Restlessness

Standard

With a forecast for a three-day ice storm, the city of St. Louis shut down today.  All of the area schools closed a full 15 hours before the school day would begin based on the meteorological predictions alone.  We awoke Friday morning to gray skies saturated with heavy cold moisture and anticipation.

And I felt a similar weight and anticipation as I mulled over the job opportunity casually pitched to me via text message the day before.  A Reading Specialist position at Avery, Everett’s school. A maternity leave post for 12 weeks.  An opportunity to dust off my graduate degree and amp up my practical experience.  A chance to establish a presence in the district.  A room with an inside view of Everett’s school.  Three months to test-drive the Reading Specialist gig and see if it is a viable option for the ever-murky “life-after-stay-at-home-mom-phase.”

Ever since learning of the job opening, I can’t stop thinking about it.  “It’s a sign,” I think.  I envision drawing out my teacher self through a small trap door.  Pulling and pulling at a single thread as a solid ball of knowledge, skills, confidence and work ethic begins to form, shrinking ever so slightly from the light of this new universe that it has not yet played in.

I feel a slight panic about the opportunity slipping away and know I have to do something.  I pop on PBS for my three-year old, the one that will miss me the most if I decide to take on 12 weeks of full-time work.  I snuggle under the blanket, close to his fleece footie pajamas and flip open my laptop.  I draft an e-mail to the Avery principal and only proofread it once before pressing send.  I feel like I have to release this nagging desire quickly before I suppress it, before I lose my nerve, before I talk myself out of the pursuit of a train that jumps so far off my delineated track.

The e-mail is sent.  Interest expressed.  Door open.  Then, I wait.  I wait for the frozen drizzle to begin slicking surfaces.  And I wait for a reply to my e-mail.  In between pancake flipping and blowing out candles on Play-doh birthday cakes, I check and check and check.  Look out the window.  Look at my e-mail.  Check the weather app.  Refresh e-mail.  I repeat this pattern as the morning drags on.  I realize I am making myself miserable with anticipation, but I cannot remove myself from the obsession of waiting for something to happen, something to break the routine.

Perhaps this is really what this sudden and unexpected quest is all about.  I get the “itch” about once a year or so, the urge to pursue, to rediscover those dormant parts of my being that I switched off upon giving birth.  At the end of this day of anticipation, I write to process this process.

I do finally receive responses to my e-mail in the mid-afternoon, inviting me to complete and submit an application.  The replies indicate that there are several applicants awaiting screening and interviews.  This realization makes me feel less special, as if this random job opportunity was not just delivered from the heavens just for me.  I had already envisioned my sacrifice.  Giving hours of my day otherwise spent with my children to deliver the school with my unparalleled knowledge and skill.  I would have to take the job.  I was needed.  I am embarrassed by my ego, but realize this craving is real.  I want to be useful in ways that extend beyond guiding Lego construction and organizing playdates.  Yet I realize that 12 weeks is a fourth of a year, a sizable chunk of the year and a half I have left before all of my children spend the bulk of their time without me in full-time school.  Is this what I’m willing to give to scratch an itch?

Icicles dangle from every elevated surface, but the roads still seem passable.  The path may not be entirely clear, but the path still remains. Do I wait to see what will unfold or forge gingerly ahead, taking slow and steady steps until I am sure-footed?  Or even forgo such caution and stomp boldly with the bravado of thick rubber tread?

As I let go of this day of anticipation, I don’t yet know the answers to these questions.  Part of me is frustrated with myself for losing a whole day to these mental gymnastics.  An entire day in close proximity to my boys and I did not live it in the present.  Mom guilt strikes again.  Yet I gave a day to recognizing the unresolved questions that percolate beneath my lid.  They are mostly a gentle simmer, but at times boil over and make me come unhinged.  Tomorrow will bring more ice, they say.  Tomorrow will bring what it brings, I say.

Poppies, Toros, & Churros

Standard
Poppies, Toros, & Churros

It’s 5:30 p.m. in Madrid and it’s about time to wake up the boys from siesta.  While it’s crazy that they are napping in their beds from 4:00-6:00 p.m., it’s even crazier that we will keep them out exploring the city streets tonight until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.  I just keep chanting mottos like “Live like the Locals!” and hoping that our nocturnal body clocks will make our jet lag recovery easier when we return home on Saturday.

For week 2 of our Spanish adventure, we have already run like bulls through the streets of Pamplona, hiked the foothills of the Pyrenees, and eaten our weight in churros and jamón in Madrid.  While we loved our week in San Sebastían, it has been thrilling to see other pockets of Spain.

On Sunday afternoon we loaded up and drove a couple hours east to a small village called Ardanaz where we rented an old rustic farmhouse with our friends, The Miller’s.  Rob and Laura moved from St. Louis to Italy last summer and have taken full advantage of traveling around Europe as much as possible, so they hopped an EasyJet to explore Spain with us for four nights.  Their two girls, Corwyn and Saelin, are pretty close in age to Everett and Louie, so the fun factor exponentially leapt once our boys had some cute girls to show off for.

image5

Eating gelato with Corwyn and Saelin

When we drove our jam-packed little European rental cars into the village of Ardanaz, we may have doubled its population.  The GPS led us to Calle San Vicente, but we struggled to find number 26 as we inched through narrow cobblestone roads lined with rustic stone houses, many of which were abandoned.  I spotted a woman sitting in her garden with her dog, so I got out and gave my limited Spanish a whirl.  Luckily, all I really needed to say was “la casa de Rakel” and she pointed me to the correct home where a middle-aged woman with a beaming smile emerged.  Rakel immediately pulled me in for the double-cheeked kissing ritual.  I never know if you are actually supposed to kiss the cheek or just brush cheeks and make the kissing noise.  It all happened so fast that I’m not even sure which reaction I went with, but it didn’t seem to matter as she greeted all eight of us with the same warm embrace.  Based on my communication with her from the AirBNB website, I could tell that Rakel spoke little English.  It turned out that she spoke no English at all, so I had to put my high school Spanish memory stores to serious work.  As she led me around the farmhouse, we had a few moments where we got stuck in translation purgatory–but I was surprised by how quickly and eagerly Spanish phrases and vocabulary leapt out from my long-term memory caves to play.  We ended our tour in the cave-like kitchen framed with rustic wooden beams and clay tile.  On the long table, she presented a gift of Rioja wine, local cheese and sausage, and freshly cracked walnuts.  Everett immediately grabbed the nutcracker and the wooden bowl of nuts and immersed himself into the mechanisms of opening walnuts and hazelnuts while the rest of us lugged in suitcases and prepared for our 48-hours in this lovely pueblo.

IMG_8323

Rakel’s farmhouse in Ardanaz

That first night, we drove a short 10 minutes in to the city of Pamplona to explore the streets where throngs of people gather for the famous running of the bulls during the San Fermin festival each July.  Thankfully the city is pretty calm on a Sunday evening at the end of May, so we enjoyed strolling through an outdoor book fair, having beer and burgers on the square, and chasing our children through the streets that make up the famed bull route.

IMG_8263

Pretending to run like bulls in the streets of Pamplona.

The next day we simply climbed the foothills behind our house to hike a beautiful trail through wildflower fields and undulating slopes of wheat.  When the wind blew, it was like an animated art show in the wheat fields.  The sun’s reflection paired up with the wind to create changing patterns across the countryside.  My favorite part of this day were the red poppies that dotted every vista and the vino blanco we enjoyed at our peak-side picnic.  The kids were overjoyed to get back to our farmhouse where they could play in the backyard. Even though the pool and hot tub were not yet up and running, they found random sticks of bamboo to build forts and played “school” under the swing’s awning.  Rakel’s yard also offered an outdoor cage with doves, a chicken coop, and a pond stocked with fish, turtles, and frogs.  There was clearly no reason to leave this little village, so we spent the rest of the evening grilling dinner on the patio and embracing this respite of simplicity in the middle of our hustle and bustle adventures.

image2-2

The poppy fields of Ardanaz.  My favorite.

image4-2

The backyard playscape at the farmhouse.

Yesterday we said goodbye to the sweet Miller family and loaded up our little white Skoda SpaceBack for one last jaunt through the autopistas of Spain.  After a few hours, we made it to the Madrid airport where we returned our keys and oh-s0-clutch GPS system to Hertz and loaded our boys and luggage into a taxi for our last destination: Madrid.  The boys had two things in their mind upon entering Madrid: bull fights and churros con chocolate.  We indulged them with the long piping hot donuts and cups of warm pudding-like chocolate laced with cinnamon.  However talking them out of the bull fights is a different beast as we pass tacky souvenir shops lined with bull kitsch and red capes. You see, I made the mistake of reading the boys the classic children’s story “Ferdinand the Bull” before we left for Spain as a little introduction to Spanish culture before we arrived. They were instantly intrigued and insistent that they should see a bull fight while we were here.  In fact they spent many afternoons leading up to this trip chasing our poor senile dog Otis through the backyard with a stick playing “matador.”  As you can imagine, Louie led the charge on that game.  Since “Ferdinand the Bull” is a very benign and far less violent rendition of the actual bull sport beloved in this country, it took some careful explanation of why a bull fight is not on our itinerary this trip.  Maybe they will settle for a bull T-shirt and a red cape.

Today we spent the day wandering in Retiro Park.  Everett peed his pants in a rowboat in the middle of a pond full of floating tourists, but other than that–it was a lovely day. And that’s why I hoof around these ancient cities with an REI daypack stuffed with extra clothes, right?  At least my preparedness is not futile.  We ate fresh shaved Jamón Iberíco from a paper cone, bocadillos de calamare, and ceviche.  And now as it approaches 7:30, we will head out for a night out in the busy streets on Madrid.  Paella is our quest tonight and there will probably be another round of churros con chocolate as well.  I’ve got the Ergo strapped around my waist, extra underwear and baby wipes cushioning my coin purse of Euros, and sunglasses perched on my head to ward off those rays that won’t dip below the horizon until well after 9:30 p.m.  Buenas Tardes, Madrid!

IMG_8354

Hanging with my small-bladdered son in Retiro Park.

image1-3

Three Boys in a Boat

image3

Churros con Chocolate!

IMG_8339

Puerta Del Sol with my stuffed daypack.

IMG_8358

Eating Jamón Ibérico out of a paper cone.

 

Basque Country Adventures

Standard
Basque Country Adventures

While I vowed to blog on this vacation, I’m having trouble finding the time to sit with my fingers on the keyboard. This Spanish schedule is no joke. It’s 10:25 p.m. here on the north coast of Spain and the sky has finally mostly darkened.  It’s only late May, but there is still a summertime glow peeking through the dark clouds that hover over the Atlantic.  Consequently, our boys have just now finally succumbed to sleep.  We have really only been here for three full days, but we are trying to step in time to the Spanish daily itinerary.  It’s difficult to get a cup of coffee or a pastry before 8:00 a.m. or even 9:00 and most places close for siesta between 3:00-6:00 p.m.  Restaurants typically don’t begin dinner service until 8:00 p.m., which makes bedtime (even for kiddos) around 10:00 at the earliest.

Last night we pushed our boys into full Spanish mode and decided to hop pintxo bars in Old Town San Sebastian until 10:30 p.m.  “Bar-hopping with your kids?!”, you gasp. Trust me- it is commonplace here to see strollers strutting and toddlers roaming through the narrow cobblestone streets beneath the moon.  Pintxos are the Basque region’s version of tapas: small, bite-size delicacies usually served on a slice of bread like crostini.  Everett and Louie embraced the culinary adventure, sampling anchovies, spider crab, sea urchin, mussels, octopus, cod, tripe, and veal cheek.  Although they were definitely exhausted and undoubtedly slap-happy, I smiled proudly as they eagerly chomped down on these exotic bites and did silly jigs beneath the bar-tops.  Of course boy-wrangling through the streets of an ancient Spanish city is much easier with free-flowing sangria and tzacholi, a sparkling white wine that is ceremoniously poured from an extended arm-length’s height into the glass to add natural aeration and dramatic flair.  Just to be clear, these beverages were for me and Ben.  The boys were merely drunk on exhaustion.

We have spent our days enjoying the breathtaking natural splendor of Basque country.  Zurriola Beach is just steps from our apartment.  The boys love digging in the sand and watching the surfers do jumps and twists on the impressive waves.  Yesterday we took a hike up the hill from our apartment on part of the Camino de Santiago, the famous pilgrimage trail that stretches from France to the far west coast of Spain at Santiago de Compostela, the alleged burial site of the apostle St. James.  The side-by-side color contrasts of the turquoise sea and rolling green countrysides is stunning.  I’m just sad that our camera can’t adequately capture this living art.  We successfully hiked about 4.5 km–and without the aids of the Ergos wrapped around our waists in case of meltdowns!  The boys were motivated by hunting for the next trail guidepost: three horizontal painted lines of white, red, and green to symbolize the Basque flag.  Everett and Louie are a bit obsessed with practicing their limited Spanish vocabulary and soon took to shouting, “Blanco, Rojo, Verde!” each time they encountered a new marker.  Louie, who is undoubtedly our more outgoing child, would wave eagerly at the other hikers we passed with a cheerful “Hola!” or “Buenos Dias!”  His confidence sometimes takes my breath away.

Today, we took a short road trip about 20 minutes west to a town called Zumaia to hike an area called The Flysch.  Erosion from ocean winds have made these fascinating horizontal ridges in limestone cliffs to create a geometric landscape design that rivals any contemporary art.  The views of the coastline were incredible, and the undulating green pastures dotted with sheep and cows and Spanish-tiled farmhouses made me feel like I was walking through a pastoral painting.  We stopped in the fishing town of Getaria for a late afternoon sugar rush at a little pasteleria and then got the boys a 30-minute mini-siesta on the trip back home to San Sebastian for dinner.  Ben has cooked two meals so far in our humble little apartment here.  First was a pasta with Serrano ham and the celebrated white asparagus from Navarro.  Tonight, he made a risotto with the same asparagus delicacy, mushrooms, and seasoned with that sparkling white wine that the region heralds.  We are ending our night on our balcony that overlooks Zurriola Beach and is hugged by mountains on either side.  There’s an open bottle of Belmunt red wine from the Priorat region on our table.  It’s seriously delicious.  Ben has already checked to see if the winery ships to the U.S.  They do and we are taking note.  

These last four days have marked an incredible start to another worldly adventure for our family of four, but it has of course not been all breathtaking landscapes and ecstatic tastebuds.  There were disastrous moments during our first 24 hours here where we were all miserable from jet lag and travel fatigue.  On our drive to San Sebastián that first day, we had to pull off at a Spanish roadside rest area so Ben could sleep. The boys literally gathered weeds in the rest area grass patch while Ben clocked 20 minutes of deep sleep reclined in the driver’ seat. I do not hold the international driver’s license nor know how to drive a stick shift, so this was the only way to safely further our journey.

The boys are fighting and throwing tantrums just like all 3 and 5-year olds do when they are tired and out of their routines.  Louie has already broken a champagne glass in our apartment, spit on the floor of a sweet little fruit market, and screamed like a wild banshee in a coffee shop.  Everett continues to have to pee every 5 minutes. But, you know what?  These same daily moments of insanity happen at home.  So we figure–why not mix the daily chaos with a little culture too?  The headaches are the same, but the memories of new experiences and adventures will be what endures.

 

El Camino de Santiago!

El Camino de Santiago!


"Blanco, Rojo, Verde!"

“Blanco, Rojo, Verde!”


Zurriola Beach Play

Zurriola Beach Play


Everett in The Flysch

Everett in The Flysch


The top writing is the Basque language of Euskara, which might be the oldest European language still used.  So different than a Romance language!

The top writing is the Basque language of Euskara, which might be the oldest European language still used. So different than a Romance language!


Louie in the Flysch

Louie in the Flysch

IMG_6224

The Flysch Cliffs

The Flysch Cliffs

 

31 Flavors

Standard

I just spent the last few minutes scrolling through the 30 posts I cranked out for this writing challenge.  I found interesting to inventory the topics I wrote about it and the writing styles I tried out, my life scooped out in 31 different flavors.

Some posts were journal-entry style chronicling the major events of my day in chronological order.  I think I saved these outlets for the nights I was racing the clock and only had enough creative juice to catalog my day.

Other posts fit the “slice of life” call a bit more appropriately and focused on a single event or moment from my day.  These style of posts most often involved my children, illuminating one of their goofy quirks or one of the many daily adventures of motherhood. These were really enjoyable to write because while I generally began with a random isolated story, I found that I often ended up exploring a more meaningful idea or emotion related to the instance.  I think the process of creating these posts really helped me reflect on my relationship with my children and my role as a mother.

Many of my posts were memory snapshots from my childhood, which almost always hearkened bittersweet reminiscence of my parents.  In the past, I have done quite a bit of writing about my parents’ struggles and tragic early deaths, and I typically gravitated towards the catharsis of documenting some of my most unpleasant memories.  When I would write these tales of woe, I would feel an emotional release but I would also leave the keyboard feeling anxious and unsettled.  But in reviewing the blog posts for this challenge, I was happy to see that I mostly wrote about childhood memories of contentment and illustrated my strong relationship with my parents.  Without even deliberately setting out to do so, I conjured up some of my parents’ best qualities and re-created some of my best childhood memories.

And then there were just a handful of posts where I experimented with genre.  I kicked off with a poem on day one and then snuck in a semi-poem that turned into prose some time in the middle of the month.  There was a silly recipe for a Manic Monday tossed in there too.  If I do this again (or perhaps if I dare to continue blogging regularly without the challenge motivation), I would love to push myself into other genres and styles a little more.  I think I’ve worked the wordy reflective narrative style into the ground!

But all in all, I am proud that I completed this challenge and am so grateful to my dear friend, Deborah, for introducing me to this writing adventure and cheering me along the whole way.  After not writing in my blog for over a year and a half, the idea of carving out daily writing time for myself was incredibly daunting. But now I feel like I have a sense of how one lives a writerly life, how writing becomes a predictable signpost in  your daily routine that offers introspection and reflection.  With that introspection has come opportunities to express gratitude and release anxiety.  The experience has been challenging and therapeutic and incredibly rewarding.

Thank you to all the readers and commenters who pulled me along throughout the month. You were the just the nonthreatening audience I needed to cast my words out into the open waters again.

Slow Mornings

Standard

Slow mornings.  This is one of things I savor most about being able to stay home with my boys right now.  Some mornings can be chaotic, but generally I have the gift of being able to begin each day with a string of unhurried moments, each providing me an opportunity to really connect with my children.

This morning, Everett came downstairs with his bear Smoky wedged under the crook of his arm and a pile of books balancing in his little hands.  I had but a minute to pour a cup of hot coffee before Louie was plodding down the stairs to join the wake-up-and-read party too. There are many mornings when my youngest can’t function until he raises his blood sugar with a handful of dry cereal or nuts.  Often times, putting something in his belly is the very first order of business for the day.  However, this morning he was game to postpone breakfast a half hour and fill up with words instead.

While Louie and I snuggled on the couch and prepared to read, Everett was busy in the kitchen at the art table.  As I mentioned in earlier posts, he is my quirky divergent thinker.  Within five minutes, he came in with the pile of books and began to explain the agenda for our reading session.  He had taken a sheet of heart stickers and strategically mounted different numbers and colors of the stickers on to the covers of the books.  “This is a code,” he explained.  “This one with two blue hearts means it is a silly book.  And the one with one green heart means it is a tricky book.  And then this one, Mommy…this one with the four red hearts is a sweet one.”  I laughed out loud.  He definitely attached the correct mood to all of the books he chose.

I started to feel the rush of the day ahead creep in as I realized he had cataloged six books of considerable length for our morning read.  “I think we will just read two of these boys and then we better eat breakfast and get dressed,” I said.  I was confronted with a chorus of “Noooo.” and “Pleeeaasse.”  So I relented and remembered that we have the luxury of embracing these slow mornings.  If we are five minutes late to preschool, there are no tardy slips or disparaging glances.  If we have to rush through breakfast a little bit or throw on the same jeans and T-shirt we wore yesterday, no one will know the difference.

The rest of the day was filled with its fair share of tantrums, brother combat sessions, and exasperated frustrated mama sighs.  However, I feel grateful that I could start the day off slow with my boys nestled on the couch on either side of me.  Our day could begin with snuggles and giggles and book after book after book.  I know that our days of slow mornings are numbered.  When Everett starts kindergarten in the fall, we will have to be out of the house over an hour earlier than we do now.  There probably won’t be time for six color-coded books and pre-reading discussions about the feelings associated with each, but I still hope to be deliberate about beginning the day with these connection moments.

Brain Dump at the Midnight Hour

Standard

Ahhh….racing the clock again.  I just learned that I have to post by midnight Eastern time for my “slice of life” to legitimately meet the requirements of the challenge.  This does not work well for my night owl writing prowls.

I’m just now wrapping up another whirlwind day.  I’ll work backwards from my day today just to mix things up.

I’m very late hitting the keyboard tonight, because I hosted an event at my house for my moms’ group this evening.  I’m on the board for our neighborhood moms’ group, so I got tapped to host the new member gathering this evening.  While this involved the typical headaches of getting my house cleaned (and even harder- keeping it clean until people arrived), I always feel a sense of gratitude after doing things like this.  I feel thankful that we live in a home that can accommodate gatherings like this.  While our house is not enormous, the open flow of the rooms is really conducive to mingling.  After spending three years living in small apartments in Nashville, owning our own home is really such a gift.

The beginning of my day was much less fun.  I spent the morning at the doctor’s office getting a brain  MRI.  I’ve been having positional vertigo issues when I lie down for almost two years, so my doctor decided we should investigate.  I have never had an MRI before and I was not really prepared for the experience.  The worst part for me was probably the duration.  I was stuck in that tube unable to move my upper body for over 30 minutes.  And then there was the noise.  Each scan produced an unpleasant rhythmic pelting sound in staccato bursts.  It was like being in a small tin tube while machine gun fire pummeled the outside of my flimsy bomb shelter.  One of the hardest parts for me was my inability to focus on positive thoughts.  When you are lying inside a claustrophobic tunnel absorbing abrasive noise from all directions, it is difficult to daydream of sunshine and rainbows.  I struggle with anxiety at baseline which is triggered by health issues, so I fought hard to beat back visions of dreadful diagnoses.

To be honest, I’m in a season of combat with my anxiety right now.  I personally know three young people battling cancer right now: a grad school colleague, a former Nashville neighbor and friend, and Ben’s cousin.  They are all close in age to me and have young children and their stories are heartbreaking.  This dreadful disease has become my greatest fear.  Health issues have always been what sends my anxious mind reeling, which I blame on the fact that I grew up surrounded by unhealthy parents.  I was always waiting for a dreadful diagnosis to change my world….and eventually it did.  In addition to the vertigo, I’m also struggling with a chronic scratchy throat and hoarseness that’s been nagging for over a month.  I’m having a hard time deciding if these issues are real concerns or just seasonal allergies that are exacerbated by my anxious tendency to fear the worst.  It’s amazing how the anxious brain can manifest itself through physical symptoms.  There’s something about being a mother to very young children that makes me feel even more vulnerable to the cruel unpredictability of illness.  However, I must admit that just taking the time to honestly put my fears in writing does make me feel better, like I am a bit more in control.

Ugh…and by the time I’ve finished this disorganized cathartic dump, it is well past 11:00 CST- which means I’ve technically missed the “slice of life” deadline.  It’s been a roller coaster kind of day in my soul.  I’m still feeling content that I showed up to output.  Now time to power down.

Morning Muse

Standard

I want to be a daughter of the morning.

One who rises easily, fresh and alert

Waiting for the sun to say, “Come, meet the day.”

I admire the soft sunlight that bathes the still streets outside my window

And long to savor this moment to sit and gaze and create.

But poetry halts as I realize that I did not wake quite early enough today.  Cue cartoon sound effect of creative gears screeching to a halt.   There are two little boys plodding down the stairs.  The news of the morning is Louie’s bloody nose.  His sheets and pillow will need to be washed and his little nose is crusted over with a smudge of reddish brown.

Sigh.  I will just finish this blog post after…

I wash blueberries out of the bunny Pez dispenser (Because mom says no more candy today)…or after-

I wipe yellow dye off the senile dog’s back (Otis bumped in to me while I was blowing my Crayola colored bubbles.)…or after-

The clock strikes 10:00 p.m. and I finally plop down and stare out my windows at the still street bathed in darkness.  There is no promise of day awaiting, but the anticipation of rest is sweet too.  I still cannot seem to lasso the morning for my muse, but the process is still fulfilling.