The magic of showing up – 29 of 100

Dan had a conference in Lake Louise this past weekend. James and I did two beautiful hikes. The weather has been uncharacteristcally warm and dry. I couldn’t believe our luck.

On Friday, we hiked up to Little Beehive from Lake Louise, then down by way of Lake Agnes.

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Up at Little Beehive

On Saturday, we drove into Yoho National Park and hiked to Paget lookout.

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From Paget Lookout

I suppose I’ve said this before, but I think it’s so important – vital, in fact – that new parents find ways to get out and do what they love. Oh the joy of putting James in his fleece bear suit, tucking him into the Ergo Baby, strapping on my backpack and wandering down a trail! He drifts off to sleep pretty quickly, and then it’s all quiet – except for my breath and his, sucking in the cool mountain air.

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The mountain views are nice, but looking down at this one is just as good.

When I was in Minnesota, a friend of my parents and I were talking about skiing. Both native Minnesotans, we now both live at the Rockies’ edge and can’t believe that skiing big mountains is something we can actually do on any given weekend.

“I love it,” she said. “And I love how everybody is just so happy out on the hill. It’s not like golf, where everybody is frustrated and cursing.” (This woman is an avid golfer.)

That is what I love about hiking and skiing. There’s no score, no real endgame, the idea is simply to be out there and use your body in a beautiful place. You win just by showing up.

Lake Agnes - Banff

Lake Agnes

On our way back to Calgary, we stopped in Banff where I met Meghan Ward (the adventurous momma I once quoted here – who is busy starting a Rocky Mountain culture publishing house and print magazine and writing a book). We talked about getting our little ones outside and she said something along the lines of:

Even if they can’t remember the specifics of these early years, they will remember it in some elemental way. They’ll remember it in their bodies. 

I often marvel (and sometimes lament) that James will never remember this year. But I believe Meghan’s right.

To this day, when I lace up my boots and strap on my backpack, I think about my early memories of being outside. Of piling out of the car at our Northern Minnesota cabin, the smell of evergreens and the steady lap of Lake Superior in the air. The feel of the trails, soft with pine needles, skipping over the roots.

And Montana too – the leathery smell of the shed, manure and hay in the stables, the dry summer heat. Eating sandwiches up high, looking out over the Beartooth mountains.

Yes- those are all specific memories from later on in childhood. But they live somewhere deeper than my mind; they hum through my veins and prickle my skin whenever I’m on the trails.

Being outside – on an adventure – felt magic to me growing up; it still does.

Paget Lookout - Yoho National Park

The panorama view from Paget Lookout

Sometimes, I feel pretty daunted by raising a child in the digital age. Screen time. Social media. Internet trolls. Not-yet-invented-technologies-that-require-discipline. Ugh. It already overwhelms me. I know I’m not going to be a perfect parent when it comes to all this. But even if I can’t shield my child from devices until they are 19 or so, I can commit to getting outside as a family – to showing up.

I know I’m going to love telling James stories about the adventures we have had with him this first summer – the thunderstorm in the tent, his bear suit, the way he slept so soundly as we scampered about the Rockies with him in tow.

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I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my heroes, Rachel Carson, on sharing the mystery and beauty of the natural world with her nephew, Roger (from her book, The Sense of Wonder):

We have let him join us in the dark living room before the big picture window to watch the full moon riding lower and lower toward the far shore of the bay, setting all the water ablaze with silver flames and finding a thousand diamonds in the rocks on the shore as the light strikes the flakes of mica embedded in them. I think we have felt that the memory of such a scene, photographed year after year by his child’s mind, would mean more to him in manhood than the sleep he was losing. He told me it would in his own way, when we had a full moon the night after his arrival last summer. He sat quietly on my lap for some time, watching the moon and the water and all the night sky, and then he whispered, 

“I’m glad we came.”

When your kid is that kid – 28 of 100

Baby sounds. First there are cries. Then coos. Then giggles and silly fart noises. Babbles. And, lately, James has discovered a high pitched squeal-scream. Fabulous.

We participate in a very adorable mom-baby music class.

You can picture it: All of the little babies, sweet and smiling, and moms gather around the skinny, German, balding, bespectacled instructor while he strums the guitar and sings “Hush little baby.” While James squeals Eeeeeee! EEEEEEEEE!!!! 

Not every time. But for the last two weeks, that’s kind of how it’s gone.

Last week, at the end of class, the instructor sat down in front of us (with all the other moms sitting around) and asked “Do you think something’s wrong? Maybe an allergy? Something in his throat? His face turns quite red when he’s making that noise.” He was genuinely concerned. Trying to be nice. But my sensitive inner mom heard something like: Something is wrong with your kid. Why can’t you calm him? Maybe you aren’t concerned enough about your child. 

Just telling you people what's up in my baby way.

Just telling you folks what’s up in my baby way

It’s hard to explain how deflating it can be to have people frown on your child’s behavior when you are spending every ounce of your soul to do things right: to get them outside, to sing them songs, to make ridiculous faces and noises to get them to laugh, to bake sweet potatoes and make homemade hummus to make sure they’re getting the right food and all the while doubt that you’re not doing enough.

I could tell the moms felt bad for me. One of them told me how her daughter went through a squealing phase. Another one said: I can tell he’s a happy baby.

(Of course I madly googled as soon as I got home and was assured by the Internet that squealing is pretty normal stuff for a baby his age.)

Oh how I’ve longed for my baby to be the sweet social snuggle bug that everyone coos and ogles over.

Sometimes, he is. But sometimes – like the first time my brother and sister held him – and at the luncheon where everyone I know in the Bay Area met him – he just whines and cries and furrows his brow. I got pretty jealous of everyone who had ever described their baby as ‘mellow’ in those early months. “We feel so lucky,” they’d croon. “S/He’s just such an easy baby.” Easy, I’d think, That sounds nice, as I bounced on the exercise ball to soothe him for the 900-th hour, hoping against hope that my arms would not fall off. Or rocked him endlessly, body in knots, while singing and swaying to James Taylor acoustic concerts on YouTube. (Not that any newborn is easy…just saying ‘mellow’ and ‘easy going’ aren’t words I often use to describe my son.)

There are so many things I love about James. He’s interested in things and likes to explore. He’s got spunk and energy. He’s funny – I’m serious. Sometimes, I feel like he’s deliberately trying to get us to laugh. He’s also full of sweetness and snuggles when you catch him at the right time.

So, what if James has funny ways of expressing himself? What if I have to defend his silly – possibly disruptive- ways to his teachers for the next 18 years? I don’t want to discourage him from being HIM. And I can’t expect perfection. He is, after all, human. (Man, I sometimes think, parenting is going to get complicated!)

Mental note to self: Go easy on loud, seemingly misbehaving babies and children everywhere. Their parents are doing their best.

I, for one, felt like crying after that class. And praying that he’d be quiet as a mouse next week.

On acceptance and other messy things – 27 of 100

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This 2015 Burning Man installation really moved me. I also appreciated this description: The sculpture of two adults fighting, back to one another… yet the inner child in them both just want to connect and love one another. Age has so many beautiful gifts, but one that I could live without is the pride and resentment we hold onto when we are in conflict with others.” ~Alexi Panos

We have been mired in some family conflict this year. I can’t get into it here – it’s not really my story to tell at this particular juncture – but we’ve all been there.

Here’s something I’ve learned: Stubbornness gets us nowhere. And often leads us to ends that nobody wants (see picture above): turned away from each other, heads in our hands.

Expectations are another killer. It’s so hard to reconcile what has been with what we wish would be with what simply is. Especially when it comes to family.

Also: You can’t make other people see what you want them to see or understand what you want them to understand. That is, unless both parties are willing to come to the table and do the hard scary work of being vulnerable and talking about what is going in their pained,complicated, emotionally-charged non-rational hearts. Everyone has to let go of being ‘right’. There is no right. There is no wrong. In nearly every situation it’s a murky mess of reactions to something that happened.

I keep thinking about this quote from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech “This is Water”

Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.

I keep thinking about stepping out of my skull-sized kingdom and how to sacrifice in those unsexy ways. (I mean how many times have I pictured myself delivering some totally articulate spot-on speech that nails all the right points and changes someone’s mind? I’m as guilty of believing I’m right as anyone else.) I’m trying to figure out when to fight and when to let go. I’m trying to let go of expectations and accept what is.

It’s messy, painful work that is never finished, acceptance. Or maybe, as Cheryl Strayed said: “Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.”

Here’s something else she said: “Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.”

I wish it was as simple as turning toward each other, offering up our hands and pressing our palms together. I’m going to hold that image in my heart.

(As a side note – on the subject of believing ourselves to be right vs. opening our minds to new perspectives – I oddly found myself thinking about this conflict when listening to Radiolab’s excellent podcast The Rhino Hunter. While the Cecil the lion story raged around the world, I, like many, saw myself as a proponent of animal rights – and hunters of exotic animals as ego-driven killers. Of course the reality of it all is complicated. This story challenged all of my ideas and conclusions. In fact, I’m still not sure where I land. It’s so easy for me to say I’d never kill an animal – that I don’t believe in it. But I’d also never pony up $350,000, (or any money for that matter)- as the rhino hunter in this story does – to help conserve these animals.)

Canadian Thanksgiving – 26 of 100

Here some things about Canadian Thanksgiving weekend:

1. It turns out I’m a complete nut job when put to hosting two Thanksgiving dinners, neither of which involved turkey. On Friday night, I made an enormous grocery list and I said to Dan: “Let’s make sure everything is on it because I don’t want to come back.” Well, har har har. Saturday morning I was back for fish. Saturday night I realized I had forgotten limes so Dan jumped over to Safeway right before dinner. On Sunday morning, while breastfeeding James, I had an entire conversation with myself about some polenta that went like this:

“The recipe calls for instant polenta, but what we found and bought was a weird tube of pre-prepared gelatinous polenta. It’s going to be a fail.”

“Ugh. I know!”

“Your stuffing is delicious. You should make that instead.”

“Ok, but that means going back the grocery story FOR THE FOURTH TIME IN THREE DAYS. Dan’s going to have a field day with your mania.”

“I know, I know. And you’re talking to yourself in the second person and referring to your own one self as a ‘we’ – you are probably a crazy person!”

I’m not going to tell you where Dan told me to put that polenta (as a joke, you guys!). And for the record my stuffing WAS delicious.

2. James will have twice as many Thanksgivings as most people. His second will be in one short month. What better holiday to have two of every year? Is there anything better than gathering around the table for a beautiful meal with people you care about to give thanks?

3. We had no agenda. We took long walks and spent hours in the park, the three of us. Dan and I watched movies. I cooked for hours. Sometimes, I have to remind myself on a daily basis with James to let go of making anything happen. To let the minutes unfold. To let him grab at leaves or stare at the sky.

4. So much of being a parent is the magic of the small things. A smile. A giggle. Tiny hands on your cheek.

Sometimes I think about how you slowly digest the idea of ‘taking things for granted’ over a lifetime. When we are little and are introduced to it, we take it to apply to things like our toys. Then bigger things: A roof over our heads. Then people: Our parents. Our family and friends. Then we understand it as it applies to things like education and opportunity.

Then you grow up and travel and watch the news and you realize how you have taken pretty much every thing you once thought was basic for granted: Safety. Potable water.

You wake up and feel grateful for these things.

James has really brought it down to size for me. Every day I look at him as if through a haze of magic. His little perfect body. His sweet breath. How can he be?! I think.

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No really. How can he be?

Isn’t it funny to think of my own mom looking at me thinking the very same thing: How can she be? And really it is wondrous thing there is, isn’t it? To be alive in this world.

I guess what I’m saying is that this Thanksgiving I am grateful for the miracle of simply being.

Happy Thanksgiving sweet readers. I’m oh-so-grateful you’re here too. ❤

San Francisco – 25 of 100

So. San Francisco.

When we arrived we got upgraded to a premium vehicle which I’m chronicling here because it’s so nice when things like that happen. (Like having your name drawn at a raffle – that never happens, right?!) For the rest of this post you can picture Dan, Sky and James weaving through towering redwoods in a sleek black Infiniti.

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Here is James with Serin, one of my oldest and best friends. She and her husband Spain put us up for the weekend. They moved to SF right as Dan and I were moving away. How we so narrowly missed living in the same town befuddles me. But I’ll take what time with them that I can get.

On the drive from the airport, California put on a bit of a show: the salty ocean air, the smell of leafy Eucalyptus, magenta bougainvillea, the red rise of the Golden Gate bridge and blue blue blue as far as the eye could see – blue Bay, blue sky, blue Pacific.

God, this place is beautiful, we kept saying.

So much happened on our trip but mostly I want to tell you about two things I thought about while I was there:

1. I thought about marriage.

I spent a lot of time with my Aunt Claire who has been married for 20 years to my great uncle Woody. And I spent a lot of time with my best friend who is getting married in May. Two women I love so very much at different points in marriage; Dan and I somewhere in between.

Claire and Woody got married when she was 50 and he was 70. It was both of their first marriages. They came to their marriage with such wisdom. Claire said before they got married many people said to her: Are you sure it’s right at this point in your life?

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Woody, Claire and James

She told me she and Woody would say: “Are you kidding me? It’s the greatest privilege of our lives.” That is how I feel about my marriage: it is the greatest privilege to build and share this life. And James’s very existence extends from that privilege.

(For the record, I’m not one of those people who thinks everyone should get married. This is all specific to my conversations with Claire and my own experience.)

My uncle Woody is 90 now and in assisted living. When he sees Claire walk in the room, his eyes light up. They still have their same dynamic: reading the NY Times together, talking politics, talking about their great adventures, past and present. Their love is evident.

I spent the best day with Claire – driving all over the city, a long lunch and then wandering the Legion of Honor museum. Claire inspires me. She’s an entrepreneur with a well of curiosity and enthusiasm. After killing it in the business world, she’s now the mayor of her town and her knack for fostering community is a lesson in how to be. She hosts pumpkin carving parties, tree decorating parties, dinner for old and new neighbors. She takes whole-hearted interest in everyone around her. I love walking her dog with her around her neighborhood – people walk over to chat, pet her dog, or stop their car and roll down their windows to say hi. She literally stops traffic because she is so loved.

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Claire, James and Monet at the Legion of Honor

She kept looking at James and saying “Can you believe it, Sky? Can you believe you created this little person?!”

When we met them breakfast, I watched Claire – tiny at about 5 feet tall and less than 100 pounds – lift Woody from wheelchair to car as they set off to meet friends for lunch. These are the parts of marriage we don’t always think about at the beginning. I think Claire would tell you that we are lucky if we live and love long enough to experience them.

1 1/2. Then there was the wine night with my best friend that we always fantasize about when we talk about on the phone. You know the kind when you plop down on the couch with two bottles of wine and gab? When you somehow cover everything and remember how much you’ve seen each other through. And then you get a little sentimental when you realize that yet another major life event is around the corner: her wedding. And little tears of joy gather in the corners of your eyes because friendships like these are … you know. The best.

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2. The other thing I kept thinking about was the different chapters in our lives.

A friend hosted a brunch for our friends and there were people I have known since I was two, a high school friend, a college friend, friends from years traveling abroad, a grad school friend, old work friends, and on.

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I met Jonathan in Guatemala 10 years ago. We became fast friends after realizing we’d both just attended our first Burning Man. Now we have babies just three months apart. Who’d’ve thunk it?

It’s funny the way life goes – the way we pick up so many people along the way without really realizing it – and then, there they are. And then the years of friendship pile up (see caption in above photo).

Dan, James and I went to Ocean Beach. I spent so many hours on that beach when I lived in SF in my twenties. I started going after a breakup. It was a tumultuous time and the Pacific always calmed me. I fell in love with the ocean there – with its mystery and wild, changing beauty.

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Dan and I didn’t leave San Francisco on our own terms – we were in financial dire straights when Dan got the job offer in Calgary. It didn’t feel like a choice. It felt desperately necessary. But you know what? It turned out to be ok. (I don’t want to be too Pollyanna about it. It took me a long time to get settled into our life here–there was a lot of letting go, some tears, and some doubt at the beginning.)

And that’s what I thought about back at Ocean Beach on that blue bird day. How life doesn’t always go as planned. How it will never be all figured out. How that breakup seems like another lifetime now. How Dan and I had been on that beach so many years before watching whales breach near shore and we had no idea how it would work out – how his visa would pan out, how we’d afford a place to live, how we’d get jobs that would sustain us- let alone that someday we’d be visiting from Calgary, Alberta – and now there we were with our son.

Life is just wild and crazy like that.

Survival Mode – 24 of 100

I have so many good things to say about our trip to San Francisco, but right now I feel like a puddle. James hasn’t been himself for four days. Yesterday, he broke out in a rash and required constant soothing. And just when the sleep angels smiled upon us, James pulled an up-every-two-hours-just-like-the-thought-we-were-done-with-it-newborn night.

Yesterday, when James woke up screaming an hour and a half after I put him down, I looked at Dan and said: “I can’t do this again!” But of course I could. Of course I would rush to his crib, swoop him up, soothe him, feed him, bounce him, rock him and do whatever it took to make him feel better and safe (and, if I’m being honest, get my own self back to my pillow as swiftly as possible).

This is what I am learning about motherhood. There is often no choice in the matter. You do what must be done.

Yes, it is true that everyone told us that as soon as we dared to think we had our shit down, that everything would go reeling. But I sort of forgot about that when I tasted the sweet nectar of James sleeping through the night two entire times. And only getting up once for a month before that.

The truth is that the trip was great and I loved it so much. The truth is also that James is sick, Dan is sick and we are all exhausted.

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How many times have I heard how important a routine is? How little ones thrive on it? Well, you know what’s hard and humbling to admit? Now, so do I. I need nap time to be quiet, restorative time for myself. I need to be home at 6 p.m. to get him to sleep. And I bask in those sweet quiet hours between his bedtime and mine. In my former life, I craved nonstop adventure. But now, for my sanity, I lust after stillness.

(I’m not saying there can’t be extraordinary days where he naps on the go and we do adventurous things. We’ve had a lot of successful days like that. I’m just saying that five in a row pushed our limits.)

Since we got home, James bursts into tears with no warning. He sucks his thumb nonstop and pretty much won’t let me put him down. At a few points, I held him in my arms and cried too.

I took him to the doctor today. She assured me it was a virus that would pass.

“You look tired,” she said. “Are you ok?”

I’m embarrassed to complain. I’m embarrassed to tell you how I just wanted my mom to come over and rock him so that I could shower, maybe eat or even take a nap. How I wanted a break. How lonely I felt.

I took James to the park and watched a grandmother play with her granddaughter and fantasized. I met a mother with a four-year-old daughter and two-year-old twins and remembered how easy I have it.

I talked to a good friend and very trusted mom who lives near both her and her husband’s parents and she said: Sometimes, I feel lonely too. I guess it’s easy to idealize what it might be like.

We all feel alone in this world sometimes. We all have days where we just want to throw our hands up and have someone else take over. But that is not always an option. So we get through the day. We put in perspective (I am not a refugee carrying my child on raft over the sea). We go on.

I’m going to go rest now. I’m going to bury myself in our flannel sheets and see if stillness will wrap me up in its arms for just a little while.