stuck in the middle with you

Unbelievably, my son is heading off to middle school next year.  He is but days away from going from elementary school to middle school -- from child to tween overnight.  From little kid to kid.  It happened in the blink of an eye - baby to toddler to preschool to kindergarten to fifth grade.  And now we are here - right in the middle.

I am certainly not the first parent to hit this watershed moment.  I'm not the first to clutch her child's wrists and say "ahhhh I am so excited for you!" with genuine love and real excitement, but with a sharp twinge of trepidation.  Sending my child to middle school is big time.  It's a palpable letting go, and on the mom scale, or at least my own personal mom scale, it's painful.  It's more painful than dropping off my infant at daycare; it's more painful than dropping my kindergartener at his first day; it's more painful than the first overnight apart; it's more painful than any of those moments because in all of those, I knew he needed me and I would be there.  Now, he still needs me, and I am still there, but this is a time for me to let go and for him to take a giant step forward on his own.  There's no going or looking back.  Onward we go.  Together, but with him taking the lead.


Middle school is a "wings" moment.  I once read that the most lasting bequests a parent can give her child is roots and wings.  I think of parenting, and so many of these important moments, in those terms.  To be sure, the move to middle school is a big wings moment.  It's time for him to spread his wings, and it is time for me to let him do it and for me to not only let go quite a bit, but also to trust that the roots I've helped him set down thus far are strong ones.  

I have seen the transformation this year, and it has been like watching erosion -- subtle, slow changes that hit me not at all in the moment in which they happened, but dramatically as I look back.  I have watched my then-10 year old 5th grader on his first day walk in to his elementary school with childlike excitement slowly grow into a nearly middle school kid with dreams of bigger and more ... bigger school, bigger kids, more challenges, more excitement, more freedom. He is ready.  I am the one who is anxious.  

I went to his middle school orientation the other night.  It all sounded amazing ... all the challenges and the curriculum and the activities and opportunities -- so many incredible things that are all there for the taking.  Every single administrator, teacher, counselor, and volunteer stressed what a fantastic experience the school would be.  And every single one touched on one common theme: it is time to let go a little.  It's scary, yes.  But it is time.  

And as I sat there and listened and took it all in, I realized how apropos that it is called "middle" school.  He is heading into that middle period of adolescence -- the middle, the muck, where you do the hard work and figure out who you are (and who you're not) and what you're made of (and what you're not) and what true mettle is.  It is a temporary, and yet an extraordinarily difficult and necessary, step in what makes someone who he or she is.  It reminds me of the training period for a big race: it isn't always fun, it isn't always pretty, it's long and sustained and hard and challenging and there are moments of progress but for the most part it is a lot of hard work and grind and put your head down and forge your way to a future that you aren't really sure of, all the while with lingering doubt in your head of whether you can do it, surely you can do it ... yes you can do it and you will do it, but man is this hard.  lather-rinse-repeat. round and round we go.  

I, of course, have the benefit, and perhaps the curse, of hindsight.  I vividly remember middle school, and while I work hard to separate my own experiences from those that my children have so that I do not project my own fears and past onto them, I still remember.  I remember that exhilaration of my first real brush with freedom. I remember actually feeling like a big kid.  I remember meeting the older kids when I was in 6th grade and on the third day of school, 7th grader Kathy Vazquez told me that I was pretty ... which was the first time in my life anyone not a family member had said that to me.  I remember devastation and heartache and challenges.  I remember that push/pull of simultaneously wanting to be big but wanting to be little, of wanting to be a teenager but secretly wanting to play and to be a child ... of being completely stuck in this seemingly permanent middle.

I hope in middle school my son takes advantage of every opportunity to grow.  I hope that the inevitable heartache and struggles that he will experience will also teach him empathy and fortitude.  I hope that he tries things he never dreamed possible.  I hope that when he makes mistakes that he says he is sorry and tries again.  I hope that he tries his very best.  I hope that when he fails, he picks up the pieces and tries again.  I hope that he holds true to the child who he is now - that he preserves the essence of him, of the same little sweet soul that stole my heart when he was born.  I hope he knows that his family - and especially his mommy - will always have his back.

 My kids told me that it is a tradition in their elementary school on the last day for the outgoing 5th graders to walk around the perimeter of the halls and for all of the teachers and current students to do a boisterous send-off with clapping and excitement and cheers and high-fives.  I love that (and honestly I burst into tears when my kids told me about it the first time).  As for me, my send-off will be far less boisterous, but equally heartfelt.  I'm stuck here in the middle with him.  I'll continue to be the mom that I am and love him and teach him right from wrong.  I'm not really ready right this second for middle school and all that comes with it, but ready or not here it comes.

Stuck in the middle with you,
Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you,
Stuck in the middle with you, here I am stuck in the middle with you. ~
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Take me home ... country roads

I have a pretty good memory for even the smallest details.  So my memories of my childhood and growing up are pretty vivid.  I remember at a very young age rifling through my parents' cassette tape collection and playing so many musical treasures on their then-state of the art tape deck, throwing on a sparkly tutu (or way too tight leotard) and ballet shoes and creating dances with my sister.  There were so many songs ... ABBA, Diana Ross, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Olivia Newton John, Kenny Rogers (I am really not doing any favors to my parents right now, but this music was/is amazing).  But the song that most quickly brings me back to my childhood and to a real, palpable feeling, is John Denver's "Country Roads."  I remember playing it, laying on the couch with my legs propped up on the couch back and staring at an old oil painting we had hanging over the couch.  This one:


I have no idea where or when my parents got that painting, but if there's one thing that reminds me of home, it's that.  I remember staring up at it, while listening to "Country Roads" and just daydreaming about the words and letting myself sink into that painting and the dirt roads and the house in the back and into the song itself and the country he was singing about (nevermind that I thought he said "mountain llama" instead of "mountain momma").  

But this one always got me, and to this day sticks with me:  

Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong

I took those words to heart and very literally in 2012-2013 when I was newly on my own and felt like I had no real home.  So I went back home - to the place I was born and the place I belonged -- where my parents still lived and my grandmothers and most of my family.  There was no greater comfort than home.  My folks would watch my kids and I'd go for runs, endless runs for endless miles, on those country roads.  




Fields and flowers.  Pickup trucks and creeks.  Puffy clouds and old barely-standing barns.  Trees and windy roads and creaky bridges.  Every run I would head out on my way and feel so much more centered when I came back.  I can't imagine that any other place in the world would have given me that clarity and grounding than the place where I was from ... those country roads at home.  



By running at home -- the place where I belonged -- I felt more me and more able to handle whatever this new life of mine had in store.  It was terrifying.  But I was grounded and centered.  And even as I felt ever more confident and more settled in my new life, I would still return home as much as I could and run those familiar roads and see my family and those familiar places ... home was home was home and always would be and always will be.    

I have a new home now with a wonderful husband and my wonderful children and my wonderful step-children.  My heart (and my home) is full.  Life is good.  I found the love of my life and happiness greater than I dreamed possible.  As it turns out, those country roads did lead me right home ... to the place I belong.   

You took me home, country roads.  
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The Gift of the Present


A couple of summers ago, I was in a teeny tiny little town in Wisconsin for work and happened to walk past a sweet store on the main drag.  The shop had little gifty things and as I passed the window I saw a hand-painted sign that said "enjoy this moment, for this moment is your life."  I went along my merry way in search of (delicious and amazing) cheese-curds and beer, but that got me thinking a lot about the past, present and future and the careful, but necessary, navigation of the balance of all three in my life.  The past is gone; the future is uncertain.  All we have is the present moment in which we live, and each of those moments becomes the thread that ties together the tapestry of what is, ultimately, our lives.

The lesson from the little wooden sign was precisely perfect. Yet, as much as I would love to focus solely on the present, it's really hard to put that into practice.  I have always been a very future-oriented person.  I set goals - big, juicy goals - and I usually attain them.  It may take time and hard work and there are usually a bunch of setbacks and failures along the way, but I eventually get there.  And then I set another goal.  The goal setting is good, and it's important, and it is part of who I am.  But a constantly forward-looking life misses so many beautiful moments in the present.  I've come to realize that if I set my sights on the day that has yet to come, I am losing the days that are here right now -- a life looking only at the future is not a life well lived.  

Likewise, I find myself thinking about the past a bit.  I try - hard - not to dwell on it, but I can't help but be guided by choices I've made, and things that happened in my life, as I live my life in the present.  The past has made me who and what I am today, and with all my flaws and messes (and believe you me, there are many), I like who I am.  To be sure, there have been some pretty significant peaks and some equally significant valleys, but I am in a place where I really know myself.  But shedding the rough stuff of the past is far easier said than done.  It's like a rear view mirror -- you look back and want to leave the past back where it belongs, but objects in mirror are closer than they appear.  

And now the present, and that delicate balance of being guided by the lessons and mistakes of the past while looking to the future with hopeful optimism, but having just a single big toe dipped in each.  The present is where it all happens: it's the place to feel the feels.  It's the only place to feel joy or to feel sadness.  It's where we laugh and cry.  It's where we can hug and kiss the ones we love.  It's where we touch and hear and taste and see.  It's where our heart swells and breaks.  The present is where life happens and if you blink -- poof -- it is gone.

So, rather than being too forward focused or stuck in the past, I am making an effort to live more in the here and now.  Rather than wring my hands and fret and ask "what is going to happen?", I am changing the punctuation from a question to a statement -- yes: what is going to happen.  What is going to happen, and it's up to me to make it happen.  No matter what the what is that happens, I'll be ready for it.  I am pulling those big toes out of the past and future and jumping - full boar - into the present with the accompanying chance to really experience life, with eyes fully open to the possibility probability of failure and of setbacks, but with the knowledge that with soaking up the moments -- good and bad, easy and challenging, wonderful and horrible -- of the present brings the possibility of life's ultimate reward.

It's the perfect present.


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Stowe In Love

That's right! We got married!  


I mentioned in my last post back at the end of last year that Matt and I got engaged and that we were planning to get married soon.  And marry we did in early January!  We knew that we wanted a completely private ceremony for just the two of us so that we could focus exclusively on the real meaning behind our wedding: each other and our love for, and our promises to, one other.  We loved this plan, and are planning a wedding with the kids that is focused on them and on us all becoming a new family in a few months, with a huge housewarming/we got married! party for our friends and family soon thereafter.  



We chose a small inn, the Stone Hill Inn, in Stowe, Vermont.  It was perfect: intimate, beautiful and, as an added bonus, it catered to people like us who wanted private weddings/elopements -- they had an entire package designed just for that purpose, with a few nights' stay, the officiant, some flowers and even dinner afterwards.  We worked with a really kind Justice of the Peace and basically created our own ceremony and wrote our own vows so that the wedding ceremony was perfectly suited for us.  Our ceremony was sweet, meaningful, and completely us; I can still remember every single moment of it.  One thing we splurged on, which was worth every single penny, was to hire a photographer, Kathleen Landwehrle, to capture the ceremony and some beautiful photos after.  We lucked out with truly spectacular weather: snow on the ground but a warmish 45 degree air temperature and sunshine!  We also lucked out that our photographer Kathleen was a super cool person with a great sense of humor who drove us around Stowe (and her car satellite radio was set on The Bridge, which is my favorite station ever!). Here are few more of my favorite shots.






Sigh ... it was the most perfect day, celebrated in the most perfect way, with the love of my life -- {married} life is good.
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Rock/Paper/Scissors ... shoot!

Or blog, as the case may be.

The last few months of 2016 were a blur of new and good things for me - many major life changes all rolled up together, all at once, all in a firestorm tornado of glitter rainbows craziness.

Rock - We got engaged in September! We are getting married soon. Very soon!


Paper - We bought a house!  Lots and lots and lots of paperwork with that whole process.  Get used to seeing this badboy on the blog. There is so much to do, including and especially new siding and decking in the Spring.  We love our new home - not just the structure (which is super cool), but in what it represents for a shared new space for us and our children to forge our new family.


Scissors - I cut ties with the old and got a new job [and a new commute]! It's a completely different position at a new place doing completely new things.  And while unfortunately, I am beholden to a train schedule again, I love my new job so much that it actually makes the commute worth it. 



Shoot! or, Blog!  With all of these changes (especially the new house), I have lots to share.  I am hoping to blog a bit more in 2017 (which is to say, I am hoping to blog in 2017) and share the good things with you.  
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