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Weekly Update

Thunder and Limes

I like thunderstorms.

I like the silence that descends before the water hits the ground and the way that the rain can start as splatters and crescendo into a downpour.

Even better, I like when it starts as a downpour, heavens releasing every drop of water they contain, unwilling to ease anyone into anything.

I like the way the sky becomes dark and it feels like night. It feels wrong, the midday light turning to that of evening dusk. But more than wrong, it feels very much right.


Also, I like cooking.

I’m not referring to the frantic, get dinner on the table, with four different variations to appease all tastes, kind of cooking. I am adamantly NOT referencing that.

What I am talking about, is the kind of cooking that involves chopping vibrant vegetables. The kind of cooking that evokes childhood memories. Basil in pesto, garlic on garlic, lemon. The sounds of bacon sizzling, the taste I sneak of the cake batter, the meatball hot out of the oven that I pop into my mouth. It is a meditation that involves all of the senses, wrapping me into a cocoon, reminding me that for this minute, I am here, fully present & all is right in my world.

The kind of cooking that leaves the kitchen dusted in flour, the dishwasher filled with measuring cups, scraps of sweet potato peels, and vibrant purple cabbage decorating countertops.


I love watching the drops of rain hit the ground, bouncing off of the steamy black pavement, or the raindrops racing across car windows, enveloping the other drops in their path, claiming victory at the bottom of the window.

The way the street shines, becomes glossy, and the world that I thought I knew by heart takes on an entirely different appearance.

Rain jackets and umbrellas, puddles for jumping, raindrop facials.

It is the same world I occupy every day, but with rain, everything is transformed.

When the storm lifts, when the sky brightens, I feel a little bit of sadness creep in, that this transformed landscape is returning to normal. The skies are done with their tantrum, the pause is over, everybody can just go back to what they were doing, forgetting that, for a moment that the world was different.


The mint and limes that once decorated my counters combine to create something they were not capable of alone. They are still them and they are also something new, the same way the sky transforms with the addition of nimbus clouds and raindrops.


It gives me great hope for this world, how things transform with simple additions.

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Weekly Update

Metamorphosis

We bought two milkweed plants a couple months ago after a neighbor showed me her caterpillar-covered milkweed.

Alice followed me as I carried the plants out of the car. “Where are you going to put them?” she asked, big blue eyes darting around the yard. I told her I planned to put them on the side of the house, because, to be honest, the milkWEED didn’t really fit in with the landscaping.

Alice had other plans though. She wanted them front and center, right next to our walkway. Though it didn’t help the decor, there are some times it isn’t worth arguing with Alice. In fact, it is almost never worth arguing with the dimpled-handed, wide-eyed, dictator.

She helped dig up the sandy soil and wrestle the weeds into their new home.

The leaves were covered in small dark dots. Eggs.

We checked the plants daily. I grew impatient as the black dots remained black dots. I began to wonder if they even were caterpillar eggs, or if the plants were just diseased.

But one morning, as I examined the plants, I noticed tiny holes covering the leaves. I flipped a leaf over, and sure enough, there was a teeny tiny caterpillar, munching her way through a leaf.

In the beginning….

I was mesmerized. Alice and Avery were…. sort of intrigued?

Each morning, I dragged the girls outside to stare at the caterpillars. We watched as the tiny holes on the leaves turned into large holes. We watched as the caterpillars shed their skin and grew larger. We watched as entire leaves disappeared and as the caterpillars ate down the stems of the plant.

Caterpillar looking for milkweed.

The plants disappeared as the caterpillars grew chunky, and I began to wonder when we would find a chrysalis.

Google told me that when a caterpillar is around 2 inches long, it turns into a chrysalis. So I measured them. They were easily two inches. I looked at them expectantly. I checked on them hourly, not wanting to miss the big transition.

But they didn’t. They ate, and they ate, and they ate. Again, I felt impatient. The same sort of impatience I felt when I was nine days overdue with Avery.

Nature really irks me sometimes, with its slow, never rushing progress.

I grew convinced that the lizards who live in our petunia plants must be eating the fat caterpillars, so I bought more milkweed plants and moved the remaining caterpillars to plants inside our screened-in lanai, away from the lizard population. I put them next to the glass sliding door in the kitchen, where we could watch them.

Finally, one day, I watched as a caterpillar hung herself upside down in the “J shape.” And I knew, it was about time.

I camped out in the kitchen, unsure of what I was looking for, but not wanting to miss the transformation of a chunky caterpillar into a green, gold-studded chrysalis.

Well, it turns out they hang in that J-shape for 12-24 hours, sometimes longer. So the next morning, as I darted to take a shower, it shed its final layer of skin.

And when I returned to the kitchen, it was in the final throes of scootching, bunching, and swinging itself into its beautiful green home for the next two weeks.

Caterpillar -> Chrysalis

Again, the waiting games were on.

I examined the chrysalis multiple times each day, looking for a sign- any sign- that a butterfly might emerge. If I looked at the chrysalis from the right, sun-lit angle, I could see the wings, neatly folded up.

As the days passed, the chrysalis turned from bright green to a darker green, eventually becoming see-through right before the butterfly emerged.

Hours before a Monarch emerges.

And then one morning, right as the sun was rising under dark thunder clouds, I noticed that the shape of a chrysalis had changed. I went outside to investigate further, and watched, as a newly emerged butterfly hung, her wings still folded and crumpled.

The crumpled wings of a newly emerged Monarch

Consistent with the great timing of nature, I had to go drop Avery off at school, so I couldn’t watch the transformation unfold.

When I returned, her wings had expanded to full size, wrinkle-free, and breath-taking. I brought her out of the screened-in enclosure, outside to the world. Her dainty legs clung to my finger.

She began to flap her wings, testing them out.

And then she flew. As if she had never, as Chad likes to put it, slimed around, eating leaves.

As I watched her fly away, I was reminded of a question Alice asked weeks earlier as we watched the caterpillars devour leaves. “Mom, does a caterpillar know it is going to turn into a butterfly?”

“I don’t know,” I had replied at the time. I was struck by her question. It was so deep, and simply worded something I often wondered about myself.

But now, after watching the whole process, I don’t know if that piece of the puzzle even matters. Maybe they don’t need to know the end result.

Maybe, the end result is a tiny piece of the puzzle, holding the same weight as every other moment. While I was caught impatiently waiting for the next transition, the caterpillar moved at her own time. Each moment was beautiful.

It is in the becoming, that I learn a lot from these chunky creatures. That they didn’t rush. That transformation wasn’t a loud, crowd-drawing process. It was silent. And patient.

The world continued to revolve. The transformation took place without applause or encouragement. The butterflies didn’t listen to my impatient muttering about hurrying up, nor did I get a notification about when the caterpillar would change into a chrysalis, or when the butterfly would emerge.

The butterflies reminded me that the best things happen in their own time. They gain inherent beauty from following their own path, growing on their own terms, transforming on a schedule only they can determine.

And the end result? It is perfect. But so is every other step of becoming.

Categories
Weekly Update

Vast, Like the Trees

After making our descent over the orderly grid blocks of Minneapolis containing houses and trees with changing leaves, we touched down on the MSP Airport tarmac.

Our suitcases were packed with a contrasting mix of dress clothes- black, for my Grandma’s funeral, and white flower girl dresses for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding.

I was anxious about this trip: the last time we flew into Minneapolis was disastrous- Alice puking on the flight and dry heaving in the rental car, which prompted Avery to faint, and then sympathy puke.

But as we pulled out of the rental car lot, I exhaled. The trip had gone without a hitch.

The first thing I always notice when driving out of the rental car lots in Minnesota is the trees. They are tall and wide, expanding, the antithesis of the skinny palm trees that linger awkwardly, mop heads blowing in the wind. The oak and maple trees are wild and audacious– a stark contrast to the manicured trees of Florida, who are hesitant to grow just an inch outside of their preconceived outline. And I like that a lot. The trees of Minnesota have a lot to teach.

My Grandma passed away over a year ago, yet with the timing of COVID, we were unable to have a funeral. I was beyond the waves of tearful grief hitting at unexpected times, I could talk about her without crying, and it seemed as if grief had run its course.

Her zebra print swimsuit is framed in the bathroom that leads out to our pool. Her blue flowered china is neatly stacked in my cabinets. I have voicemails from her saved, asking if I could please, for the love of all things holy, deposit the check she gave me 3 years ago so she could balance her checkbook. She is no longer here- but she is remembered daily.

It seemed odd, gathering so late after her death, to mourn something that had ripped our hearts apart long ago. The wounds had scarred over and it seemed as if there was nothing left to heal.

But as the pastor delivered the sermon at her memorial, grief washed over me again- filling my chest and eyes with the heavy, crushing feeling.

I tried to hold back the tears, but they still found a way to slip out. And in case you haven’t tried it yet, crying in a mask is messy business.

When it came time to bury her ashes, I had a chance to hold the urn containing the grains that made up who she was. It was odd- holding every ounce of the feisty, vivacious person I knew, now a silent mound of dust.

But there was an indescribable peacefulness.

As we stood in a half circle around her urn, with the pastor uttering the final blessings, a warm wind that was powerful yet gentle wrapped around us. And I knew, that she was there.

I remembered a long run I had gone on soon after she had passed. I could feel her presence deeply, and had talked to her as the miles ticked by. “Hi, G,” I had whispered on an exhale. The wind gusted around me.

The pastor reminded us that Grandma or as we fondly refer to her- G-Dizzle, would live on through us. We all carry different aspects of her from the imprint she left on our lives.

For me, it is the love of pinot grigio, a dry sense of humor, and the pointer finger that comes out when I get fired up.

As I said my final goodbye, hand pressed against the wooden box containing her earthly remains, I was reminded that pain is rooted in love. That the heartbreak I was experiencing was because of the deep love we had shared.

And I wouldn’t trade an ounce of the pain in exchange for the beauty that my world holds because she was in it.

Two days later, I watched my brother and sister-in-law exchange vows under the silver maple trees lining the Mississippi river. I watched a leaf float down from the tree, released from its duties. The wind caught it and guided it to the ground in a zig-zag, fluttery pattern.

I was sitting between my nieces and nephews- little Abigail, less than 2 weeks old. The moment contained it all. Love, new life, loss, joy, peace, and beauty, oh the beauty.

And it was vast, like the silver maples.

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Weekly Update

Path of Resistance

I received a message from one of my friends, joking that for the next mom’s morning out, we should do a swamp walk. Attached to her message was a link.

I was intrigued. Coming from Minnesota, I had never heard of such an activity, and it sounded like a bad idea, because…..alligators?

I clicked on the link. It detailed how you can sign up to be led on a walk through the swamp. Not on boardwalks, but in the water. The particular one I was looking at was rated 5/5 difficulty and was a 5 mile adventure through “a couple inches to a couple feet of water.”

My brain lit up. It sounded like something I was capable of. I love spending time outside, and a swamp walk sounded so… nature-y.

The stars aligned: I was somehow able to convince life insurance actuary husband who is healthily fearful of alligators and snakes to approve of my participation in such an event. AND, I was able to find a babysitter. So, I registered. Shockingly, none of my friends were interested willing to risk their lives.

So last Thursday morning, under the pink skies of sunrise, I found myself driving to the swamp walk with a considerable amount of anxiety.

I had already tried to talk myself out of it the day before, the survival-motivated side of my brain arguing that my allergies could be COVID and I should definitely not go and infect other people.

As I drove, my brain continued to bring up other valid arguments against attending: being unable to find the remote parking lot, alligators, snakes, not being able to keep up with the group, but mostly- the highest fear- was spending five hours, doing a rather intense activity, with a group of people I didn’t know.


As I ran through a list of the worries on loop, it occurred to me that often, when I am facing something I feel a lot of resistance towards- something that scares the crap out of me- it usually means I am on the right path.

I’ve encountered these moments before jumping off the diving board, before entering a room full of people I don’t know. The seconds that lead up to giving a speech, the pause before the gun goes off at the start of a race.

For me, these moments are marked by a racing heart, flip floppy stomach, and sweaty palms. I do not enjoy being in these moments. In fact, I almost despise them. I would completely despise them if I didn’t know, if I hadn’t learned, that these moments typically occur right before something great happens.

Usually, pushing through the resistance brings me to new places, new people, the opportunity to try something new. And almost always, I leave with a sense of accomplishment.

Maybe, these moments that I try to avoid should be sought out.


And so, as I turned off on a remote dirt road, lined by tall skinny cypress trees, hitting approximately 5 potholes per second, I ignored the voice in my head that said, “This looks like a spot you could get murdered.” And instead of following the voice in my head, I followed the dirt road, to a parking lot filled with the friendliest nature geeks you’ll ever meet and a disgusting port-a-potty.

The thing I had feared most- awkward moments with strangers- didn’t happen. I forgot that nature people are some of the most down to earth, hilarious, and friendly people.

We slogged through the water, stopping to look more closely at snail eggs, swamp apples, and the Lincoln Log cocoons of bagworm moths. We found a turtle, watched a water moccasin slither away, noticed a hawk feather, and then the hawk above, camouflaging into the tree, watching us curiously.

It was 5 hours of wonder, and it left me more refreshed than a massage. There is something about spending time surrounded by the color green. I left with muddy feet and new friends. It turns out, swamp walks are really good for the soul. Maybe just my soul?

Whatever it is for you, here’s to following the path of resistance. I’d highly recommend you give it a try. Safely. With other people. Because, as my mom reminded me, even the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s nuns) go out in pairs. Which is precisely the motherly advice I’d expect to receive after walking through a swamp containing alligators and snakes.

Laura

PS- I didn’t take any pictures in an effort to remain fully present. But you can check out this website for pictures and learn a bit more about “Wet Walks”.

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Weekly Update

Wildflower

Country music gains a new dimension when listened to while driving through the country. The dirt roads, open fields, and endless blue sky add depth to the music; a new understanding. It’s one thing to hear it, another thing to be in it, completely submerged.

As we drove up and down country roads, the should-be exhaustion from a day filled with travel melted into calm. Our view was lit by a pastel sunset, hay bales, and cemeteries backlit by a gradation of colors. Black tree silhouettes stood firmly in the fading light. And I found my anti-country-music-self, humming along to Garth Brooks.

Dusk fell, and my eyes widened, trying to catch a glimpse of the fireflies that I knew were in the fields.


We took our annual trip to Iowa and Missouri, where Chad’s family has a farm and lake house.

Again, I found myself running up and down the endless hills of Missouri, trying not to die on the uphill’s, and distracting myself with views that only country roads can supply.

I was surrounded by open fields of wildflowers with farmland in the background, dotted by hay bales- a stark contrast to the houses that sit 4 feet apart in Florida, every inch of ground being developed and marketed.

The flowers gave me a good excuse to pause and catch my breath as I closely examined them. I ran among the milkweed, chicory, Carolina horsenettle, and wild carrots.

Coming from flat Florida, my legs were not ready for the rolling geography. I ran, fully present to a moment that contained both pain and beauty, focusing on just getting to the next patch of red clover, the next crack in the sidewalk, the next.


As my legs whined over-dramatically, I tried to distract myself.

I wondered how long it took for the flowers to spread across the fields. I wondered if certain wildflowers are more likely to grow next to each other- like friends.

I wondered if they were scared, when they took root. I wondered if their end goal was covering entire fields, or if they just focused on the beauty of the square inch they occupied.

One wildflower is beautiful. But a whole field? It’s next level.


It wasn’t until we were back in Iowa, bumping across the dirt roads that I spotted one, then many, fireflies rising from the ground. After tucking the girls into bed, I stood at the window, watching as they lit up the night.

One firefly is awe-invoking. But a whole field? Next level.

These moments, for a suburb girl, are pretty magical.


On the plane ride home, it occurred to me that I wouldn’t have noticed the wildflowers if I hadn’t been stuck in the oxygen-deprived, gasping search for air as I ran up and down the hills. I wouldn’t have seen the fireflies if it wasn’t dark out.

Sometimes, I purposely put myself into these uncomfortable situations. Like when I laced up my running shoes and coaxed one foot in front of the other. Other times, I find myself in these situations as inevitably as day transitions to night.

Dark, but with beauty.

I’m intrigued by the combo. It seems they are often paired together, dark moments the perfect backdrop for the beautiful ones. Darkness, accentuating the light.

I don’t know what it means exactly, but I do know that we all experience darkness in one form or another. So the next time you find yourself in the dark; whether self-inflicted, or inevitable, find your wildflower or firefly to focus on.

Find your light.

Laura

PS- including links to my recent work published outside of this website:

You Don’t Need Another Parenting Book

Mom Jeans

I’m Not the Mom I Intended to Be

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Weekly Update

4

She eats pepperoni for breakfast and lies on the floor when she’s tired. She still has dimples on her knuckles and calls pajamas, “Pajammies,” which in my book is the most adorable thing ever. She uses my back massager on a regular basis, to “relax” . She blames her gas on her dolls. She likes to eat butter straight up, and gosh darn it, I can’t blame her.

About 3 months ago, she developed a hobby that she named, “Stickering.”

She carefully layers the stickers onto a sheet of printer paper, ensuring that there is no white space between stickers. Her creation is complete when both sides of the paper are covered. She usually works in some sort of pattern: often, spiraling from the outside to the inside of the sheet. She works on these creations for about an hour a day and it takes about 5 days to have a fully complete product.

She tells me that when she grows up, she wants to be a “o-fessional stickerer”. I asked her what o-fessional stickerers can do & she informed me that when she’s an o-fessional, she will be able to sticker a lot faster.

She sits quietly, taking one sticker off the sheet and carefully placing it on her piece of paper. She works slowly, methodically, patiently, until she is done.

These are all qualities I never really recognized in her, but that she’s had all along. It’s funny how as a parent, you can impose your belief of who the child is, over who they actually are. Believing that you know them better than they know themselves.

The proof is in the pudding. Or in this case, the stickering.

She is entirely her own being, with no engrained people pleasing tendencies. She does what she loves, even when we laugh at her.

She dances whenever she hears music- in the aisles of stores, at hockey games, at church. She doesn’t sugar coat things. And there is a heck of a lot I could learn from her.

The idea that kids know less than us, that they shouldn’t be taken as seriously, can’t be right. Sure, maybe they don’t know physics, but I think they have a greater understanding of some things then we as adults do, because their brains haven’t been taken over by social norms and people pleasing tendencies.

They have an abundance of wonder.

She is a thinker. She won’t always respond immediately, but within hours or days, she will respond to situations with insightful thoughts.

And sure, I’m her mom. So maybe I am biased, but she’s pretty incredible.

She taught me to dance when I am happy. That sometimes, a good cry is all you need to wipe your tears and move on. To think outside the box. To relax.

She is perfect as she is, and I love every inch of her.

Happy Birthday, Alice Jane!

Love, Mama

Alice Quotes of the Year:

“It is an old car! It is missing part of the roof!” – Alice on antique corvette

Avery asked Alice if she could borrow some stuffed animals. Alice replied, “No you called them babies last time so you have lost your privilege!”

Alice informed me that her dolls real mom died when she fell into a volcano, but that before she fell in, she asked Alice to take care of her baby when she died.

I told Alice there would be consequences if she came downstairs during quiet time, to which she reliped, “There will be consequences for YOU, if YOU don’t get your butt up here right now!”

“We can only yell if there’s an emergency or if we are pooping during quiet time.”

We were waiting for a gap in traffic so I could turn left and Alice yelled, “Come on buddy! C’mon grandpa!” She got my road rage.

When Avery and Alice argue, I remind them to say, “I don’t agree with you, but I still love and respect you.” Alice has turned it into, “I don’t agree with you, AND I don’t respect you.”

Avery draws pictures of Jesus’ family and Alice draws pictures entitled, “The Two Runaway Children” and, “Evil Daddy Shrinking Mommy”.

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Weekly Update

May You Be Fierce: A Wish for My Preschool Graduate

When the year started, Avery was, as us loud people brusquely diagnose, “shy.” She didn’t talk to her teacher for the first month of school. We weren’t sure if she would live silently forever, or if she would take root in her class.

It started gradually, a shoot peeking out of the ground. Each Monday, she informed us of the letter of the week. A few months in, we were excitedly told that she had been selected as “Line Leader”, a highly coveted position in the preschool class. By the end, we were counting fingers and sounding out words, talking about volcanos, and discussing composting. But it wasn’t the knowledge acquired that I was impressed by.

I watched as she blossomed. I watched as she started making eye contact when people talked to her, watched as she answered questions, talking in her “loud voice”. She developed quite a sense of humor, and along with it, the breathless kind of silent laugh that goes on for so long, you wonder if she’s getting enough oxygen as her face turns bright red. She aptly acquired the nickname, “Giggles”. She was comfortable in her skin, fully being who she was.

I watched as she interacted with other small humans kindly, thoughtfully.

And so, when it came time to watch Avery walk across the graduation stage, I felt, unexpectedly sentimental. I watched the same kid who didn’t talk to the teacher for the first month of school, shout-sing and dance in front of an auditorium jam-packed with people.

It was a new kind of feeling that I hadn’t experienced yet as a parent. And the feeling I got, from watching her be proud of herself; from watching her be so happy in being precisely who she is, being her total authentic self; I don’t know what that feeling is named. But it was a combination of joy and pride and beauty; it was the awe-inspiring and majestic feeling you get when you look at a mountain, or a waterfall, the feeling of being simultaneously captivated and devastated that you can’t stay in the moment forever. All of these feelings and emotions smooshed together in my chest and made me want to cry and laugh at the same time.

Also? It was heart-wrenching. Heart-wrenching in that I knew this moment wouldn’t last forever for her.

I so badly wished I could freeze time; solidify this moment. Her, in a tropical print shirt with a white skirt with fading gold Minnie Mouse heads peppered across, an outfit she happily chose that morning. She didn’t exactly fit in with her classmates in pleated dresses with matching bows, but gosh darn, she was glowing. Her, smiling over at me whenever she got the chance, occasionally waving with a gleeful grin. I wanted this part of parenthood to last forever. I wanted this relationship that she had with herself, the ability to be fully who she is, to last forever.

She’s too little to hear it; to understand it, but if I have one wish for her, it is that she somehow, in this society that is so critical of body image, where the soul-sucking act of fitting in is viewed as imperative for survival, remains true to her colors. Bold. Audacious. Able to recognize that these rules are something she can choose not to follow.

I am sad she’s graduating from preschool; moving on to the next phase of life. But overriding that sadness is a fear of what is to come. A fear of dipping my child into a world that is not always compatible with authenticity and joy. Fear of the hardships she will face. A fear that I have no idea if I will be able to raise her to be buoyant. It’s a part of parenthood that isn’t often discussed; it is deep, dark, and terrifying.


Sometimes we verge onto the edge of these discussions when we talk about how scared we are for our kids to have phones. Sure, security plays a role in our concerns. But more so? We know what phones have done to us. We know the magnifying impact that the ever-expanding world of media and technology can have on our adult brains. We know the ability they have to suck us in, to mindless scrolling and endless comparison against images that are not real, filtered lives that only show the best moments, or carefully curated moments.

Is it fair to submerge them in this world? Can someone please tell me how to raise a kid in a world that I have difficulty thriving in myself?

My fears layer atop each other. The line between fear for my kid and sadness about my own experience with the world is indistinguishable. They meld into one.

Is this a universal fear of parenthood? Did the cave people have an overwhelming fear that God forbid, their child was going to be an adult who used a fork? Would forks change society forever?

Maybe this fear is central to parenthood. Maybe, regardless of when you raise your child, you are fearful for the way the world will evolve by the time you die, by the time they have to take a stab at it themselves.

Will she be okay?

I don’t know. And that is the hardest, biggest, battle of parenthood. The anxiety, that hits the moment your child graces the world with their presence, that something awful will happen. The fear that we aren’t in control of the most important, precious, part of our life. That we can’t always protect. That bad things happen. That mistakes will be made and please God, let them be manageable ones.

When my Avery was first born, I viewed her as an extension of me. She had been literally, woven into my body. She was a part of me, and I, a part of her. When she learned to talk though, I faced the curious reality that she was an entirely separate domain from me. That she is her own little human, who has her own little opinions, and that, she holds these opinions fiercely.

And as annoying as it is when I tell her it’s time to brush her hair & she adamantly says, “No,” I hope with all my heart that she keeps this fierce part of her nature.

Because, as she will learn, if you don’t make choices for yourself, life will make them for you.


We are in the glorious and brief window of her, being completely happy with who she is.

It seems cruel, how quickly this period disappears. I desperately want to take her to an island where there is no TV, no social media, nothing. I want to cloak her, wrap her up, and keep her safe.

But I also know that she has to develop the skillset to thrive in this medium. It isn’t fair to lock her away from the reality which she inhabits. However, it is also my job to teach her to question this reality. To show her that the world isn’t everything it portrays itself to be.

That there is so much good. That it isn’t all dark, but also, that some of it is. That the world is full of beauty if you look in the right places. That human connection will be the key to survival; the key to thriving. That screens, while sometimes beneficial, are not the world.

And yes, I realize the irony that I’m looking into a screen as I type this, watching as letters combine to form the words and sentences that make up this essay that I hope one day she will read, and understand, and hopefully not be too embarrassed by her mom.

I watched in awe as she shimmied her hips, unabashedly, while the rest of her classmates followed the choreographed moves (which shimmied hips were not a part of). I was not in awe of the dance move- she got my dance skills. I was in awe of her willingness to take her own path, to veer off the train tracks, to be her one and only, beautiful, authentic, unique self.

And I hoped, one day, maybe, that I will be as brave as her. 

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Weekly Update

Summer

Growing up, Summer began on Memorial Day with a race into the lake, winner being the person who was crazy enough to submerge in the frigid waters. The water of Long Lake was murky brown, and sketchy things happened on the shores- but I was too little to notice.

Summers were marked by peaches, plums, and nectarines ripening in brown bags on top of the fridge, raspberry picking in thorny patches, swimming “laps” in our kiddie pool, lunches outside, and hours spent aimlessly roaming. It was chasing Monarch butterflies, catching grasshoppers, and mosquito bites; lots of them.

I had mostly forgotten these things. But as I bit into a juicy peach this morning, memories came rushing back. I shared half of the peach with Avery, hoping to transfer the flavors of summer to a very blonde girl with very brown legs, who is growing up in the eternal summer of Florida.


After graduating college and heading to work, summers became a thing of the past. I carefully calculated my PTO so I could take a week off up North, but that’s about as close to summer as things got.

The first year of living in Florida was a year of summer, with no schedules to follow or home to maintain.

But this year, things changed. For 9 months, I drove Avery back and forth between preschool and home, 2 hours worth of commuting, 5 days a week. We were tethered to the schedule of pick up and drop off.

Two weeks ago, I watched Avery cross the stage at preschool graduation. I realized with a start, that despite the heavy feeling in my heart that I think all mamas get when their babies graduate from anything, we were about to slip into 3 precious months of freedom.

No longer bound to commutes or schedules, our days are lighter, containing fewer musts and more lets. Currently, we are enjoying not having to get dressed for the day, mostly wearing pajamas all day and putting on a new pair each night. Outfits are so complicated.

I don’t have to wake with my usual ferocity, trying to cram running and showering and praying and writing all in before Avery pads down the stairs. I do continue to try to fit all of these things in before her blonde mop appears before me, snuggling into a hug, but the pressure is off.

We spend our awake time slothing around, doing nothing in particular. This might be because preschool graduation was the perfect petri dish for a bug to take down the entire preschool class and their families. So mainly, we mope around, with junky coughs and sniffles. But hey, we are free.

Bedtime is later now, so we are no longer rushing against the clock to get the girls into bed by a certain time, to ensure a certain number of hours of sleep are acquired before the whole thing starts all over.

There is less math over how early we need to leave to be on time (or at least, not rudely late) and less battle planning over what things need to be packed for optimal survival of the day. There are a lot fewer calculations in this summer life.


After the girls are tucked in, I drag my yoga mat outside as the sun is setting; usually, not thrilled to be taking 30 minutes that could be spent loading the dishwasher. Slowly, I melt as downward dog becomes tabletop, and tabletop becomes child’s pose. During bridge pose, I watch as the clouds cross the sky, moving microscopically slow. Yet when I close my eyes for just a minute, I open them to an entirely different scene; clouds having sneakily rearranged themselves.

This summer will not be the same as my childhood summers; things are a little different here. For one thing, we will bake in the humid oven of Florida. Unlike crisp Minnesota lakes, the ocean is warm and leaves our skin sticky with salt and sand. Lunches will be enjoyed inside, in the cool reprieve of air conditioning. And raspberry bushes are a thing of northern states.

Yet while the clouds might have shifted, creating a new view, we are still under the same blue sky. The essence of summer; the late nights, popsicles, scootering and biking, pajamas for days, peaches and nectarines and plums, will remain. And that is what I most hope to transfer to my little nuggets.

Happy Summer,

Laura

Categories
Weekly Update

The Healthy Vacation

Three years ago, for Chad’s 30th birthday, I surprised him with a trip to Hilton Head, SC- just the two of us. This was back when we lived in MN, and the warm weather was so welcome. It didn’t hurt that they have great golf courses.

We went for a long weekend. The trip was amazing and we vowed to return.

Realizing that we only live 8 hours away now, it got put on the bucket list for 2021. Now living in FL, we visited for the cooler weather. Chad did his usual thorough research and found a reasonably priced condo on the ocean. Despite my concerns that there might not be enough to do, we booked for a week.

Given the length of this trip, I righteously appointed it as a, “healthy vacation,” vowing to eat well and continue exercising. I packed my running shoes, carrots and apples. I also packed a family size bag of peanut butter m&m’s. I will let you judge what my actual intentions were.

Each morning, I stepped outside in my running shoes to witness as the world quietly woke up. The sand of Hilton Head beach is firmly packed, providing solid ground for running. It took a minute to fall into the rhythm of the run- waiting for my jagged breath to sync up with the rhythm of the waves whooshing in, shortening and lengthening my strides to avoid stepping on jellyfish, all in the pinky purple morning light.

The sun rose as a big ball, hazy. Murky air surrounded it, giving the sky a pastel effect. Endorphins collided with beauty and peace; the best sort of outcome you can have with a run.

I ended each run by taking off my shoes and wading into the ocean, cool salt water enveloping my legs.


It was a heavy on nature kind of trip. We watched in awe as hundreds of tiny crabs emerged from holes in the salt marshes, waving their arms, and skittering back to their holes whenever they detected a threat. We caught, out of the corners of our eyes, jumping mullet, in the otherwise calm pond waters. We watched from our deck as a large pod of dolphins swam by, catching their dinner and occasionally stopping to play.

One day, we came upon a beach of horseshoe crabs mating. The female crab was buried under the sand, while multiple male horseshoe crabs attempted to attach to her so they could fertilize the eggs once they were laid. *

I explained to Avery and Alice what was happening. Chad shot me a look. It’s the same look that he gives me when I let the girls jump from a spot that is a little too high for his actuarial risk calculations, or when I pick up a millipede and ask if they want to hold it.

“Do you really want to use horseshoe crabs for your explanation of the birds and the bees? Five males on top of one female?” he asked, good protective father that he is.

“Fine,” I replied, “maybe you are right. I just thought it would be funny if the girls look back on life and remember that I tried to teach them about the birds and the bees with horseshoe crabs.”


It was the kind of vacation that left tan lines and chipped toenail polish. It was the towels out to dry over chairs, sand in our sheets, swimsuits count as underwear kind of vacation. The type where days meld together, sunrises becoming sunsets, days less governed by clocks, and more governed by whims. The kind of vacation where nothing was perfect and that is why everything was perfect.

By the end of the trip, my brain had also taken on the pastel effect; a little murky, but with beautiful subdued thoughts. I watched as Chad typed, “Stock Market” into his phone and wondered what sort of food they served at this market. When I saw the financial graphs and arrows appear, when I realized he was still existing in the non-vacation world, at least partially. And I was fully submerged: only concerned about my next meal, wondering about the food at the elusive restaurant, “Stock Market.”

We left relaxed. A week had been the perfect amount of time- long enough for our brains to fall into the lull of the ocean waves, long enough for endless bouts of family giggles, long enough.

When it was time to go home, we sleepily piled into the truck at 5am with sun kissed skin, a trunk that was packed to the brim, and memories for a lifetime.

And if I’m going to be honest, by the time we pulled into our driveway 9 hours later, we were exhausted. Already in need of another vacation.

But I think that is just how it goes when you travel with kids.


* Horseshoe crabs have been around, relatively unchanged for 445 million years- yes, they were here prior to the dinosaurs. They actually are not part of the crab family and are more closely related to spiders. Most importantly, in my subjective opinion, they are one of the ugliest creatures to inhabit the earth. You’re welcome, for yet another nerdy fact.

Categories
Weekly Update

Catching the Wave

If you are looking to get writer’s block, I would highly recommend taking a writing class.

Now, I question every decision I make, every word choice. I miss the days when I could sit down and bang out a blog post in an hour. These days, it feels tedious, my once carefree process bogged down by doubt.

It is also true, I hope, that growth requires an awkward stage before the blossoming stage. I have arrived fully in the land of awkwardness, bags packed, unsure of how long I will stay. If my awkward phase lasting from 4th grade to junior year of college is any indication, I could be here awhile.


A few months ago, after a glass of wine on date night, I convinced Chad that we needed to buy boogie boards before we went to watch the sunset. Things get really wild after I have one glass of anything.

He didn’t quite understand the urgency of the situation; but good husband that he is, he went along with my wine driven aspirations. I tried to explain to him the joy of a perfectly caught wave. He looked down at me and smiled, blue eyes gleaming. Did he think this was funny?

Unfortunately, we arrived to a very still ocean that night; wave free. Glassy water. Murphy’s Law of Boogie Boarding: buy a boogie board and all the waves will disappear.


Boogie boards bring back memories of a family trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina after my senior year of high school. We rented a house on the ocean. The waves were huge and the water was full of jellyfish. But in his typical you’ll-be-fine-ness, my Dad had us all in the ocean within an hour of arriving to the house.

I look back in awe of my parents, sending their eight kids out into big waves, trusting that we were strong enough swimmers. Their confidence in us was (is) powerful.

They were the opposite of “helicopter parents” yet no one ever broke a bone, and I think the number of ER visits among 8 kids can be counted on one hand… not counting the time someone took a hockey puck to the face and got stitches in the bathroom at home. I can only hope I do half the job they did.

We spent every day of that trip on the boogie boards in thick humid air, riding the waves. We learned why rash guards are a thing, our bellies rubbed raw by the salt, sand, and seawater that sandwiched itself between our skin and the board.

It is addicting, catching a wave. Learning to time when you start paddling so you align yourself just ahead of a cresting wave. The force you feel behind you, the thrill of speeding toward shore, becoming for a moment, one with the ocean.

But before we got good at it, there was a big period of learning.

We had to learn the best spot to wait for the waves, and more dangerously, how to get there. We were knocked down and experienced nosefuls of saltwater until our Dad taught us to dive down, popping back up once the power of the wave lifted and released us.

Once we had that down, we had to figure out how to catch a wave: waiting for the perfect one- one that was just about to crest. One that was not too far, and not too close.

This was something our Dad couldn’t teach us.

Sometimes we started paddling too soon; other times, we were too slow. Waves passed beneath us, leaving us floating in almost the same spot where we had started.

But soon, we learned the rhythm. And when everything went right; when the stars aligned, it was magic. Pure magic.


A couple of weeks ago, my nieces came to visit- they are a bit older than Avery and Alice and the perfect playmates. When they are here, the girls run off, and for a moment, it’s like they can parent themselves. It is lovely.

We spent a day on a pontoon out on the ocean. The sky was cloudless and the water was warm enough for swimming. We brought along the boogie boards, hoping to finally get some use out of them.

On this particular day, there were small waves, but they had just enough oomph to give the girls a taste of catching a wave.

I tried to explain how to do it- waiting for the right wave, starting to kick at the right time, paddling until the the water swells and picks you up with its force.

But an explanation can only go so far; it is more of a feeling that one has to acquire- a sense. The girls went through the same learning curve- getting passed by some waves, catching others.

A lot of stars need to align to catch a wave.


Maybe writing is like that too.

I’m constantly missing waves, or being completely overpowered by them. Flattened by the great essayists, I begin to doubt there is value in my own voice.

I’m in waist deep water, waiting to understand the rhythm of a force much larger than me. I’m waiting for my senses to attune themselves with the cadence of the ocean.

For now, I am enjoying the salty water and the sand beneath my toes. I’m trying to accept the nosefuls of saltwater that come with the territory.

The learning is part of the journey- not just something to overcome. It is not “before”, it is “part of”. It should not be excluded from the rest of life.

So here’s to embracing the awkward, brace filled moments that eventually lead you to straight teeth. The moments of being knocked over by waves, that eventually become moments of catching big ones. The moments that are not always enjoyable, but push us forward, bringing us to new places.

Laura