Mom, are you there?

Posted on February 27, 2015

The text made my phone vibrate on the metal table downstairs. I let it go as I curled my hair. Lately I’ve felt too bound by the siren of notifications from my phone. I’ll get it later, I thought as it rattled again.

The phone rang, Beso barked, and Finley stood in the doorway with a worried look, “Mom, I can’t find my hat.” Sean was standing next to me shaving.

“Did you put it in the cabinet?” I asked. “Yesterday when we came home you were trying to remember if you had your gator.”

“No, I didn’t put it in the cabinet, I already checked,” she said mournfully.

“Let’s see, did you put it on the chair? You had your coat on the chair instead of a hook, check there,” I said.

Sean smiled at me. “What?” I asked.

“Nothing, you’re just so patient with them,” he said. I beamed. He winked at me and walked to our room to get dressed.

Avery came up the stairs holding the phone. “I did. I am, I am handing it to her right now,” she said as she held the phone out to me.

“It’s Briar,” she said soberly.

“Hello? Briar?”

“Hi mom. The bus crashed. Our bus crashed. We are crashed.”

Every single emotion I have ever felt as a parent come together in a knee-weakening, heart stopping whoosh.

Briar

“Are you ok?” I asked, holding the phone tight and holding my other hand out in the room as if to stop the sensation of falling. Avery stood staring at me.

I thought about the texts that had been coming on my phone. I remembered waking Briar up this morning. I’d slipped under the duvet with her and snaked my arm beneath her shoulders. She was still as I pressed a line of kisses along her arm. She kicked a leg, swung her head up dramatically and brought it down to mine. Our noses pressed and she said, “Can we play hookie today? Can we stay home, just you and me?”

I giggled. “No, silly. It’s Friday. It’s the best day to go to school because the whole day you get to know that you have the weekend coming.”

Kindergarten

She tickled the back of my neck with her hand, “Please? Please can I stay home?” She was being playful, not sad or truly serious.

“Nope, c’mon. I want to try and help you make the bus today.” She moaned as I leapt out of her bed, flicked on the light and cheered, “C’mon Bri-Bri.” When I got downstairs her phone was nearly dead. I set it to airplane mode and plugged it in to charge. I was making lunches when she came downstairs. “There you are!” I said. She smiled.

We talked about whether or not to take her phone because it was nearly dead. I rolled the charger cord up and said, “Take it just in case.” She smiled and was out the door with Sean in time to make the bus. She’d called an “I love you, thanks mom,” as she skipped down the stairs.”

Why did I push her to take the damn bus? We could have had a little more time.

Hands

“Briar? Briar, where are you? Are you ok?” I asked. I kept my voice even, both for Avery who knew something was amiss, Briar who was scared, and myself—hysteria comes hard and fast for me.

“We are under the bridge by the highway. The sheriff is here and the principal came also.” She paused. “We can’t call another bus because the radio won’t work, it’s just buzzing.” I nodded, the arm that had been waving stood straight out—stop, it said.

“Mom, we’re going to be late. I am going to be tardy. I just wanted you to know,” she said very seriously.

“Honey, you won’t be tardy. Can you tell me where you are?” I pressed.

“Yes, yes I can.” I smiled in spite of my terror. Talking to Briar on the phone is new and she never fails to crack me up with how seriously she takes each exchange. I’ve asked her to do something before and she has responded with, “Yes, yes I will do that, surely I will.” I joke that she sounds like a woman from another era.

“She’s ok,” I told Ave, who nodded and walked somberly down the stairs. “Can you tell me more, Briar?”

“Ok, yes, yes, more. Ok. We were driving and there just wasn’t enough room. Another car just hit us and made the mirror come off of the bus. We’re sitting here and I just know that I am going to miss math and be marked as tardy.”

I nodded, though my underarms were prickling with nervous sweat and my legs were still shaky, I knew where she was. There is a stretch of road that is simply too narrow for certain cars and the turn lane takes some people by surprise forcing them to switch lanes quickly.

“Do you want me to come and get you? Do they have a plan?” I asked.

She stammered a bit and said that she wasn’t sure of the plan, but that she thought they were ok.

“Ok, honey. Thank you for calling me. I am so glad that you are ok.” I said.

“Thank you for answering mom. I was trying to text you.” Her voice sounded tiny. I remembered the phone, I always have it with me. I hadn’t been there to answer her texts. What if…

“You did a great job honey. I’m sorry I wasn’t hearing the texts.” I waited, holding the phone to my ear as if it were her arm and we were cuddled in bed together.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t come to you?” I asked. It felt unnatural to know she was under a bridge in a bus in single digit temps. I didn’t want to leave her alone a second time.

“I’m ok, mom.”

“I love you, B.”

“Oh, mama, I just love you so much too.”

Bface

I am going to hold her tight tonight.

Tomorrow I am going to loosen my grip on anything but the people around me and the things I hold dear. It’s all too precarious for anything less.

 

 

Dismantling the Armor of Busy

Posted on February 25, 2015

It was December, we’d been granted an unexpected night out. My folks were visiting from the West Coast and mid afternoon my mom texted me at work, “Don’t come straight home. Spend time with your husband. Go. Get a drink. Gaze into each other’s eyes.” I thanked her and said that we would. It reminded me of those first weeks after we brought our firstborn home. I was besotted, doing nothing but nursing and watching her. My mom set a sandwich on the arm of my chair and whispered, “Save something for Sean.” Those words have come to me throughout our 12 years of marriage, particularly when the well is dry and he says, “What about us? When do we become a priority?”

 

I told Sean we had a pass for the night. He looked surprised, “Wow. So, what do you want to do?” Where there ought to have been flutters of excitement, I felt tired and oddly disappointed. We stood there looking at one another. Everything about us was tentative; from the way we left the office to how we slowly threaded our way across the snowy parking lot.

 

We settled on visiting a new restaurant close by. Climbing into the truck I wondered, “Do you think they can take us without a reservation?” He shrugged, one hand on the wheel, “We won’t know unless we go in and ask.” I envied his ability to slip into date mode.

 

NPR played softly on the radio as we pulled up in front of the restaurant, a massive old mansion with a wrap around porch. I thought of our own porch and how we hadn’t yet chipped away the ice on the stairs. There are also the two small trees in the backyard that split in the ice storm; the limbs need to be cleared. The trampoline is weighted down with snow.

 

He pecked me on the cheek before heading up the walk to see about a table. I waited, worrying we might be turned away. After a few minutes he sent a text saying that we were all set. I walked up the path, breathing in the night air to calm my nerves.

 

The restaurant was unpleasantly crowded; hips and elbows grazed my shoulder as I sat in the center of the room. I imagined that if you were to look at the room from an aerial view it might resemble a pinball game, tables positioned for optimal crashing and pinging.

 

Sean sat across from me looking content, which made me retreat further into my unease, shifting my focus to us felt awkward. I wondered what our daughters were doing. Phantom pangs of things I ought to have been doing pelted me—

 

The laundry still isn’t folded.

I need to find that Frozen pajama top for Polar Express day.

I left the mail meant for our neighbors on the counter again.

Did the creamer get put away?

 

“Did you want to start off with something to drink?” I looked up to see our waitress smiling at us. Sean tapped the menu and said, “We’ll take a bottle of this Sauvignon Blanc.” He was beaming at me as he said, “Sound good, babe?” I nodded and smiled, taken off guard, “Yes, great.” She nodded at us and promised to be right back.

 

I watched her go, avoiding Sean’s gaze and feeling utterly unprepared to meet his hopeful face. How did this happen? How can being adored become one more thing?

 

The relentlessness of vulnerability in parenting and marriage startles me. Each day brings with it so many new ways that I can’t seem to stretch my reserves far enough to meet everyone’s needs. Mean girls, puberty, common core math, adult time, down time, me time—sometimes it feels like trying to choreograph a multi-course meal with different dishes that each require distinct and precise cooking temperatures, specific rest times, and a delicate hand. If my marriage were a soufflé it would surely have fallen.

 

A question about work bubbled up and I swallowed it. Talking shop is not for dates.

 

“Hey,” he whispered, “You ok?” His blue eyes scanned my face. I brightened, “Yup.”

 

He cocked his head and did that funny thing he does with his mouth when he knows I’m glossing over something. I shifted in my seat and decided to try. Our dinners came soon after the wine and we made short work of it. Little by little the din of the room slipped away and I found myself looking from his eyes to his hands.

 

When he practices a new song on guitar he watches his fingers, moving them gently, yet deliberately across the fret. Usually the girls are in bed and I am curled up on the couch. I love being able to watch him when he isn’t looking. It takes me back to Williamstown in July of ’99. That summer his forehead was sun kissed and he smelled like clover. I’d press my hands on his temples and kiss his forehead, running my lips back and forth. When he looks up we smile at each other, in our twenties and flirting again, but the years since then still present. Sometimes he’ll grin and put a finger on the right side of my mouth, “Your fang is caught,” a reference to a tooth that catches on my lip sometimes. No one’s ever noticed that about me and I still get a fluttery feeling when he mentions it.

 

“Are you ready?” he asks. I nod and we make our way from the restaurant. “What next?” he asks. I bite my lip, suddenly realizing how much I want to be with him. These times when I am not actively grading my performance as a mom, not feeling conflicted about a checker board schedule are so few and far between. Desire blooms, and I am reminded that beneath the wrinkles of my forties and the layers of my exhaustion, I am still inside.

 

“What about shooting pool?” I ask. He looks at me grinning. We both know that leaning over a pool table with a cue in my hand is one of the only things that lifts away everything but the next set up—I go from pursed lip, tight ass to smiling, smart ass in one shot.

 

I watched him chalk the cue, his shirt cuffs poking out from beneath the sleeves of his sweater. Half my mind considering the table and how the break may go, the other half realizing that sometimes you have to follow your instinct, I let my shoulders slip.

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Forget that the combo shot may be a scratch, blow off the fact that you may make a fool of yourself, sometimes the ball sinks, or if you’re lucky, the flutters come back.

 

The tricks in my head of thinking there are have-tos more important than I love yous can get the best of me. I think maybe it’s that I always thought that it was supposed to come easy. If it’s true love, if it’s a strong marriage, if you’re a good enough person then it just comes. Turns out it’s more of a matter of being able to see your shot and trusting that your eye and your gut can get you to the sweet spot.

Leave it all on the Field

Posted on February 16, 2015

Yesterday I was in a frenzy to get the house clean, the girls ready, and our gear set for a business trip in the city. The girls were remarkably chill, abandoning their tendency toward tears or anxiety about my leaving. Still, it was nerve-wracking, the ever-present, “Will I be good enough?” rattling around in my head.

The strangest thing happened, each time I thought there would be an obstacle—the weather, running late, the weather, texts of a tummy bug at home, the weather—the obstacle didn’t triumph.

Three minutes to spare for the train.

An extra pair of gloves.

A text that everyone went to sleep.

A warm bench seat and a wide-screen playing the SNL 40th show.

This morning my nerves were operating at maximum strength, which they always do when it comes to public speaking. I think that the surge of adrenaline, the shaky throat, the hyper-foot tapping makes me stronger, not in the moment, but as I piece together words and moments of eye contact, I make ground. My standard line is—if you aren’t a little nervous, then why do it?

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I had my trusty cough drop with the little pep talk bits on the wrapper, my notes, such as they were scribbled, and my dear colleague Paul Cummings from Chazen Companies next to me. Beyond Paul were four other men that I’ve worked with for several years on our Newcomb projects. We were in it together, but when one passed a note that said, “Over one hundred” I blanched.

The things that run through my head are random and potent—the girls, my company, do I have something in my teeth, can they see that my lip is twitching, the campaigns I worked on for my parents growing up, how badly I want to do right by my clients and my family. I realize that I am gushing and writing this on a high, but today was a good day and the culmination of years of work. It is thanks to hard work, friendship, professional alliances, family, and maybe just a little bit of love from the universe.

 

AssociationOfTowns

 

 

For all the times I’ve called you a dog, Monday, today you were alright.

 

Our standing room only session on Branding & Placemaking at the New York Association of Towns Conference. The video that was shown as a part of the seminar can be seen here.

 

Why is Self-Care so Hard?

Posted on February 10, 2015

Yesterday was the kind of day that triggers my need for time, or more sinister, ignites my sense that I don’t ever get any time. It was a snow day. The marriage of work and home becomes brittle on snow days, as the things I needed to do for work, the people who I had to talk to still blink at me from my calendar, while the girls’ faces glow from the sensation of getting away with something and the day suddenly having new possibilities; I resent both, which nearly suffocates me with guilt.

If I can stay ahead of things I keep panic at bay, which is why after the pre-dawn alert from school I considered things to do. I plotted chores for the girls between snow day fun—unload the dishwasher, have pancakes from scratch, play a video game, check the cat litter, build sledding hills, color at the table. Meanwhile my plan was to dust and oil shelves, clean windows, draft emails, sweep the floors, clean the fridge, do a set of sit ups and push ups. Smack in the middle of the day there was also a dentist appointment. This could have been a huge snafu for the foot of fresh snow on top of the 17″ that had fallen a few days ago, all the while more snow was falling, but it wasn’t.

The dentist appointment was a huge triumph of “They aren’t taking new patients until August” shifting to “They have an unexpected opening on Monday.” The snow day meant that Briar wouldn’t be marked as an early dismissal and I wouldn’t have my work day fractured. The girls were wonderful and easy about trekking through the snow and they were characteristically charming and delighted the staff in the office.

By dinner time we’d had a rowdy family sledding extravaganza, complete with one run with Beso in my lap. I was feeling great, and yet there is still something that nips at me. Last night before heading to bed I launched a tweet:

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I don’t understand how after a day when I truly conquered the demons of feeling like I’m not good, productive, or loving enough, I still ended up in the mirror thinking that I was coming up short. It isn’t specifically about body, nor is it about marriage, or my work, or about parenting, it’s me. I have to believe that the judging and the seismic shifts in how I perceive myself are rooted in the disregard I have for actively cultivating a sense of peace beyond my role as a wife, mother, business owner, or citizen.

I asked people on Facebook the other day what they considered the hardest part about self-care. The answers came fast.

Being forgiving to myself.

Letting go of the guilt and doubt.

Prioritizing the time.

Letting go of fears and worry.

Taking the time and mental space for self-reflection.

Not feeling guilty about it (because there are a million other things to do).

Hearing what my heart wants above the noise of everyday life.

Actively looking for good that’s there somewhere, no matter how bad it gets.

These comments came from men and women, people with kids and people without, people who comment on all my stuff, and people I never knew were listening. There were different interpretations to the questions. I was blown away. I wasn’t alone, we aren’t alone.

 

Not feeling guilty about blocking out those that are toxic to your life, even when they “belong” in your life.

Letting go of past wrongs.

All of the other hearts and well-being I am trusted with caring for.

Prioritization is hardest for me, I think. And then I logically know it’s important, but then I feel guilt for doing it.

Making the time to take care of yourself and making it a priority above other seemingly more important things. Easier said than done, right?

Finding where the line exists between true conditional love, and simply giving everything away.

Making the time. Remembering to do that, because it’s important.

Knowing what I want.

Feeling like I am putting the needs of my family behind mine.

I began to wonder how we get to this place that is so far from childhood, wholly disconnected from our most basic needs—forgetting to eat, denying ourselves food, shoveling food in to fill a void that is nowhere near our stomach, or ignoring the flutters of desire to play or rest. When did a workout become an extra? How does what we say to ourselves mutate from, “I’m awesome” to “I’m an idiot”? How is it that Finley recognizes the range of emotions without judging beyond placing happy at the forefront? Why are we ashamed of wanting to be happy or of what makes us happy?

FinFaces

 

I watched the red notifications keep coming.

My mom’s quote, “There is no room for bullshit in my soul” is a good first filter.

It’s hard not to feel guilty for putting yourself first. But, as a mom of 4 I find that when I am well it trickles down quickly.

Feeling like I too deserve a break. Like if I want to stop and read, or take a long bath when I have laundry and dishes and work to do that should be okay.

Waiting until the pain of the status quo is bad enough to override the fear of the unknown.

Putting myself on the top of my list. I know I should, I really, really, do, but knowing it and doing it are two different things.

Clearing away the noise – from so many sources – telling me how I should think & feel. Staying calm, quiet long enough to hear what my heart actually wants & needs.

Admission of what that “is”. It’s like when someone asks you ” what do you really want to do?” How can you know what that is when all you have ever done is work on making sure everyone else is happy and the job is done? It almost does not seem like a fair question.

What does that even look like? I can’t make a move for myself without feeling like a teenager sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night. And then I always feel guilty and rushed, the noise of everyday responsibilities & mommy duties buzzing in my ear until I return to them.

 

I still don’t have answers, sitting here needing to pee and not getting up to do so. I knew I needed to get these words out, if just to be able to revisit them at some point for a gentle, “See, Manda, it’s ok. Everyone needs time.”

I let Sean take the girls to the bus stop this morning so that I could hang back and do a few push-ups. The burn in my arms centered me, reminding me of my strength and taking my thoughts inward, away from external judgement and quieting my internal judgement.

I am realizing that an aspect of growing up has been leaving the fear of monsters under the bed behind, only to have the monsters in my head keep my scared. I’m ready run toward instinct, even if it’s scary and even if it feels counter-intuitive. It’s still there, I just need to make it across the room.

 

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What do you say, you want to come with me?

 

The Real Deal

Posted on February 9, 2015

Several years ago a dear friend of mine from the early blogging days invited me to attend an intimate event hosted by MORE magazine. It involved a train ride to the city, a couple of nights in a hotel, and things like make-overs, head shots and peeking in the magazine’s photoshoot closet. It was unlike anything I’d ever done before and I am not ashamed to say that I loved every minute of it.

One thing that was a little odd for me is that in the realm of bloggers who get invited to be pampered and wooed, I don’t belong. I know big names, I get read by some of the most popular bloggers, but I am off the radar of the brands. This is all to say that I was a tiny bit intimidated by the women that I’d be seeing. What would I say when they asked, “What’s your blog?” It would be one thing if I still called my blog “The Wink,” but it’s my name.

“Amandamagee.com,” I’d say.

Blank stares.

“Never heard of it. Um, you.” <—– didn’t happen, except for the fantastically acted scenario that I played in my head on the train as I alternated between euphoric anticipation and desperate anxiety.

It was all for naught. The women at the MORE offices were kind and bubbly. Amy, my host, hugged me warmly and never made me feel like I was anything less than a beloved voice worthy of the company I was in.

Where is all this going? you may be wondering.

It was that trip when I finally met Jessica Chenevey Shyba of Momma’s Gone City. She had the tiniest baby bump and her smile was unwavering and utterly sincere. I’d read her blog which seemed to be chock full of gorgeous fashion, beautiful photos, and written by an impossibly beautiful mom. Hardly seemed real it was all so wonderful.

“Hi, I’m Jessica,” she said. I smiled shyly, “Amanda, I’m Amanda. I write at Amandamagee.com.” I felt horribly awkward and silly. We talked for several minutes during which time she said that she was so glad to meet me and loved my writing. I thanked her and beamed. I didn’t doubt myself for the rest of the time, even though Jessica ended up having to leave early. The small exchange we had stayed with me.

I have met so many people that I’ve discovered online and I can say that only some of them are who and what you’d expect. Jessica is everything she portrays in her writing and photographs—a tender, generous, and light-filled person. Knowing that changes how you feel as you read an author; it matters when you know that they are kind.

When Jessica began sharing her pictures of #TheoandBeau it made perfect sense. The peacefulness and love that radiate from those nap time snaps are exactly the sort of thing you feel around Jessica. It’s hard to believe, I’m sure. The fact remains, Jessica is the real deal.

Did you happen to see the word mudita floating around the internet the other day?

  1. Mudita is a pure joy unadulterated by self interest. When we can be happy of the joys other beings feel, it is called mudita; the opposite word is envy or schadenfreude.

I have this emotion related to the launch of her book Naptime with Theo and Beau. I am sure there is some sort of scientific explanation for what happens to us chemically as we look at these images of a rescued pup and his person, for me it is like a breathing in and out the purest, spring morning air. These two are sunshine and bedhead and I wish every one of us could spend a little bit of time each day soaking in the undeniable love between these two.

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You can order your copy of the book, and a few to give as gifts, from this link. I am not writing this in exchange for anything, I genuinely believe you’ll love this sweet book filled with beautiful photos that remind you that at the end of the day (and the beginning and the middle) what matters most is having someone who you love and who loves you back without condition. And naps, naps are good.

 

Here are a couple of the images that helped lead to #TheoandBeau from Jessica’s Instagram account. Enjoy!

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