Its 4:45 am. I am sitting at a pool watching you swim laps with your friends. Last night I said, “Its your birthday….Its OK if you skip practice.” But you turned to me with a smile on your face and said, “I love to swim and l love being with my friends…I can’t imagine where else I would be on my birthday.” This says it all kid. You go all in, you joyfully rise to the challenge, you do whatever it takes. You show up and do your work. You attack life.
I am so inspired by you. This is the year you decided you wanted to make it to Zones and then proceeded to put over 650 hours in at the pool to make it. Along the way there were meets that took up your whole weekend, practices so hard that you could barely get out of bed next day, missed sleepovers and parties and homework squeezed in between eating and swimming. But every time I said, “You don’t have to do this…” you looked at me with a smile and said,”But I want to…I don’t want to miss it”
This was the year that you discovered that optimism and positive thinking changes everything. When you felt like a rock star you showed up as a rock star. When we sat in complaint it all fell apart.
This was a blossoming year for you–in so many small and big ways. You brought your A game to interactions with friends, and navigated some tough situations with consideration and kindness. You made some hard choices. You struggled with people who disappointed you but came out finding your way, always with kindness. Even with me. Even when you were angry beyond words, you kept at it until you could say what you wanted to say kindly, standing your ground, searching for words but telling me “I HAVE A RIGHT TO MY FEELINGS”. No matter how badly you wanted to win, you made friends with your competition, joking on the blocks, hugging before a tough race, coming home from each big meet with new buddies to text about sports and movies…and girls.
You are solution oriented. When I have been too tired to see straight, blurry eyed from studying you always have an idea to set things right–whether its cleaning the kitchen or ordering out food or curling up to watch a movie.
When life gets hard or we have a difficult challenge to face, you remind me that life is an adventure, a game to be played with gusto, a gift.
Some people think I am crazy for driving you to these early morning practices but what they don’t know is how much joy I get from watching you laugh on the deck and start the morning by jumping feet first into the deep end. Secret is, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Happy birthday dear Max. I love you so much.
I was looking for my book this evening. I set it down somewhere and it seems I can’t find anything in this newly clean house. One thing I find a lot of are these little orange Nerf gun darts. They live in every nook and cranny of my house and just when I think I have cleaned them all up, there is one more. They are ubiquitous. No matter how much I fuss at Max to pick them up, no matter how much he searches there is always at least one more lurking..
Just like the pillows piled at the end of my bed–the ones that kept my made bed from looking truly neat. Max had moved them in long ago so that he had pillows when he came and climbed into my bed. He he declared himself “too big” enough to climb into bed next to me and share my pillows. And yet, sometimes when nightmares came or his room got too cold he wanted to be near his mama so he insisted on placing a pillow (or two or three) at the foot of my bed–so he would have a home there. I would put them back on his bed but they always found a way back. They were ubiquitous.
Tonight was our last night of summer vacation–School starts back tomorrow. Max will be a 5th grader–his last year of elementary school. It will be our last first day of school at the little neighborhood school around the corner. I suppose then that it was nothing short of perfect timing when at bedtime Max came to me and said, “Mom–I am going to take my pillows back to my room now. I think I am going to sleep all by myself all night this year.” It was as though he was preparing himself, preparing me, for the shifts that will take place this year as he moves from elementary school kid to middle school adolescent.
Changing and growing. The transitions are ongoing, never stopping. I know that one day, I will clean up the last nerf dart and notice that he is no longer shooting them around the house. They will be gone, just like the pillows are now gone from my bed. Just like he will one day be gone from the house, out on his own, a man.
Someone once told me that motherhood is an exercise in never getting used to anything–as soon as something begins to feel normal–or maybe drive you over the top crazy–it shifts. So I smile when I see the darts in the corners. They tell me that Max is here–that he is playing–that he is in a sweet phase of childhood and imagination. No matter how much I want to cling to that sweetness I know it will shift and so I breathe it in now while it is here. These orange darts are my bell calling me to pay attention now while it is here.
Many of my friends have sent children off to college this year. Some friends are sitting with a truly empty nest after watching older children step out on their own. Others are just starting the journey of transitioning their children out–where there were once 3 schedules to juggle there are now 2. I watch these families with teary eyes–knowing how short the years are before Max spreads his wings and I can make my bed as neat as I want and look for books without finding orange foam bits in the corners.
My cousin Jackie told me that when her youngest son moved out of the house, the thing that she missed most was the non-stop sound of a bouncing basketball. She never really noticed how it was the soundtrack to her life as the mother of teenage boys that constant thud-thud-thud. Yet, the sudden absence of it reminded her of what it was like with a house full of boys and no milk left in the fridge. That steady beat of a ball bouncing (in the driveway, in the kitchen, upstairs in his room), it was the soundtrack of love–as clear as a heartbeat.
These transitions are glorious–they are what I want for my son. I want to see him big and strong and independent. I want him to flourish and feel capable of moving out of our little nest. And yet, I pray for me, that I can sit back and watch and marvel as these changes, resisting the temptations to grab hold of his childhood and weep as it passes through my fingers. Instead, these darts tell me to open my eyes NOW and see him as his is NOW. Enjoy these moments while they last–we will never know when he will tire of little boy games. These orange darts remind me to wake up to the sweetness before it shifts and I realize I missed it.
I like to think of myself as a glass half full, optimistic kind of girl. And in many ways that’s right.
But every now and again, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realize how I easily I can get stuck in the “no” position. Perhaps it is because life can sometimes get complicated and whatever is in front of me starts to feel impossible and undoable. It’s easy to get tired in that place and start to think that we are in a survival mode. Suddenly I start to look at everything through that lens. Like a deer caught in the headlights or a warrior fending off an attack, I start to put up a shield, trying to limit, control, keep the chaos to a minimum.
When I am in that space, the answer to most questions suddenly becomes no.
Are you coming north for a visit? (no–can’t afford it)
Are you coming over tonight? (no–I am too tired)
Can we go to the pool? (no–I have chores to do)
Can I have an Italian ice? (no–because I said so)
There are lots of good reasons to say no. Personal safety. Health. Exhaustion. A need for some quiet time. A need to set boundaries. No is a perfectly good answer to lots of questions, especially when it is well thought through. The problem is that I can sometimes, without thinking, start to wield “no” like a shield–an attempt to block out life until I can get a grip. No becomes the default position out of fear. No can be an excuse not to move forward, to embark on adventure or connect in a new way.
And then I wonder why I can sometimes find myself feeling stuck.
Over and over I have learned that the way I create magic in my life is when I thoughtfully and deliberately, open up and say yes. Say yes to impossible things. Say yes to thinks that make no sense but just seem right. Open our heart, open the door, open the house and say welcome–come in, yes, please, do. The best decisions in my life miraculous did not start with an anguished debate but rather unfolded from a simple yes. Without fail, over and over again I learn that simply switching from a no to a yes frame of mind is a key that unlocks a world of magic. Sometimes the best way to shift your entire outlook, your entire heart, your entire mood is to simply say yes.
Especially when the question is something like this:
“Mama…I love her so much. Can we please take her home?”
Saying yes changes everything.
It gives someone hope. It creates the space for love. It opens the doors to miracles.
Welcome Tabitha Tessa Casey-Bolanos. Many adventures await you and your boy.
Standing on the edge of the pool I am blown away by these kids, the ones who swim like lightning, the ones who make it all seem so effortless, and the ones that struggle through and push hard. The ones whose googles fall off and keep going anyway, the ones who shave seconds off their time. I never could do anything like that when I was a child and so their movement, their ease, their courage, their dedication, their endurance seems magical to me and at the end of every event, I want to celebrate them, jump up and down, kiss them on the head and bless them–exclaim to the world that they are a miracle.
Instead, I tell them their time as they climb out of the pool and whisper something like “great swim”, “that rocked”, “great focus”. The quiet encouragement is what they need right then, as they make off to celebrate or lick their wounds or jump up and down and scream their heads off for their teammates. So I tell them their time and sneak in a silent blessing, a quiet alleluia for their growing up, their personal victory.
This swim is something that is theirs alone.
No parent, or teacher, coach or teammate pulled them along or won for them. But man, how they all did yell.
It is gorgeous to watch them, the kids lined up along the deck, screaming and cheering for each other. They hover behind me, their teammates, and they say things like, “wow–best time ever” to the kid who came in last, the one who is improving steadily steadily week after week. Every kid is made to feel a rock star, a prize fighter, a hero in the moment of their struggle. It makes my heart swell to think of all they are learning. To think of how kindness and encouragement flow like water here. To think that this is the real strength training, here at the poolside.
Every personal battle is just one swimmer in a pool–moving as gracefully as she can. Hoping to keep it together, do a little bit better than last time. He is racing against himself. No one can do it for her. No one else will make or break this for him. And yet he knows that the cheers, the yells, the high fives and the hand to pull her out of the pool are what keep her going hard. The team and their love–it is what allows each swimmer to pull the strength out of his belly and do one more stroke.
Sometimes silliness is all the world needs.
Sometimes the cure for the war with the gremlins in your head is a death-match in a moon bounce with 4 mini-warriors (age 4-8) who morph into lions and gods and super heros and tackle you and demand hugs and monster-like growls so they can have the excuse to tackle you again. Eventually the only thing to do is surrender.
Max and I went to a party on Saturday night. A party with a moon bounce. The kids had an hour of hilarity before the sun went down before they tromped in to settle down for the night. After all the kids had settled in in front of the movie, Max came and pulled me from my fire side chat with the civilized adults. He whispered conspiratorially, “Mom, I want to bounce some more.”
“Ok,” I said and excused myself to supervise, even though it was dark. A parked car was providing light Max told me. And the moon too. “Why not,” I thought. How often is one in the presence of a giant castle made of rubber and air.
Max climbed in and turned around. “You coming?” he asked as though the answer was already clear. I shrugged. I took off my grown-up shoes and crawled in after him. A boy can’t bounce alone.
Tumbling, and falling down and getting up and laughing. He is Lord Poseidon, God of the Sea and I am Kronos the Titan king. He is a dog and I am a cat. He is a summo wrestler superhero and I MUST be taken down. He is pure joy. Radiant like the moon that allows me to see him in the shadows as he prepares to bounce once more into my arms.
Later, after dinner he finds me again in front of the fire. “Mom, a bunch of us want to go back outside but we need a grown-up.” There are four shining expectant faces looking up at me. It is mission impossible and I am their last hope. I put down my glass, my plate of finger food and head for the door, assuring the parents that a responsible adult will supervise. I hoist the little ones in, Max crawls in last. He looks behind me with a look on his face I wish I could bottle–I look that says, “I dare you not to bathe in joy”. “You coming?” he says. “Absolutely” I say answering his challenge as I hoist up my dress and kick off my shoes.
The way to tame the gremlins inside is to simply jump. Jump high. Jump until your skirt threatens to fly over your head. Jump until the laughter is so loud that you draw the crowd away from the warm toasty inside, as they all comes to see what is so marvelous that five voices laugh like 50.
Later that night as I was snuggling Max before sleep, he whispers to me, “Mama. That was the most fun I have had in years.” I kiss him on the forehead and hold my whole life made right, made whole, made complete.
It never fails to surprise me. It creeps up on me and shocks the hell out of me. Just when I think that I have become fearless, just when I think I have overcome my deepest darkest fears, just when I think that I have done my soul work and gotten an A+ on the lesson, then I realize how terribly scared I still am.
Does it ever end as we peel away, layer by layer the protective walls we put around our hearts? It seems that no matter, how much work I do, its still there, more and more subtle but there. This fearfulness.
Shortly after my marriage failed, I found feng shui. After suffering such a devestating loss, after feeling so adrift, after realizing there was no security in this thing called marriage, I found a sense of control and order. If I could just eliminate the clutter, if I could place the bamboo just so, if I could figure out the flow of energy in this house I could be safe. I spent long hours, arranging, planning, sorting…and desperately holding on to a vision that my life would be OK.
At other times, it would be my job, my money, my community, my life as a mother, my writing and creativity, my spiritual journey, even this blog… a long line of things that made me feel anchored and safe. One by one I transform each into a security blanket the thing that would keep that fear at bay. The fear of being here. All. Alone.
And over and over again I would learn, the more that I grasp at these things, the more they slip through my fingers like water, proving to me again and again that while each one of these things delights, my security comes from none of them.
They are false idols, lined up in the temple of my heart–I deify them and doom them to failure. They will not save me. Over and over again I learn that really, its just me. And my faith.
Yup… in the ends its just me. As rich as my life is, there is nothing to grasp onto but what is here in my heart and my faith. No matter how hard I try, I cannot be anchored for life is a river and it is sweeping me along and carrying me, pulling me moving me. And that scares the hell out of me.
But make no mistake. This is not a sad or desperate post.
Because I am breathing sweet free air of liberation. I can stop looking for the thing that is going to save me. I can stop waiting for it to delivered and come along. I can stop fearing that it will all disappear if I say or do the wrong thing. I have it, have always had it, will always have it, right here in my heart.
I am the thing that saves me.
I am so unpracticed at this way of being.
So I will stumble along and when I trip, I will reach for something to steady myself but when it disappears into thin air I will not feel the bruising crash of my body slamming down, but the steadiness of my hand against the ground. Catching myself.