Tag: Remembering

22Oct

Scriptwriting for Gremlins

I began keeping a daily journal the day I turned ten. My first entry includes a list of my birthday presents and the phrase, “I had been waiting for years to turn ten.” (Now that I have a ten-year-old of my own, I love that age even more if that’s possible.) In my teens, I had to add companion journals for all of the photographs, letters, and printed-off Jack Handey quotes that I wanted to preserve, and by the time I left for college, I was scribbling off several pages of my deepest thoughts each night before bed. After I got married, my journaling habits shifted somewhat, and I now write almost exclusively on the computer. I still have my old diaries though, a whole shelf of glittery or pop art or fur-bound books in various stages of disintegration. They are some of my most treasured possessions. They are also the most distressing objects in my life.

I cannot read far in any of my journals without face planting into sadness or shame. Between the difficult circumstances of my childhood and the misguided, often unlikable person that I could be, my past does not make for light reading. I usually only delve back into those handwritten accounts when I’m trying to fact-check. That’s exactly what I was doing several months ago, hunting for some info from my early teenage journals, when one particular page grew arms and jabbed a cattle prod into my neck. I’m still stunned and smoking slightly from what I read.

There on the page, in my own childhood cursive, is the nearly verbatim dialogue that I hear in my mind today when struggling to write, reconnect with someone, or just generally exist: 

People might think that you’re a great person, but you’re not; you’ve just conned them into thinking so.
Those who really know you know that you’re an ogre, black-hearted and evil.
You have no character.
You are ugly.
All of your achievements are based on lies; you are the dumbest person on earth.
You are lacking any softness or empathy. You cannot relate to human beings.
Your presence in others’ lives is slowly murdering them.
You are not capable of communicating properly.
You will never, ever have any real relationships.
You have no potential.
Any difficulties you are going through are exclusively your fault.
You are a disappointment.

All of my adult life, I’ve attributed these sentiments to creative gremlins or badly managed neuroses. When I haven’t had the strength to fight them off, I’ve accepted them as the voice of truth. What I learned from my journal, however, was that they used to have a real live human voice. Those sentences that I wrote down at age fifteen were spoken to me, repeatedly over the course of years, by someone I trusted.

I’d completely forgotten.

Recently, a friend (hi, Jeff!) shared the following quote by Mothering Magazine editor Peggy O’Mara: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” If I weren’t reeling from discovering that very fact in my journal pages, I might have dismissed the quote as fatalistic. I’m still not prepared to believe that every word from a parent figure gets internalized and rescripted as inner monologue, but I now know how deeply a recurring childhood message can be absorbed. The indictments I received growing up are as much a part of my mental landscape as are the resolutions I’ve made in adulthood.

While I don’t enjoy remembering those saw-toothed words being jabbed into my developing ears, I feel like my perspective has been outfitted with a whole new defensive strategy. It is much, much easier to fight back against inner voices that have a clear outside origin. Rather than swinging blindly at my own brain, I can stare down the source of the problem and remind it that it has no jurisdiction here. Not anymore.

I’m also grateful for the reminder to voice my fondness for my girls as intentionally as I go about the other day-to-days of parenting. When they run up against struggles in their adult lives, I want their minds to have ready access to the truth that they are capable, brave, and so valuable that their mom needed every day of their childhoods to tell them so. We’re not a deep-conversations-every-hour kind of family. However, I believe that the small encouragements I sprinkle into their days can add up to the kind of inner script that will blast shame back to last century:

People might think that you’re a great person, but those who really know you will be certain of the fact.
You are as human as they come, and your imperfections will help you relate all the better to the imperfect humans around you.
You are luminous and altogether lovely.
Your achievements do not define you, but each one is a testament to what you can do.
You are capable of deep love.
Your presence in the world is a gift to the rest of us.
Never stop cultivating the unique ways in which you express yourself.
You have the kindness and determination to sustain lasting relationships.
When you are going through difficulties, reach out. You are worthy of help.
You are a joy.

31Dec

New Year’s in 2D

Traditionally, New Year’s Eve is personified as an old man with a pocket watch, but this day strikes me more as a teenager, awkward in orange vest and bowtie, manning a bin of disposable 3D glasses. There are plenty of pairs to go around and the promise of a year in review once we put them on. Inevitably, though, the red and blue cellophane lenses are wrinkled and the paper frames keep sliding down our noses and our visions have trouble adjusting to the depth and scope of what we’re seeing. Or is it just me?

I’m struggling to hold the entirety of 2014 in my gaze right now. As much as I treasure perspective and closure, I can’t seem to zoom out enough to get the shape of the year—all its triumphs and frustrations and the few big changes uncapping like matryoshka dolls to reveal an infinity of smaller ones. This is how it is every New Year’s Eve. My mind is still licking red and green sugar off its fingers and trying to remember what I used to do with myself before Christmas came to town.

I used to write. I know this much. I used to wake up in the morning with a thousand ideas straining against the confines of whatever responsible, grown-uppish tasks were scheduled for the day. I recently asked a friend looking into graduate programs (hi, K!) what kind of writing she was hoping to do, and she answered, “all of it.” I know exactly how she feels. The desire to make art out of inklings only gets stronger with time.

There’s the desire for community as well—to cultivate it always more, to live in our neighborhood and our church and our city as people invested in the outcomes. I did better at this in October and November, but I also ended up flat in bed with my breath clenched tight around a runaway heartbeat. I need to learn to do smaller more deeply.

There are so many other bits of myself, past, present, and future, bobbing around my periphery, indistinguishable from one another in 3D. Trying to pin down the nuances of this past year keeps pulling me straight into the next on the same threads of hope, and I wonder if that’s all New Year’s Eve should be after all—a surge of forward momentum, a hello.

Real live snowflakes are waltzing around my window right now (a once-every-two-years kind of sight here in central Italy), and tenderloin is roasting for a low-key evening with friends. The girls are in the next room chatting in the vein of sisters who will never, ever run out of things to say to each other. Dan is cooking lunch; glory be. My fingers are typing out the rust, and a whole new year is waiting in the wings, and it’s enough. My year doesn’t have to be processed in reverse to be complete. Sometime in the future I’ll look back and see the perimeter of 2014 backlit clearly by hindsight, but it doesn’t need to happen today, whatever the kid with the bin of disposable glasses says.

Here’s to the hope-threads stretching ahead, to every bright possibility we’ll be toasting at midnight. Welcome, 2015!

Merry Christmas 2014(And however you celebrate, happiest of holidays from the four of us!)

28Oct

Open-Source Parenting: Magic

“…My endeavours should be directed to persons and characters supernatural, or at least romantic, yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

/ / /

Santa Claus and I were not on speaking terms when I was a kid. Christmas was already a touchy subject in our fundamentalist tradition, what with the pagan origins of Christmas trees and the commercialism of all those shiny wrapped gifts. Don’t get me wrong; my siblings and I got to open presents on Christmas morning just like other children, but we sure as shootin’ knew they didn’t come from a fat shapeshifter in red fur whose name just happened to be an anagram for “Satan.” For a while when I was very young, I had the impression that I wasn’t supposed to know about him at all, so I adopted a kind of haughty obliviousness toward the old gent. After all, it wasn’t as if he were real.

The Tooth Fairy got the same treatment from me, as did that sacrilegious, egg-stealing lout The Easter Bunny. I looked down on my friends for believing in such nonsense, and I looked down even more on their parents for encouraging it. When I grew up and had kids of my own, I would never lie to them like that.

In the monkey grass with Hudson Taylor
Don’t mess with eight-year-old Bethany’s mental integrity or she will cat you.

A few things happened between my childhood resolution and the arrival of my own children though. One was the day in college when a few of my friends and professors teamed up to give me an Easter basket full of candy. It was the first Easter basket of my life (that I’d been allowed to keep, at any rate), and my classmates that day were treated to the sound of choking giddy laugh-tears. The candy itself wasn’t such a big deal, but the playfulness behind it, the bright colors and whimsy superimposed on a holiday that had often crushed me beneath its gravity, loosened up some tightly clenched fistful of my soul.

I was also at college when I learned about Coleridge’s “poetic faith,” about how we’ll willingly shed our sense of reality so we can slip into the pages of a well-written story. I hadn’t thought of that before even though falling headfirst into books was one of my favorite pastimes. The concept made perfect sense to me however. While I was nerding out over my Lord of the Rings trilogy, it wasn’t as if I actually thought Middle Earth existed… but I did believe in it. When Frodo set off for Mount Doom, I was there, my imagination busy alchemizing fable into fact. As scornful as I had always been of magic, I now realized that I was an old hand at it.

Bookworm
I still contend that books are best read in pillow forts.

/ / /

I didn’t set out to use the willing suspension of disbelief as a parenting strategy. It just kind of happened as we figured out our family rhythm over the years.

Take our old friend Satan Santa. Dan and I never told our girls that a jolly bearded reindeer driver would be bringing their gifts, but we didn’t exclude him from the holidays either. We read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and watched “Elf” and sang about the woes of Rudolph. When Natalie started asking if Santa Claus was real, we told her about the original St. Nicholas and asked her what she thought of it all. Our extremely literal little girl wasn’t quite buying the existence of a magical Santa. She did agree, however, that it was a lot of fun to pretend, and so we did. We do.

We pretend about the Easter Bunny as well. Most years, we go for a little family walk during which plastic eggs mysteriously appear in tree branches and clumps of grass around us. The girls try every time to catch Dan and I at it because they know we’re the ones planting the goods, but there’s magic in it all the same. “Wow, thank you Easter Bunny!” they’ll giggle in our direction with conspiratorial eye-rolls.

And then there’s the Tooth Fairy:

Tooth Fairy
I admit nothing.

I don’t share any of this to criticize how other parents handle folklore with their kids. Nor am I trying to minimize the sacred side of holidays like Christmas and Easter. I just wanted to share the way we’ve found to keep both reality and magic as dance partners in our family life—by handing the reins over to our imaginations from time to time, giggling our way straight into story, and together experiencing worlds that only exist through the willing suspension of disbelief.

Your turn! How do you navigate the realm of legendary figures with your family? What did you think about it all when you were a kid yourself? Any good stories to tell? The idea behind this Open-Source Parenting series is to share our collective wisdom for the good of all. I’ve learned more from other parents’ stories than I have from expert advice, and I’d wager you have too, so let’s continue the conversation in the comments below or over on Facebook. I’m looking forward to hearing your take!

12Aug

Depression, Robin, and You

So much is going on in the world right now, so much heaviness, so many strings wrenching our hearts in all directions. Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza… It’s all so much to take in, and I have absolutely nothing constructive to add to the discussions on international policy taking place. I do know depression though, and waking up this morning to news of Robin Williams’s death reminded me what an important topic this is… especially from a practical point of view… and especially especially for members of the Christian community. I’m sharing my experience at A Deeper Story and would love if you’d read along:

[Ed: Now that Deeper Story has closed its doors, the post is here in its entirety:] 

~~~

“Waking up feels like getting socked in the gut. I feel instantly strained, smothered, vaguely panicked. I have trouble breathing through the tightness of trying to hold myself together, trying not to cry or yell or fly into a million little pieces. The simplicity of my life seems unbearably complicated, and even the tiniest decisions—which sweater should I wear?—are draining. I blink back tears from an urgent but indefinable sadness. The day feels like a sheer precipice, and I can’t see the footholds. I can’t see the top. I can’t even tell what type of stone is blocking my way. I recognize that I have no reason to feel unhappy, no reason at all, but I stumble through various shades of sadness all the same. I wake up with the wind already knocked out of me, and I choke on the idea that there is no solution.”
– From my journal, January 30, 2008

“It’s like this,” I explained to my husband in halting whispers, engulfed in the dark of another sleepless night. “It’s like we’re at a party with everyone we know, and there’s dancing and food and laughter. Everything would be perfect, except that I suddenly find myself locked in a steel cage in the middle of the room. I didn’t see who locked me there. I have no idea where the key might be. All I know is that I’m ashamed to find myself captured, so I try for a while to laugh along with the partygoers, hoping they won’t notice the bars.

“Food is pushed under a slat on the floor, but eating alone is not the same as lingering with friends by the buffet. You and the girls come by to talk to me, but it’s not the same as hugging each other with unrestrained arms. The music still plays, but my cage is too short for me to dance. I may be in the middle of the room, but I feel as though I’m watching the party from outside.

“My resolve to put on a good face finally breaks down, and I tentatively call to a few loved ones for help. I know they aren’t the ones who locked me in the cage, but my hope is that they can search the room for the key since I’m unable. I also wish a few of them would come sit with me, hold my hand through the bars, reassure me that the cage is real and that I didn’t put myself there. I call again, hesitatingly, torn between wanting them to see my desperation and not wanting them to think me crazy. ‘Hello? I’m a little stuck here…’ This time, a couple hear. They stop for a moment, call, ‘Yeah, come on out and join us!’ and go back to dancing.”

“I see strange shadows inside my eyelids these days, as if everything familiar has become frightening. Writing requires me to rip words out of dental cavities, one at a time, and I don’t have the pain tolerance to finish what I manage to start. Smiling takes even more effort. I feel horribly alone, but I still crave loneliness. The freedom to hide. Not having to fake sanity for my family’s sake or to force insanity so someone will help me. I want a respite from the world’s problems, starting with my own brain.”
– From my journal, March 3, 2009 

I can’t read my journal entries from the fall of 2007 to the spring of 2009 without shaking. The pain of that time was so sharp that it cuts me even through the protective layers of all the years since. When it first started, I thought I was just struggling to adjust to our recent move to Italy. Then, my second daughter was born, and I latched onto postpartum depression as a likely culprit. The months continued though, and the world inside my mind continued growing darker.

I had only the tiniest shred of strength with which to help myself, and I used it primarily on holding my shit together in front of my two little girls. I couldn’t think what else to do, how else to fix myself. More than that, I didn’t feel worthy of being fixed. I felt like a black hole sucking those I loved down into my emptiness, and more than anything else in the world, I wished for backspace button big enough to delete myself.

Eventually, helped by a kind friend and my husband, I talked to three different doctors, all of whom brushed aside my condition after verifying that my blood results were normal. “You’re just having trouble adjusting to life in a new country,” my endocrinologist insisted, and I didn’t have the heart to argue, just like I didn’t have the heart to argue with Christian self-help sites that said I could pray the blackness away. They had no idea how hard I had already tried, how desperately I had prayed, how much it had taken for me to seek their help in the first place.

“I can no longer differentiate between physical and mental symptoms. This is not a development I was expecting, but I understand the progression from panic tickling the back of my neck to instinctive breath-holding to riotous stomach-and-back-and-head-aches. And not just that, but insomnia and desperate confusion. I have spent the entirety of the last two days in bed, somewhere between sleeping and pinching my breath shut, and I can’t account for it. ‘I don’t know,’ I respond when Dan asks me what’s wrong. How I feel. What that twitchy expression on my lips forebodes. Why I’m suddenly crying over a grapefruit, my only concession to lunch. What he can do for me.”
– From my journal, March 22, 2009

Here is what I learned about depression during my year-and-a-half-long battle: It is not a place for self-help.

I could not shoo away the darkness by starting a new workout routine. I could not slip into peace by praying. I could not diagnose myself within the maze of WebMD. I could not summon the energy to pick myself off the bathroom floor some days, much less pick up the phone and ask for help. The few friends I reached out to over the months all answered the same way: “What can I do to help?” And my answer was always, unfailingly, “I don’t know.”

In the end, I found depression’s exit door by accident. One day in early spring, I stumbled across an online forum of women claiming that my brand of birth control pill had caused their depression. I stopped taking it that day, and I was feeling more whole within a week than I had been for the past eighteen months.

I’m not going to pretend the answer is that simple for everyone though. Whatever the individual causes, depression is a real illness, as debilitating and painful as physical ones can be. It’s also a highly stigmatized one, particularly within Christian circles. I was reminded of that the moment I turned on my computer this morning and saw the tragic news of Robin Williams’s death—a rumored suicide—after his years’ long battle with depression.

Social media was full of beautiful tributes to the actor, but I also saw plenty of remarks to the effect that his depression would have been healed if only he had known the Lord. I recognized that the people making these remarks were grieving in their own way, but they were also making two very weighty assumptions:

1. That Robin Williams did not know God. (This, I strongly believe, is not something we have the authority to determine.)

2. That prayer is always enough to cure depression.

Can prayer cure depression? Yes, I believe so. But it doesn’t always. This is an important distinction, because until we stop viewing depression as a spiritual deficiency, we can’t help those in our communities take those first steps out.

And make no mistake—we are needed. You are needed. If someone you know is drowning inside his or her own head, you are needed to function as lifeguard. You are needed to call her up and tell her you’re taking her kids to the park for the day and cooking dinner besides. You are needed to tell him you found a doctor who can help and will be picking him up at 10. You are needed to do the Googling, to pick up the prescription, to find the health food store with the particular supplement, to refuse to give up until a solution is found. You are needed for your perspective and energy and insistence on your loved one’s worthiness. Your presence can be vital, sometimes in the most literal sense of the word.

I might have found the cure to my brand of depression on my own, but friends and family are the reason I made it that far. A year and a half is a long time to be treading water in the dark, and I don’t think I could have done it alone. Even when loved ones didn’t know how to help me, their encouragement and nearness propped me up a little more, gave me just enough of a respite that I could keep on going.

“Carry each other’s burdens,” wrote Paul in his letter to the Galatians, “and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Having been for so many months in the position of the one who was carried, I couldn’t agree more.

Dead Poet's Society

Rest in peace.

image credit

 

 

 

 

22May

The Rainbow and the Snugglebug

If you’ve been reading my blog for long, you might have noticed that I don’t share much personal info about my girls anymore. I never made a conscious decision to “retire” them from the blog, but as they’ve grown out of toddlerhood into bona fide kids, I’ve tried to respect their privacy as I would anyone else’s. This is a learning process for me, as it is for many bloggers I think: how to write about our real lives without violating the real people in them. It’s been a challenge trying to find my place on the continuum between Anne Lamott’s permission to write about anything that’s ever happened to us and Darren Prince’s conviction that we shouldn’t publish encounters with other people without their consent, and I don’t always get it right. Sometimes I regret having used someone else—even anonymously—as an example. Other times, I regret that I didn’t share a story out of fear that it might offend someone. And what about the times when I’m aching to dedicate a blog post to my girls but don’t want to trespass on their privacy?

Well, that’s not actually a hard one, in the end…

Natalie and Sophie have read this post and given me permission to proceed, though Sophie contends that it’s too short. I guess this just means we’ll have to do it again soon! </disclaimer>

I used to write monthly letters to the girls but stopped being able to keep up with them when I got a job a few years back. Once I found time to restart the habit, so many months had passed that the whole thing overwhelmed me, like an overflowing bin of photos waiting to be scrapbooked. I tried a couple of times to write backdated letters—how cool would it be if the girls could go into adulthood with a keepsake letter for every month of their childhood?—but the project had gotten too big, and I was too busy, and it is with no small amount of disappointment now that I admit that ship has sailed.

My longing to remember and preserve the infinite editions of these two rapidly growing girls has not abated, but I’m trying to allow myself the grace to be just their mom, not their biographer. “Pics or it didn’t happen” does not apply to mamalove, no matter how many moments we forget to Instagram. Still though, I don’t want this stage of life to slip by without a memorial, without my taking the time to acknowledge and marvel and really see this nine-year-old and this six-year-old that somehow, inexplicably, are mine.

So without further disclaimers or ado, here are my favorite things about these ages:

What I love about 9-years-old

What I love about 9

  • 9 always has something to say. ALWAYS. Even while she is brushing her teeth, her mind is so full of exciting bits of information that she can’t help it if a few burst out. She’s always ready to offer helpful advice or fill in knowledge gaps in a conversation (Seriously, how does the girl know so much?? I would be afraid to go up against her in Jeopardy), and when she talks about her plans for the future—currently, to be an artist/scientist—you’re liable to find yourself lifted right off your feet by her enthusiasm.
  • 9 is an emotional rainbow, covering a wide and dazzling range of moods in any given day. This can be… exhausting. But it can also be beautiful and mesmerizing, like watching a newly hatched butterfly unfold in increments. Plus, I find new admiration for my daughter every time she identifies her own emotions and tries to work with them (as opposed to my lifelong strategy of bingeing on sugar and waiting for it all to go away).
  • 9 is an infinite loop of curiosity and creativity. She devours books and films, absorbing details that I never would have noticed, and then sprinkles elements of them into her own fantastic stories and drawings. (If you ever come to visit, I’ll show you her “Car Wars” poster above my writing desk. It’s every bit as awesome as you’d imagine.)
  • 9 is officially a Big Kid, something my mama-brain struggles to keep up with. I’m still getting used to the aura of capability around her, the responsibility she takes both for herself and for any younger kids she might be with. I watched from the balcony today as she walked her little sister home from school, hand in hand, and it made my heart feel tender to the touch… both because she’s growing up so quickly and because she’s doing it so well.

What I love about 6-years-old

What I love about 6

  • 6 is hilarious—uninhibited, mischievous, and endlessly entertaining. This child makes us laugh more than any comedian, ever. She’s a genius at inappropriate humor, a master of comic timing, and the author and perfecter of the gratuitous shimmy. I cannot imagine life without her gap-toothed giggle, so I guess this means she’ll need to stay six forever. That would be just fine with me.
  • 6 approaches every single area of life with earnest. The way this kid runs—pell-mell forward, full-speed-ahead—reflects the way she goes about learning and loving too. She puts her whole weight into creative pursuits and her whole heart into relationships. She feels everything full-strength… and this is a strength for her, because a sensitive and open soul has the capacity to love the whole world. And she does.
  • 6 has the energy of about 37 healthy adults. Where it comes from, I can’t imagine, unless she took most of mine in-utero and is now cloning it in some secret lab accessible only by hula-hoop. She never walks when she could be running or stands still when she could be dancing. Even her eyes are boisterous (see photo above). Simply writing this paragraph makes me want a nap, but I have to admit, it can be fun to have people around who keep you on your toes. Especially ones you can put to bed at 8:30.
  • 6 is a snugglebug. She’s as affectionate as a puppy, and cuddling with her before bed helps me forget my sadness that we’re done with the baby stage. There is something deeply healing about having a child melt against you, comforted by your closeness; is it any wonder that 6-years-old leaves me melting in response?
21Mar

What Our Parents Did Right

We talk a lot about parenting here on ye olde blog. I love exchanging strategies to help us rock (or possibly just survive?) these early years, and I’ve frequently drawn on my own childhood for examples of philosophies to avoid. A friend’s recent comment, though, reminded me that there is a whole aspect of the parenting discussion that I haven’t yet touched on here:

“I’d love it if our adult children, and those of your readers, could share what they think their parents did right.”

What they did right. In a blink, his comment brought back a little document that I typed up one morning three years ago, a list of ways that my parents demonstrated love and made my childhood special. I didn’t have an agenda for writing it; in fact, it’s been gathering dust in the recesses of my hard drive ever since. All I remember about that morning is that I felt compelled to seek out and celebrate the positive in my life.

It’s the perfect time to resurrect that practice, don’t you think, here in the first bright exhalation of spring? I’d like to share highlights from my What they did right list today and then open up the comments for you to share some of your parents’ wins as well. We could all use the encouragement that no matter how we imperfectly we navigate this parenting gig, our efforts to love and champion our kids will not be forgotten. Ready?

My parents cultivated my love of reading. My mom is the one who taught me how to read, and both parents enthusiastically nurtured my resulting love affair with words—filling our home wall to wall with books, taking me to the library to borrow crates full, and letting me while away summer afternoons in the nook of a tree with Nancy Drew or Homer (the bard, not the Simpson) for company. We bonded over books as a family as well. Our weeknight ritual for years was to gather in the living room where we kids would work on crafty projects while our parents took turns reading aloud—a tradition that Dan and I carry on with our girls today. The tapestry of stories woven through my childhood still hangs on the walls of my imagination, lending its rich backdrop to everything I create, an heirloom of identity.

Bethany the bookworm

My parents let my brothers and I run… and skateboard and climb trees and play street hockey and roam the neighborhood on bikes and explore the woods and build our own stunt equipment and ride wagons toboggan-style down hills and generally have a fantastic time trying to kill ourselves in the great outdoors. This is an aspect of life that I realize our girls are missing out on living in an urban landscape and an era in which parents don’t let kids out of their sight until they’re twenty-five or so (and even then, not without a helmet). I loved having the freedom to explore both our geographical surroundings and the risk-taking possibilities of my small body. It infused life with the tang of adventure and, well, was just plain fun. I’m sedentary by nature, a total couch potato at soul, and these outdoor escapades are a large reason that I’ve spent my adulthood trotting the globe rather than moldering into the furniture.

Bethany in a tree

My parents invested themselves personally into my education. Beyond teaching me to read, my mom also provided my first introduction to math, history, science, music. She taught my fingers how to fly across piano keys and my arms how to sink elbow-deep into bread dough. She and my dad together taught me how to keep up a home, everything from applying wallpaper to cleaning the ceiling fans, and they made sure I had opportunities to pursue many different extracurricular interests—dance, sewing, creative writing, even politics for a while. They shuttled me to my first Shakespeare class when I was still in elementary school and, despite our unconventional schooling approach, made sure I had the solid academic base I’d need for college. Their involvement was as big a factor in my education as the coursework itself was.

Bethany at the piano

My parents let me do things on my own when I felt ready. I can’t imagine putting Natalie on a plane by herself one short year from now, but I took the first flight of my life all by myself for my tenth birthday. Layover and everything. By eleven, I was going out in the evening for babysitting jobs. At fourteen, I traveled to a foreign country with a group of people I didn’t know—an experience so life-expanding that I kept it as a summer tradition until the year my first daughter was born. I landed a real office job at fifteen and left home for school at sixteen, and though many parents would have balked at giving me so much independence so young, mine stood with me. They let me write my own definition of age-appropriate milestones rather than making me wait for others’, and to that I owe every joy of my adult life.

Bethany on top of the world

Your turn! Here in the comments (or over on Facebook), tell me something your parents especially rocked at, and we can all start our weekends basking in each other’s good memories. No helmets required.

17Feb

The Things I Forget to Instagram

On Monday mornings, I wake up slowly. I’ve always done a clumsy job shifting between weekday and weekend mindsets, and no matter how straight I aim my Sunday night intentions, I tend to wake up in a dead stall—engine cold, momentum at zero, the week’s potential out of view beyond a right turn. I’m working on showing myself grace this year, so I accept that morning pages will not get written first thing on Mondays. Neither will inspirational reading be absorbed. I will not be jumping up to hit the track, nor will I be performing sun salutations on the yoga mat I keep forgetting to acquire. The only thing I am capable of doing when I wake up on a Monday is settling back into my pillows with a cappuccino and scrolling through Instagram while I wait for the caffeine to loosen my mental gears.

Now, I love Instagram. It feels like the least needy of the social media conduits, rarely snagging at the threads of my attention with links, surveys, or political commentaries. The comment sections can get a little dicey, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone post a Willow-filtered snapshot to illustrate their outrage over the latest hot topic. By and large, Instagram inspires users to curate the beauty in their daily lives. People appreciate and preserve little moments through the act of sharing them, and others appreciate and share in return, and say what you will about our narcissistic culture or the ascent of selfies, but I love the whole construct. I do.

That said, I myself post photos sparingly. Part of the reason is that I want to avoid the habit of detaching from beautiful moments in order to crop and filter and caption them, but the other part is that I simply forget. It doesn’t occur to me to document the majority of my daily circumstances, even as I extract pearls of gratitude from them, even as I notice their unique and lovely hues. My “hey, I could Instagram this!” gene must be recessive.

I spend a kid-free Sunday afternoon wandering medieval streets, fingers woven through my husband’s in the most blissfully unFebruary sunlight, and forget to document a second of it.

I give the girls as a Valentine’s gift a packet of coiled paper streamers that they blow into a giant pile of pink insta-wig, but I forget to capture the hilarity.

I peek in on them as they sleep, my heart catching tight in my throat as it always does to see them so relaxed, so safe in their vulnerability, small elbows cradling beloved stuffed animals.

I look up from my own dregs of sleep to catch Dan bringing in a deluxe Saturday breakfast for me. Still, after eleven years, this.

I hang wet sheets on the balcony and breathe it all in—the Mediterranean sunlight, the quiet symphony of our neighborhood, the cypresses whisking pollen into the air and teaching the world to sneeze, our Italian way of life.

I make us this day our daily pasta. I lift weights (got to burn off all that pasta somehow!). I coach the girls with their piano practice. I dial up my sister’s sweet face on Skype. I discover that if you run out of polenta and try to substitute fine-ground cornmeal, you will end up with a pot of yellow Elmer’s glue. I switch between flip-flops and winter slippers like the uprooted Texan I am. I read Romans and Gabriel García Márquez. I cheer and groan and formulate Thoughts on the Olympics. I kiss friends on both cheeks in greeting. I use the last of the midnight blue nail polish. I kick my feet up next to Dan’s while we discuss whether we’re more in the mood for Firefly or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I water my “poor kid.” I burn the pizza.

Life pulls me straight into its kaleidoscope heart, and I ride the color from second to second, pattern to pattern, and each one is worth memorializing in some way. I forget to Instagram most of it though, and this finds me on Monday morning scrolling through proof of my friends’ beautiful weekends and wondering where mine got off to. It’s not that I think an instant of life has to be posted online to mean something—goodness no—but I still miss undocumented moments as if they were old friends moving out of state. How long until we lose contact? Until they stop coming to mind? Until I forget that they were ever in my life?

I’ve been afraid of forgetting ever since I was a 10-year-old journaling what I’d eaten for dinner and what I’d studied in school that day. Anne Frank’s diary made me wild to record every second of myself for posterity. Years later, I’d write at red lights or in empty parking lots because I couldn’t wait until I got home; I might forget too much.

And I do. I forget too much. Dan will try to reminisce with me about our early years together, and I’ll ask, “That happened?” I can watch the same movie twelve times and be surprised twelve times by the ending. The fingers of my mind hold memory loosely, as casually as if it were a handful of gravel, and pebble-sized bits of my life slip through before I remember that I could be documenting them.

An ongoing lesson in my life, however, is how to let go. I’ve written about it here before, how I struggle with letting good things come to an end even if they no longer have a place in my world, but I’m getting better at it. I’m learning to sink back against my trust that if a tree falls in an empty forest, it still makes a sound, and if a swath of delight cuts through my day undocumented, it still serves its purpose. Sometimes living in the moment means grasping it with both hands, a smartphone, and an armada of hashtags… and sometimes it means quietly enjoying it and then releasing it into the care of the universe. Both ways are valid. Both celebrate the beauty. (Repeat to self daily, twice on Mondays.) And it’s possible that forgetting to Instagram might just be the most Zen choice I [n]ever make.

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