The Romance of Thirty-Eight

My third-grade teacher, Miss Kowalik, let me stay inside at recess and sort mimeographs and read instead of facing the chaos of the playground. She introduced me to creative writing and taught me how to lose and find myself by filling a white page with words. Every morning I looked forward to seeing her smiling eyes and salt-and-pepper bobbed hair.

As a child who had known very few grown-up, unmarried women, I found the “miss” in front of her name intriguing. I imagined her at the end of the day going home to her own apartment or house, a tidy, quiet place for which she’d bought all of the furniture and decorations for herself with her own money. A cat would greet her at the door, and she could cook whatever she wanted for dinner. What a romantic life Miss Kowalik must lead!

My friend Nicole and I asked her one day how old she was, and after that, age thirty-eight became synonymous with independence, poise, warmth, and creative discovery. I looked forward to the faraway day when I would be thirty-eight.

And now here I am. Thirty-eight. That romantic age.

Did thirty-eight seem like a romantic age to Miss Kowalik, or did regrets and thoughts of aging haunt her as she realized how quickly the years had passed? Did she know how beautiful she seemed to me?

I don’t know how she felt, and I don’t know where she is now to ask her, but I’m not sure it matters. It might even be dangerous to find out, if I want to keep the illusion of thirty-eight that I formed when I was eight. The way I remember Miss Kowalik and the excitement I felt about one day being thirty-eight is what I want to hold onto this year, as I do creative writing lessons with my daughter and watch in the mirror as the salt gradually overtakes the pepper.

Here’s to the romance of thirty-eight.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Celebration

The new Weekly Photo Challenge topic from The Daily Post is “Celebration.” And wouldn’t you know? It was my birthday yesterday!

I had a simple, wonderful, day-long birthday celebration that was celebratory in the just the right way for me (a satisfying homeschool morning, a hike, Beverly Cleary on the car stereo, a simple poached-fish-with-veggies dinner cooked by my husband,  organic sulfite-free wine, a new bathrobe (to replace the one my husband got me for my 22nd birthday), and apple slices dipped in a raw honey/almond butter mixture). And I even remembered to get out my camera and take some pictures to commemorate the day and to give you all an idea of what celebration looks like to me.



A Birthday

“Let us decide on the route that we wish to take to pass our life, and attempt to sow that route with flowers.”

 Madame du Chatelet, from Gretchen Rubin’s “Moment of Happiness” for 9 December 2011

Today I turn 35. That seems an auspicious number for a year I plan to focus on Voluntary Simplicity.

Last year's cake. No cake this year, but that's cool.

I’ve been living Voluntary Simplicity to one degree or another for the past 10+ years, but this birthday marks a re-commitment to the conscious application of the principles of Voluntary Simplicity.

The goal for this project:

I will cultivate mindfulness and awareness in my daily life and through that awareness identify areas where I place the highest value. I will explore my values and options for living more deeply in those areas, and then make incremental changes and future plans with the goal of consciously living my life around those values.

Although I can’t hang onto the things that I value, I can court them in my daily activities, attract them with careful selection and arrangement of the physical, emotional, and spiritual elements of my life, and pamper, preen, and nourish them with attention and awareness. I can give them space by clearing out the extraneous. I can live them fully while I’m here. And after? Who knows?

This month seems right for introspection, with the dark and the cold, with the Solstice and the religious holidays celebrating hope and the promise of rebirth even in the midst of darkness. And, of course, my birthday, which always invites even more navel-gazing from a person already inclined to peer at her bellybutton. It’s also a practical month for this type of search because my husband’s company shuts down between Christmas and New Year’s, so I’ll have assistance with the day-to-day maintenance of our home and care of our children, hopefully giving me more space for awareness.

So, I’m excited! This year promises to be great! (knock on wood, though, because I’m still superstitious about being too enthusiastic)

Reflecting on Six Years of Motherhood

My daughter turns six years old today. She’s lost one tooth. She can read novels and children’s encyclopedias. She plays the flute. She recites poetry. She does second-grade math.

She and I are very similar in temperament. We both like ample alone time. We both like to spend time with our friends but need to balance it with quiet time at home (and if given the option, home is where we prefer to spend most of our time). These similarities help us with scheduling since it’s not often that one of us needs more time out and about at the same time the other needs quiet time.

But we also both have hot tempers, and we have little patience with ourselves when we can’t understand something or master a task quickly. Neither of us likes to admit she’s wrong. These similarities bring on clashes, but they also help us both to confront the negatives of these qualities and learn to face them. Having a mirror for these qualities allows us both to be more aware of them.

And from the moment of her birth, and maybe even before that, she’s been teaching me more about who I am and challenging me to be my Best Self. Her arrival began with a battle between me and a doctor who insisted that healthy me and my healthy baby were simply taking too long and needed a surgical birth. My daughter and I worked together to shift her position and move things along more quickly. Together, she and I were able to win the argument, although this didn’t guarantee smooth sailing during those early weeks.

She didn’t act like I expected a baby to act. She wouldn’t sleep, we had trouble nursing, she cried a lot. I cried a lot. It was a time of great darkness for me during which I doubted whether I was truly the right person to be raising this little girl. I still visit that place on occasion. After so many visits, though, it’s become easier for me to see the way back out, or at least to know that there is a way out, if I look hard enough.

She pushes me beyond my limits, makes me stretch and strain to keep up with her. I am a stronger person for these exercises, even as I dread the constant challenge some days.

I love watching her grow and change. Looking at her now, I see how her limbs have lengthened, how her muscles are becoming more defined, how her face is thinning out. She moves with confidence and enthusiasm. She still comes back to me for reassurance, but she does this less and less frequently as time passes.

Watching her grow, I realize again and again that my job is to launch her away from me. I bore her in my body and every year after that closeness brings greater distance. It’s bittersweet. And I feel privileged that I get to be a part of it.

My daughter's little feet six years ago.

Week 36 Review: Connecting with Strangers and Selling my Husband’s Stuff

Usually when I sit down to write these weekly reviews, I start out thinking (and sometimes even writing), “I did pretty well this week following my resolutions,” or “I didn’t do very well this week following my resolutions.”

Today, however, I’m going to try to practice what I wrote about yesterday and start from a baseline of “I’m enough.” From this perspective, my resolutions are designed to help me “access my power” by clearing away the obstacles between the world and my true, Best Self. I do them or not, notice the results, and that’s it. No self-judgment.

Or at least that’s the plan.

So, resolutions.

I called several friends this week. Two I’ve not talked with in a long while. I left them each messages. They didn’t call back, and I didn’t call them back because I fell into my usual quandary wondering if it’s pushy to call again or if it’s loving to call again. I paralyzed myself into inaction.

However, I did call a friend with whom I was having an e-mail misunderstanding. She and I ended up having a Mommy Date for tea on Friday, and that cleared up all miscommunication. I came away feeling connected and cared for. I burned my tongue on the tea, but it was worth it..

I didn’t make much headway on the “making new friends” front, but I did engage in interpersonal activities as though I were willing to make new friends. This sounds like a tiny thing, but for me and the way I’ve been feeling this week, it’s a pretty significant step.

The biggest example of this: I volunteer with moms and babies in a group setting. I’ve been taking some time off and have only been to two meetings in nearly a year. I’ve frankly been somewhat afraid to go back to it. I worry that with everything going on I don’t have enough in reserve to give to anyone else. This week with my husband home to care for the kids, I had the courage to hop back into that role. I was so glad I went to the meeting. I approached the situation in a spirit of openness and empathy, and I was so refreshed when I returned home. The moms and babies were so caring and loving with one another. The group was just a huge well of empathy, and I felt quite connected with the moms on an emotional level.

This week, I put all of my friends’ birthdays on an online calendar and then promptly forgot about the two birthdays that were coming up this week. Luckily, Facebook reminded me and I was able to put notes on each of their walls. Not quite the personal touch I’d planned on April 1st, but it is indeed an acknowledgement of their birthdays and a connection with two friends.

This week I’ll be working overtime with the birthdays. My husband’s birthday is Thursday and my daughter is having her month-early, just-in-case-Dad-finds-a-job-and-we-move-before-her-real-birthday birthday party on Saturday. My daughter’s party is pretty well in hand except for the favors, which I want to be inexpensive but not cheap, and handmade and heartfelt but not overly time-consuming. I’m working on it.

My husband’s a little tougher. He doesn’t need socks or underwear, which are my old stand-bys. We’re not eating out right now, and we’re trying to spend no money on ourselves at all since we don’t know how long this “no additional income” thing is going to last. When we first moved here three years ago, I bought him an mp3 player to listen to music in lab. I joked that for his birthday this year I would sell his mp3 player and give him the cash from it. He said that the selection and sale of items we don’t need would actually be a quite nice birthday present for him this year (but that he wants to keep his mp3 player).

So, perhaps I’ll be looking around the house for things to sell.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Cover of "Happy Birthday to Me"

Cover of Happy Birthday to Me

Today’s my 34th birthday.

I was raised on horror films, so every year on my birthday I think about this one from 1981. And yes, I was watching horror films even in 1981. You do the math.

This is the original theatrical trailer for Happy Birthday to Me. It’s not gory or anything, but you still might not want to watch it with the kids in the room. (I didn’t watch it with my kids in the room, for the record. And they don’t watch horror films at all.) (And you’re not missing much if you don’t watch it, so don’t feel compelled to just because I put it in this post.)

In reality, my birthday will involve a trip to the Dickens Christmas Festival with the kids, a trip to my daughter’s flute lesson, some time to myself while I leave my hungry and likely un-napped children with our sweet babysitter, dinner at Omar’s Rawtopia, and a GF vegan cake from Cakewalk Baking Company.

But first I need to take out the trash.

Happy Birthday to Me, indeed.

Oh, and the other thing that runs through my mind at birthday time:

Thanks, Mom and Dad!