Let’s go take a hike in the heat

weedsThe sun just rose, but the heat is already too much. My body feels heavy and weak as I trudge up another hill.

My boy is dragging his feet along the ground kicking up clouds of dust. His sister is making exaggerated coughing noises.

This hike is taking forever.

We come to the part of the trail blocked by a fallen tree.

Halfway marker.

I almost cry in exhaustion. There is no way I can climb over. My hip hurts.

I take the long way around, leaving the monsters to climb it without me.

Alone, I try to appreciate the beauty of the trail. I love the green trees, but I mostly see dead wildflowers, brown grass and sharp weeds. It is a million degrees out, and the air smells of fire. A few quail scurry out and I jump. Why did I read about how bad rattlesnakes are this season? Please don’t let me see one.

My mind starts doing what it does best, making lists and pointing out mistakes. I need to do dishes, laundry, clean the guinea pig cage, run to the grocery store and vacuum. Kids need new shoes. I should stop eating sugar. I need to start packing for camping. I think my mom is mad at me.

“Do you need help?” I hear my boy say.

“I don’t want to tear my dress,” comes the reply.

Of course they are going to start fighting. I stop and peek through the trees at them, annoyed and angry. I lecture them in my head. Do not make me hike back to help you both. It is far too hot and I’m in no mood. I’m serious. Figure it out.

My boy is dressed in white skinny jeans, wand shoved down the back, wearing my brother’s old ratty brown sweatshirt. It almost fits him now. His fedora is slipping off his head as he attempts to lift his sister onto the tree. It is not working.

My girl, all legs, is flaying about in a fit of giggles. She is wearing a fancy overpriced dress her grandmother bought for her birthday, ruffled socks and her nicest shoes. Dressed for a morning hike in the woods. Her matted hair is covering her face.

Soon the laughter is replaced with frustrated sighs and grunts. I start walking back toward them, watching them through the trees, rehearsing all the threats and punishments I’m about to unleash on them. It is so hot I swear my sweat is turning to steam.

I watch as they start whispering, heads close. My boy bends down, folds his hands together in front of him and holds them out to his sister. She steps on and lets him push her upwards. Careful to not tear her dress on the sharp bark, she climbs over the top. He climbs up next to her.

Reaching out, he takes his sister’s hand and they interlace fingers.

They stand for a moment, brother and sister, hand in hand, looking at the trail ahead.

I stop.

I’m always braced for conflict, but never the tender moments.

I take in every detail. My girl is almost as tall as her brother now. She tilts her head toward him, nuzzling his shoulder. Their fingers stay connected, strong and tight. They both look ahead in silence. My boy adjusts his hat with his other hand and then turns to smile at this sister. They let their hands drop and he pushes her away with both hands.

“Don’t make me fall,” she screams at him.

He laughs and jumps down landing hard. She follows. I hurry to catch up with them.

“That’s my wand!” my girl yells with hands on her hips. “I found it first!”

“You dropped it and it is not a wand,” my boy says launching at his sister. “It’s my sword!”

He pokes it at her and takes off running. She looks around for a new stick, finds one and is off. I can hear them both laughing. I follow.

Exposed by my children for what I really look like

Flipping through the pictures on my phone, I see it.

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My first reaction is shock. Who took this hideous picture of me?

Self-loathing and disgust swell up and threaten to bring me to tears.

Just as I am about to hit delete, my boy walks in the room.

“Do you know anything about this picture?” I ask him.

I turn the screen so he can see it. He smiles huge.

“I took that of you in Tahoe,” he says. “You looked so beautiful laying there. I couldn’t help it mom.”

“You need to ask me before using my phone to take pictures,” I say.

“I know,” he says. “But mom, seriously, look how pretty you look?”

I look at the picture again and try to see what he sees.

My daughter walks over and takes a look.

“That could be a postcard mom,” she says smiling. “You’re so beautiful. I love it.”

I take a deep breath.

This is exactly what I needed.

My default mode is to see and focus on the flaws and imperfections. I’m starting to see a bit more.

I still see my dimply, fat thighs.

I also see a mom collapsed on the shore that just explored the lake for hours with her children.

I still see chubby arms.

I also see the arms of a mom that just helped her kids across the rocks and hot sand so their feet wouldn’t hurt.

I still see a fat woman wearing a black dress bathing suit to try to hide her weight issue.

I also see an adventurous mom that loves her children something fierce.

Like many women, I have struggled with my weight most of my life. It’s not something that will ever go away for me. I don’t have a naturally slim body. Never have.

Right now I’m the heaviest I’ve been in 10 years. Yet…

I have not let my weight stop me this time. I am wearing tank tops, sundresses and bathing suits in public. I’m running around playing with my kids this summer and I sometimes even feel attractive.

Yes. You heard me.

“I feel pretty. Oh so pretty. I feel pretty, and witty and bright.”

Well…not exactly. But something like that.

Is it because I’m getting older? Is it that I have more to worry about than just how I look? Or maybe it’s because my kids look at me with such adoring eyes.

Really, it doesn’t matter.

I don’t hate my body anymore.

That’s huge for me to admit and hard to even wrap my mind around.

I’m not giving up on exercising and getting healthy. Those are things I will continue to strive for because I want to be around awhile.

Right now though, I just want to love my body where it is. I want it to be OK to see myself the way my kids do.

Thank you kids.

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* Here is another “secret” picture the kids took of me on our day trip to the beach.

Summertime madness

The theme was people making 180-degree turns in their lives and I was completely taken with this particular story about the author of “The Education of Little Tree.” I was vaguely aware that I was no longer in my car and that I was walking into the grocery store.

I’ve never left headphones on in public, but my time to listen is so limited that I decide to shop and indulge in “This American Life” at the same time. I pull out my grocery list and half shop, half listen. I shuffle around the store with my head down, not making eye contact, grabbing what I need.

At some point I look up to see a teenage boy doing the same thing.

Then I start looking around.

The store is really crowded. The aisles are jammed with carts and people. United in our efforts to get food, yet so separate and isolated.

Our own little islands.

There is a line at the registers. I pick the shortest and file in. A mom in front of me is loading her food onto the counter as her little boy, maybe 2, starts wailing and thrashing on the floor.

Taking off my headphones, I try to get his attention. His eyes are shut tight in the way little ones get when they are truly frustrated and upset.

“Moooommmmyyyy” he is wailing. “Mooommmmmmmm!”

She doesn’t look down. I recognize that look on her face. She is just trying to get through the day.

The boy finally looks my way and I smile as big as I can.

“Hi,” I whisper. “Are you OK?”

He blinks at me from behind his moms’ legs and stops crying. He clearly is not sure what to make of me.

“I’m so done with this store too,” I say.

He blinks again.

“It’s too loud in here, huh? Good thing you’re almost done.”

This time he smiles a little and then moves more behind his mom.

They finish paying and his mom lifts him into the cart. He gives me a little wave as they disappear out the door.

“Hi,” I say to the cashier.

She looks flustered. The lines are long and it has clearly been a tough morning.

“Crazy today, huh?” I say.

“Yep,” she replies without looking up.

I notice how beautiful her hair is and how a few little curls have escaped and circle around her face. A bright blue star tattoo with an outline of red is on her collarbone, just barely visible.

“Beautiful tattoo,” I say.

She stops moving and looks at me for the first time.

“Thanks, it’s in remembrance of my father who died of cancer last year,” she says with a big smile. “He had one just like it.”

She continues to scan my groceries and we chat a bit more. The barrier between us falls a little and it makes me happy.

“Have a great day,” she says as I walk away.

“You too. Thanks for helping me today.”

***

This is the third week of summer and the first chance I’ve had to sit and write.

Waves of emotions, memories and movement are sweeping me forward each day.

Unorganized and floundering, I’m often in survival mode.

I’m feeling so much responsibility and pressure to provide experiences and joy for my children.

I’m missing it.

I’m not taking the moments to reflect.

There is no space to breathe.

My girl is seven now and she is swimming underwater.

My boy is devouring books and experiencing the frustration of learning an instrument.

My summer daughter is here and she’s schooling me on all things teen girls love, including reading and seeing “A Fault in Our Stars.”

It’s all so much and it’s just beginning.

We have lots on the horizon; camping, hiking, day trips, rafting and fun with friends.

My tendency is to always be looking forward and planning or looking inward and analyzing.

Yet, the schedule and rhythm I planned is not working and I’m forgetting things. I’ve let people down and I’ve been feeding my kids crap.

“Live in the moment.”

I’ve always hated that phrase because it’s so elusive to me. Children can do this because they are not responsible. They don’t have to figure in things like nutrition, sleep and finances. They can simply move from one experience to another.

I can’t.

The madness of summer is here and it’s time I surrender if I plan to survive.

Summer will continue to move forward. I can either let go and enjoy the ride, or stay stuck in regret and chaos.

The power is in my hands.

Something is happening here

All the windows were rolled down and the sunroof open. My hair whipped about my face and I was smiling.

Really smiling.

The kids and I had a fantastic morning highlighted by a delicious breakfast, lots of book talk and my daughter squeezing “I Love You” into my hand in the secret way my grandma taught me when I was her age.

As I sang and danced alone on the drive back home, I could sense something different about me. Something is happening.

My fears about my depression deepening again seem to be subsiding and I’m feeling hopeful.

Summer is coming.

I painted a picture of the sun and decided to turn it into a Summer Countdown.

Each ray of sun gets us closer to the freedom of lazy mornings, swimming with friends and staying up late.

Each ray of sun stands for another day that I’m working on myself and learning how to undo years of twisted and negative thinking.

Each ray of sun is a possibility and a chance to make things better.

Summer is coming and I’m no longer afraid.

I’m excited.

Bring it on!

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Summer’s coming

I discovered a love of camping last year. This isn’t something I did growing up, but I wanted to give it to my children.

There is something magical about building a little homestead away from home. Finding the right spot to put the tent. Smoothing out the tarp, unrolling and positioning the tent and driving in the stakes. Listening to the kids run wild and find treasures. Making our little beds all cozy and warm. Gathering wood.

We hike, swim, eat and play. There are chores, but they seem so less mundane in this other world. Watching my boy start the fire. Smelling the sweet smoke and feeling it sting my eyes, as it seems to follow me wherever I sit. Marshmallow goo stuck on both of their faces they run around screaming until the woods embrace them and they find their calm again.

The boy whittles wood. The girl makes fairy houses and crowns.

We are alive. Connected.

Cuddling together in the tent the giggles start. They reposition themselves over and over and we laugh until our sides hurt. Then I read our special goodnight book, “Step Into the Night” by Joanne Ryder. We listen for the sounds outside the tent. Crickets. Water. People talking. Laughter. Campfires. Life.

I’ve never “really camped,” I’ve been told. Never having backpacked into the middle of nowhere. Never having felt the isolation and wonder of being alone in the woods. Someday. Maybe.

We always camp with and near another people. We can usually see our car. It’s not perfect.

Dad stays home. He hates camping and no amount of being sad and longing will change that. So we go without him. It makes me heartbroken that he will miss out on this time with our kids. It often brings me to tears, but it’s not changing. So, I except what is and we go without.

I get VERY grouchy during the packing. Preparing the meals, gathering all the clothes, camping gear and packing the car. It turns me into a crazy person running around yelling at the kids that WE WILL NOT GO IF YOU DON’T HELP. I stress about all the details and feel like canceling about 1,200 times during this part.

Once the car is packed and we get in, I can breathe. Calmness washes over me. We take our “on the road again” picture. We are a team. We talk, laugh and sing. Looking forward. Moving forward.

As I start planning our summer camping trips I can’t help but be excited. Leaving the daily school commute behind. Saying goodbye to just seeing my kids before and after school. No more rushing to karate class and yelling at them to get up in the morning.

I will yell. Get stressed out. Cry that they are driving me crazy. But I would not change our summers together for anything. They are not perfect, but they are ours. Only 61 days until school is out. I can’t wait.

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