Discovering Gratitude

Posted on July 16, 2015

The coffee canister has been empty for days. As important as coffee is to us in the morning, neither of us has made an attempt to refill the container. Over the winter I inadvertently bought a bag of decaf; it’s been in the freezer ever since. Tuesday we had a big meeting and I sprinkled enough from the decaf bag to make two cups of coffee.

Sean looked at the coffee maker with confusion, not understanding why the machine chirped it was done so soon. “I only had enough for two cups,” I said to explain. He nodded and went about pouring a cup. It felt less cruel to let him drink decaf believing it was loaded, than to ruin the cup by revealing its true nature.

This morning I slipped downstairs before five knowing there was finally coffee to brew. I kept the lights off and made a pot before feeding the cats. As the machine spat and hissed and the cats ate contentedly, I walked outside in my tank top and underwear.

A few days earlier Sean had said to me, “There is a moment in the morning, I can feel you beside me, the house is quiet and the girls are asleep—safe and happy. All I am aware of is you, your hand on my arm or the way you kiss my forehead and none of the worries are there yet. I feel the gift of a new day, the potential and hope. It doesn’t last long before there are deadlines and frustration, hurt feelings and shit that I have to do, but Manda, these kind of moments, even if they last for a second, they let me know that it is possible. Life can be like that.”

I’d been quiet in response. Our life has been a hornet’s nest of unrealistic commitments and expectations, the odds of meeting them all we’ve defied and handled with endurance and willful disregard for whether we were too ambitious. I don’t mean the last few months, I mean the entirety of our marriage. Lately we’re questioning if we need to make a change.

My mom called me the other day, we were literally on the phone less than 45 seconds. She called to say, “I worry that the two of you never stop to celebrate. You work and work and work, but I don’t think in those moments when you achieve one of your audacious undertakings that you stop to savor what you’ve done. It is my only criticism of you two and I make it with all the love in the world, and I just beg you to hear me. Ice cream, champagne, whatever, just pause for four minutes and soak in what you’ve accomplished.”

I promised that we would. We didn’t, or, maybe more optimistically I can say, “We haven’t yet.”

Standing on the porch in my underwear, no glasses, the world was blurry and I felt a moment of hesitation before I let the morning air envelope me. It was like a spiritual cocktail of the best of every summer and autumn I’ve ever had. The air was slightly damp with a hint of the heat that will come later. Birds looped in circles above me between trees, a sprinkler ratcheted into its cycle, corn stalks undulated to my left and cucumber blossoms glowed to the right.

I walked to the edge of the porch. I curled my toes over like a diving board and stood up straight, air filling my lungs as I opened my arms. A single bird flew from one pine to another and the finches nesting in the bird house chirped. I felt as tall as the trees, I kept my mind still as I marveled at how the stress and worry that had made me feel small and brittle lifted.

I stood like that for a while, adding in a few stretches before taking a spin through the garden. I mustered every Pinterest and self-care refrain that I could think of, thanking the plants for growing, the stones for giving me support, and myself for getting out of bed to take this time.

I have no field guide for happiness or stress reduction, but this morning following an instinct to allow gratitude to course through me in whatever form I could find felt right The cats didn’t barge in, the allure of Twitter and Instagram did not call, the girls stayed asleep. It was as if the morning were sacred, everyone including myself allowing this emotional cleansing to happen.

I wish that for you.

—an evening walk

—a weekend getaway

—kneading bread dough

It doesn’t have to be perfect or planned, it doesn’t have to last for an hour; it just needs to speak to you. We genuinely need it.

 

 

 

Is It Harder Being an Adult Than a Kid?

Posted on July 1, 2015

“So, is it hard? Do you want to cry when you put us on the bus?” her face was titled against the car window toward where the bus would eventually emerge. Her tone was mostly kidding, with the slightest, wistful undercurrent.

B

I stared at her profile. Her pert nose exactly as it looked the day she was born more than 11 years earlier. Round cheeks and curly lashes framing eyes that are a mirror image of her dad’s. I’d braided her hair after a bath the night before. She had said to me in the bathroom that morning, “Should I keep my hair in the braid or take it out?”

 

“Keep it in, I think it looks beautiful with those little wisps coming loose. Or take it out, whichever you want. I know it’ll be out before you get home.”

 

She dramatically pulled the band out of her hair and said, “There, it’s done now. Out,” and she winked as she flipped her hair and strutted away dramatically. These small moments quiver with the energy of this time between child and teenager.

 

I smiled. Behind her the very trees I’d peered through as I waited for the yellow bus to come as I sat watching the sickening updates of Newtown on my phone.

 

Was it hard to watch them leave on the bus? Yes! No! The push and pull of older kids is dizzying, one minute I fear they’ll die if I let go, the next I fear I’ll snap if I don’t get a minute. Helicoptering, free-range, I’m neither really; I’m making it up as I go, writing the plan in pencil, not pen

 

“You know what Briar, being an adult is hard. I cry a lot, but I don’t mind. I won’t lie, there are a lot of things that are hard—figuring out money stuff, dealing with unreasonable people at work, cleaning the house. The thing is, all that stuff is also kind of lucky. I have money, a job, and a house. The thing about the bus and growing up and getting more independent, those are all things that are supposed to happen. It’s my job to make sure you feel ok walking up on that bus or taking a test. So is it hard? Yes. Is it worth it? Totally.”

 

“Do you get scared though? Is being an adult more scary than being a kid or is it just the same?” she was running her fingers along the blue embroidery thread on her white shorts. She wasn’t meeting my eye and I knew it meant she was nervous about my answer.

 

For all the advances of technology and articles saying that kids are growing up faster, the truth is that no matter how big you get or how tech savvy you may be, there are still things that make your face go pale, your palms sweat, and your throat catches. Some days it feels easy to parent with honesty and heart, other days I want to curl up and have a grown up come and tell me it’s going to be ok.

 

I bit the inside of my mouth. “I’m honestly not sure. When I was a kid I didn’t worry quite as much as I do now about money. I didn’t have kids to want to protect, but I did worry all the time that something would happen to my mom.”

 

Her head whipped around, “You did? You worried about your mom?”

I forget that she doesn’t know my entire history. She doesn’t know about my preoccupation with people dying. She doesn’t know that when I was in fifth grade, like she was this year, not a single girl in my class would talk to me. She doesn’t know that I’d walk three blocks out of my way on the route to school to avoid dogs.

 

“I worried about a lot.” The words hung in the air. I still worry about a lot, sometimes assuming I’m the only one with worries. I looked back at her. “Worrying is a part of living, for some of us more than others. I don’t think one time in our life is easier or harder than another. They’re all different.”

 

She considered this. “So would you be a kid again if you could? Or are you happier as an adult?” Her face was calm, unclouded by worry.

 

“That, sweet girl, is a tricky question. If I went back to being a kid then I wouldn’t have you and that would be a serious loss. I also wouldn’t understand how strong I am, that’s something I’ve only learned in the last few years. Maybe the secret I should tell you is that there is still a lot of kid inside of me. That’s why I balance on curbs and play at the playground with you guys. I also visit in my mind the best times from my childhood.”

 

“So then your answer is kind of that life is hard but you love all the parts?” she asked.

 

I thought about it and nodded. “Enjoy it, sweets, that’s the one tool we always have—the power to enjoy who and where we are.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be One More

Posted on June 23, 2015

The other day I was sitting in our backyard soaking up the sound of the leaves  in the wind, the rustle like water to my ears. Blades of grass danced with beads of water from the soaking I’d given them. I looked at the yellow blossoms popping along the cucumber vines, the soil rich with coffee grounds and molasses water. Pink chive blossoms bobbed in the wind from their perch in the whiskey barrel, along with the cilantro and mint I’d planted.

Then something caught my eye, a little blossom that I hadn’t planted, a volunteer, my mom would call it. It had sprung from the crevices in the stone wall—never planted, never intentionally watered, and having to strain for its place in the sun. I crept toward it, utterly mystified that it could grow there in the damp, dark circle of the walk.

 

 

 

 

Solitary

I snapped pictures from every angle, trying to capture the spirit I saw in the delicate blossom, the improbable strength, and the parallels I saw in the voices rising after the murders in Charleston. It was my way to try to add a voice without overstepping, assuming, or forcing my way in. It didn’t really work.

I kept thinking about what I’d seen in my yard and what was happening in the world. I shared stories I read online and talked with Briar one afternoon.

“Did you hear about the shooting?” I asked. She often tells me that they watch CNN Student News at school.

“You mean the convicts? The men who escaped?” She asked earnestly and nodded.

“No, I mean the nine people who were shot and killed inside a church.”

“In a church? Why?” she asked horrified.

“Because they were black.”

She was silent.

“A twenty-one year old man pretended to pray with them and then he killed them.”

We talked for some time about how to deal with hate. She said maybe all the people who hate could be killed or locked up. I explained that killing a person doesn’t kill an idea, that the hate still lives. As we continued talking she latched on to the idea of it having been done by a 21-year-old more than she did to it having been done to black people.

Two days later I asked if they’d talked about it at school. “Nope, just the convicts.” I winced. They surely talked about ISIS, as she’d recounted discussing the evil of foreign terrorists. That wasn’t too heavy. A music teacher taught them that the notes in music, EGBDF, are governed by the God on top and the Devil on bottom. Religion wasn’t too loaded to talk about.

Nine people dead from hate? Not a word.

I waited as I weighed my own burden of responsibility in the dense knot of hate in our country. Little things, teaching my youngest that the movie isn’t the brown-skinned Annie, it’s the new Annie or it’s the Annie with Quvenzhané Wallis. There are countless things on a daily basis, from wise cracks to stereotypes that go uncorrected by grown ups. Small things add up to very big things.

Then a second flower appeared. The girls gasped. “Mom, can you believe it? There is a white flower now too. It’s growing right there with the purple one.” We held our fingers under each blossom, gently lifting them up and admiring them. “I can’t believe they just did that, they just did it from nothing. Did you even water them?”

“You know what? I didn’t water them, but I’m sure going to start.”

Two

Briar swiped a leaf from the path. “Look, mom, it’s a heart,” as she held it over the two flowers. It began to look like a whole lot more than a single volunteer beating the odds. It was starting to look like a makeshift garden.

Love

I don’t think that what we have ahead of us is easy or certain, but I think it’s worthwhile. My start is learning*, listening** to others even as it makes me uncomfortable or feel guilty. I’m going to do it along with my girls, because they are my garden. I am feeding them and showing them how to lean into the light as well as how to help others have their share of the sun.

 

 

* You can follow the hashtag #CharlestonSyllabus on Twitter to begin learning.

** Two people who I am listening to are A’Driane Nieves and Kelly Wickham.

Why Don’t They…

Posted on June 15, 2015

Lately we’ve been playing more in the backyard. Sean will toss a lacrosse ball with the big girls while I kick a supermarket bouncy ball with Fin. Inevitably our lines will cross and Sean will kick the ball as I field a lacrosse ball. The girls giggle and cheer as we zig and zag.

Most of the time it ends up being Sean alone with either Avery or Briar. The other night it was B who stayed out with Sean. I was about to go in, but as the littler girls darted by, I decided to stay for minute.

Sean called to her to pass the ball. She wound up and grunted as she tried to throw the football.

“Nice job, keep it up,” he called to her.

Back and forth they went.

“Dad, why don’t they make a different football for girls? The lacrosse sticks are different. Softballs are different than baseballs. It’s weird, why do that, make certain things about boy vs girl and others not.”

I watched him consider her question, the reality of the differences between how boys and girls are treated, marketed to, and the expectations and stereotypes they each endure was dawning on parent and child, each at different paces and for different reasons.

Boy/girl.

She lifted her foot and launched herself forward as she loosed a perfect spiral from her tiny hand.

IMG_0626
“All I know is you have to speak up and you have to try. Nothing can happen if you are silent or if you give up, or if you never even start,” he said as he caught and returned the ball.

When it comes down to it, that answer applies to most things, regardless of gender or age.

A New Gauge

Posted on June 7, 2015

Saturday we took the girls to a day-long concert. I imagined that it would be an amazing, magical experience, and it was. The only thing is that the magic I’d been chasing didn’t happen until the absolute end of the day. The girls were over the moon at the prospect of seeing Sawyer Fredericks. Sean and I assumed he’d kick off the concert, not close it out.

 

It was a warm day and while I’d prepared us with granola bars and cash, there was so very much for which I had not. The volume, the smoking, the exhibitionists, the rule-breaking by others that I told the girls still wasn’t ok for them to do. Mostly they got it and soaked in all the good.

SPAC

The thing is that the span between 2 and 8:30 is a long time. Finley and I played tic tac toe through the All Time Low set, we ran races during B.O.B. I held Fin up and danced with Briar and tweeted effusively during the wondrous Echosmith set.

Lovely ushers, most of a grandmotherly age, offered us ear plugs, which I accepted eagerly and wore unapologetically. There were moments of sniping, largely born from how hard it was to hear anything and the general fatigue that set in at about hour 5.

I allowed myself a few moments of fretting.

This isn’t what I thought.

Did I do the wrong thing to bring us all here?

Spending all of this money?

I stopped myself. The girls have loved The Voice, they sing non-stop, Sawyer Fredericks is a sweet, local kid. This was a good thing, but in this fast-paced, sharing stories life, I sometimes forget that it’s the blanket of a night’s sleep or a week’s time that takes away the pin prick of sweat in armpits and the temper flares that happen in real-time. The entire body of memories that I have are worn with forgiveness, like sea glass in surf. They become a montage of the good, peppered with inconsequential wisps of the hard.

SPACMontage_

 

 

I’m not sure what possessed me to think that the girls expect a photoshopped reality, that their vision of me is a Pinterest album. They see me in the morning, bags under my eyes, or at night, snapping in frustration, or in the harried moments in the afternoon when I hiss about the impossibility of it all.

This morning we were all slow to wake. I dashed out to the store to to get ahead of the week. The pancakes I’d promised them came closer to lunch than breakfast. Later, when they blazed into the kitchen and asked for snacks, I shooed them back outside and said that I’d bring them something.

I’d been chopping vegetables and cleaning out the crime-scene looking crisper. I looked around drawing a complete blank of what to give them. I shrugged, grabbed two muffin tins and began filling the spaces with snacks. It felt crafty, but as soon as I thought that I imagined pinterest and its sea of snacks that were craftier, prettier, and more inspired than mine.

Amanda Magee, what the hell is wrong with you? The girls don’t expect hand crafted fans and vegetable flowers, just make them a damn snack. 

 

 

Panterest

I smiled at the spread and thought about it in a new way. The memory of last night already softening, my memory far more about the piercing screams that Ave gave between each Sawyer song. I remembered Briar taking video of the performance, her mouth set in a determined line and her lips murmuring, “We are really seeing Sawyer. The Sawyer Fredericks is here. Go Sawyer!” I remembered how Finley felt in my arms during his third song.

“You made it, sweets. You going to let him sing you to sleep?” I asked. She smiled, nodded, and off she went.

 

SleepSweetGirl

Sawyer sang an original song called, “Silent World” after Finley fell asleep. It was a startlingly bold song, biting in condemnation of people living closed off to the realities of our world. A few of the lyrics jumped out at me

It’s a silent world for those who don’t listen.

They don’t shed a tear if their eyes never open.

Sitting in a chilly auditorium with mosquitoes buzzing around, tired kids all around me, I realized that perfect isn’t perfect. Maybe it isn’t even a thing, but if it does exist, maybe it’s a gauge that allows us to recalibrate, judging less, feeling more, and giving ourselves to a different picture than we thought we needed.

That sounds kind of nice, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

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