to even be alive,' " she quietly admitted to me.

I was completely speechless.

This wonderful woman, this person you should hope above hope becomes your child's teacher some day, didn't care enough to live? My mind was suddenly a tornado of thoughts, and with each added thought my brain was swirling faster and faster. When did she do this to herself? Where was I? Why weren't her other cousins and I there for her? How could someone this wonderful think she was so not wonderful?

"I'm so glad you're here," I said, through tears.

And I am. I can't take back the fact that I didn't know how much she struggled ten years ago, but I will say this: Agnes has one of the best spirits on this Earth. She's full of zest and hope and love and wonderfulness and funny jokes and if I tried really, really hard one day I might be a fraction of how amazing she is. She's still figuring things out, but I am so grateful that I'm a little closer to her and am so humbled by the thought of other people I love dearly not thinking they are worth as much as they are.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

On Being and Having Enough

Lately I've been thinking about the word "enough."

I recently read Dirt Work: An Education in the Woods, a memoir by Christine Byl, in which she concludes with some really deep, insightful paragraphs about what it means to have enough in her new Alaskan home.

Bounty can be paralyzing, the awful clench of how to choose and I'll never get it all. The Tao Ching says, "There is no calamity like not knowing what is enough," and so I'm slowly learning to note what I need, to be satisfied with what there is time for, not cowed by what I miss. There is so much enough; enough for the bears and my neighbors and the birds, enough for pies and pancakes and two batches of jam and a freezer stash, enough for a winy thing in the air and the drop-and-rot that foments next decade's humus.

As I fold my husband's and my six sweatshirts and try to shove them into already-stuffed drawers, as I paw through workout clothes to find the exact one tank I want to wear tomorrow, as I run my finger along the spines of my books on my to-read bookshelf... I feel a little ashamed, because I know I have more than enough.

Yet, sometimes I want more. I have most of what dollars can buy, but sometimes I want priceless things like time or attention or support. I'm not satisfied with that which I'm already given, and I'm perplexed if it's fair to want more, or if I should be satisfied with the time, attention, and support I've already got.

But at this very moment, as I'm typing this with my three kids reading themselves to sleep, my new puppy snorting in her sleep while in the cutest belly-up position, and my husband buying a new power tool on Amazon, and as I look back at this summer, I know I have enough. I was enough, I did enough. We laughed enough, we ate enough, we saw enough, we relaxed enough, we explored enough, we cried enough, we met enough new people, we missed enough old people.

It's a good feeling, knowing that for once I got the balance right.