Three days into the 365 project and I already feel suffocated. It was a nice idea while it lasted, and I suppose this is how I move through life...trying new things and then making changes as new feelings come up. The last week I've been so intentional about leaving my phone at home, and only referencing it late at night once I've tucked the girls in bed and given quality time to myself. Only then will I make time for responding to texts or social media, and so far it feels like a really wonderful balance. But since feeling so free throughout these days I have attempted to take a picture every day, which almost negates the positive habits I've set in place with my phone.
Last night the girls and I took the bus and max to their favorite art studio. It was pouring rain, the light was fading and I felt an immense pressure to take a photo because the day was coming to an end and I had not yet taken one. I hauled it all the way there and back to realize I left my battery at home, still charging. It kind of made me laugh, and affirmed what kind of photographer I am. I think I only want to take pictures when I feel inspired and called to. If the moment is not begging, why do it? Sure I was hoping to grow my technical skills and I think doing a 365 project would really help with that, but it's not worth the stress of getting a photograph just because I said I would. And so I am learning and modifying and I see now that maybe I don't need more time behind the lens, but exactly the opposite. There was a season when both babes were home with me, day in and out, and it was natural and made sense, but it feels different now, and since I get so much less time with Octave, I don't really want that time to be with a camera in my hands. Hands free feels like what we all need right now. And now I am wondering if I should create a little project for myself that works from the opposite perspective. What if I did something like, a year of Saturdays. What if I only picked up my camera on Saturdays (iPhone too.) What if I forced myself to be with that moment and not worry about preserving it for the future. I'll admit, it almost gives me as much angst as the thought of taking a picture every single day. But in a culture where we take a picture of every.single.thing and then feel the need to share it with the world, it feels like maybe a project like this would be more stretching and life giving. Still thinking...no commitments over here. Just feelings. Always feelings.
In the past I have completed two 52 projects documenting the beginning stages of Octave and Bijou becoming sisters. It felt like the perfect commitment. I didn't have to think too much about it and having those photographs to look back on feels like medicine for my soul. I thought about doing that again, but I feel inspired to attempt a 365 project. I am also a little terrified. In December I tried taking a photo every day for a week and rather than sparking creativity and growth it just made me anxious. But I realized that I've put unhealthy pressure on myself now that I am starting to make photography a "job," although it still doesn't feel like one. Now it feels like every photo I share with the world needs to be amazing, like I can't have my name on anything mediocre. While that may sound petty, there is also some truth to it. I thought about not ever sharing the photos I take this year, or just some of them, the ones I am proud of, but then that didn't seem right either, besides I think I need the accountability and consistency. Thankfully I had a reality check and was reminded why I take photographs in the first place, and so I've decided to do it this year, a photo every day. There is no theme, except to truly capture an honest moment from my day. Maybe it's my daughters, maybe it's a friend, hubs, a self portrait or something on the street, but I must take one every day, and this excludes any professional work. I want it to be an honest reflection of my personal life. So, here it goes!
The sun came out on the first day of the year. My heart felt brand new. I tucked my phone away for the day and watched the sunshine pour into our home. I watched you play in the garden, chase the bunny, draw your dreams along side me who was writing and setting new intentions for the year. We went on a walk around our neighborhood, stopped at your school park to swing, and then headed home to play Jenga. I put you to bed at an almost embarrassingly early hour, because you needed it, and so did I. It was simple and sweet, a perfect day to bring in 2018.
I just put the girls in bed, poured a glass of red, turned on the weepies and let my heart ruminate...
Tonight we watched Moana and Octave noticed how they make everything from nature, and she asked me if people still live this way. I told her yes, in some parts of the world they do, and she told me that is how she wishes she could live. Even if it meant she couldn't bring her things with her, she still would want to. The timing was rather ironic because I've done little more than quarrel over the way we live. I often feel like I am fighting an internal battle that most people around me have not ever thought twice about. Our culture often feels foreign to me, in every way. From school, to parenting, to how we live in boxes and transport ourselves in boxes to get to more boxes. This is only the beginning. It doesn't feel real. This is why I was so excited to try living without a car, and why almost six years later, I still think showing up places soggy is worth it. Comfort and convenience can't buy satisfaction and meaning, and I want both. For months my head and heart have been on to something, I just haven't felt the pressing desire to put it to paper. But it's almost the new year and this is without a doubt my favorite holiday or time or year and despite still not feeling like I've sorted my thoughts out well enough to share, it feels like maybe if I don't, I never will.
While the world has felt like it is falling apart, for my family and I 2017 was probably the best year to date. I refuse to feel guilty about that because I've learned that my heart is capable of feeling more than one emotion deeply. In fact it's perfected the art of holding two opposing feelings or realities and sitting with them deeply. It's because of this, I don't feel the need to dwell or share all the ache that weaved in and around all of our lives. The news has done it's job. But for the four of us, it was monumental. We left survival mode and started to find who we are as a family of four. We started to thrive. Hubs and I fell in like and love with each other all over again. How two people can go through such deep and profound changes and still be compatitable is mind boggling, but it is us, and I am beyond grateful. I've started to see that our love for each other is inconsequential to the space we leave, or make for each other. Or maybe, this is love. The space to grow and evolve, even if we don't resonate or understand, although luckily for us, usually we do. This might just be our recipe for success, along with the realization that we are each our own person. We belong to ourselves first, and before anything we have to be someone that we can love and live with. Only then can we leave space for another and not make our own shit about the other. I know a lot of couples who love each other deeply, but I have yet to meet two humans who can share as openly about thoughts and ideas that would makes others run for the hills. I say this not to brag, but because I want it documented somewhere. Not for me, but my daughters. I want them to know that we have this. We can turn the world upside down, and still find truth. We can still find each other.
And these two incredible humans that we made, they have filled us with so much joy this year. After years of practically mothering alone and in the trenches I arrived at this time and space where motherhood finally felt and looked the way I used to dream about. I started to become the mother I wanted to be. I not only love my daughters but I like them, and I can admit without pride or guilt that yes, I am a good mama. I also started to become comfortable with the fact that Christopher and I are not always going to parent the same way, and this is ok. In fact it might even be a gift. We don't have to agree on everything and we don't need to convince our girls that we do either. They can learn nuance from an early age, and we ourselves can model respect for someone who has a different opinion, in our very own home. The belief system that both parents have to be a team, no matter what, has some unrealistic and unhealthy flaws. We can invite them into this. The problem is not two people disagreeing, the problem is lack of respect, and two people undermining each other. The problem is one person having to be right. But in our home there is no right, there is only, another way, a different perspective.
This year I started to dance and perform again. I started to pursue photography. I tried to write more consistently. I read books. A lot of books (for a mama.) I started to say no to things that don't bring me life. I learned to say no so I could say yes, or even better, just be. I attempted to grow out my arm pit hair because I have no idea if I like it or I shave it because I was taught that is what you do. I only made it 4 weeks in before the itchiness got the best of me. It turns out I like shaved arm pits. Check. Now I know. This year I found my voice in a brand new way. I still can't quite articulate this, but I know it and feel it, and suppose this is the most important.
This year brought me back home. But in the last month there has been a dull buzzing that hums beneath my chest. There is an acknowledgment that I've done good work, but there is this silent alarm asking more of me. No one can hear it but it keeps me up at night. It kind of pisses me off. I was hoping to ride this scenic view a little while longer. But it's ok because I have always been the one to see the silver lining, and I'm not afraid of hard work. I just keep getting this sense that after a year of sitting pretty, it's now the time and place to dive deep and create the life we always dreamed of. This sounds glamorous... the life we always dreamed of. But for me, and maybe we all feel this way, but it usually means paving a brand new way, one that others will detest and misunderstand. I don't want the American dream. I want what Octave wants. I want a world made with nature. I want real things. I want meaning. I want a world without my cell phone. And yet I am a city girl and I come alive here. I don't think they are mutually exclusive. While I often dream or joke or running away to the jungle with my babies, I don't actually want that. Well, maybe for a month or two, but I love our life. I love the city. I just don't love what my cell phone has become. In fact this is a source of anxiety for me. It's made it nearly impossible to take in the world around me, process and then create. I must make and create. But if there is no empty space to take in the world how can I ever create? Sure, there is self control and there are limits I could make for myself and I do. The struggle is that I want to be a present mama. I don't want my kids to see me mindlessly on my phone. So, I don't check my phone throughout the day(mostly.) Or when I am away from them doing something inspiring I feel the need to take care of the unanswered messages on my phone so when I am with them I can truly be with them. But when am I just with myself? So I save this time for after they are in bed, or nap time, but then this looks like me giving a half assed attempt to clean up our home (sigh) before I finally sit down and look at my phone. I respond to my messages (or if you know me well enough) maybe I don't. I respond to email, try to organize our calendar and then check my Instagram. Thank God I just have instagram. BUT STILL...This can take up to an hour. And then there is the rabbit hole of inspiration/confusion I often find myself in. By this time I don't feel ready to create. I feel ready for bed. I find myself in this conundrum and I know I am not alone, I just don't know what I am supposed to do about it. It feels pressing, like never before, like I MUST make a change. And yet I don't want to always be that person who has to go against the grain. Living without a car already makes us different. Living without a cellphone? Just call us Amish. I don't mind the label, I just want to make sure whatever I choose is life-giving and just like with the car, we had no idea what it would actually look like. Will living without a cell phone create more peace or more chaos? Will I miss social media? Yeah, I think I would, because despite it's flaws it is equally redemptive. But I will I miss it more than the feelings of unrest and inability to be in my own life? That I don't know. I'm even annoyed that I am writing these words. It feels so insignificant and meaningless, so empty and almost embarrassing, and yet it is relevant.
As I am wrapping up or maybe just beginning (?) Octave runs into my bed because she is tired of being in her room. The weepies are still playing and she is settling into the sounds and giving into slumber. I am reminded of the first time I met her. When I held her in my arms and was scared shitless that maybe she knew something I didn't. Typically the roles are reversed, but why? I've always looked at her like that, with fervent curiosity, ready to learn, like maybe I had so little to teach her, but she had everything to teach me. And tonight was no exception. It was rather simple. Moana was the catalyst for something stirring beneath our bones. Her and I, we love who we are and what we have, and yet we yearn for more, or maybe just something different. Also, 2017, you have my heart. Forever.
This week, in between the bursts of falls favored sunshine, there have been fits of rain, and even violent hail. Yesterday after a beautiful morning of sunshine, the girls and I happened to be under that dark luminous cloud on our way home from school. The last two miles I could do nothing more than laugh at it's relentlessness. I had truly never felt anything like it. The hail was rebounding off the bike canopy, into my face, and even down my throat. All drama aside, I actually started choking. Stopping was not an option as soon as I realized this was not going to let up. I just kept pedaling, and then laughing and screaming and laughing some more. Not just any scream or laugh, but the kind that sounds and smells like freedom. I felt five and alive. A bicycle and the elements, especially a bicycle in the elements might just be the preservation of youth.
I think I love our lifestyle most when under these sort of circumstances. I love when I have no choice but to just surrender, and so I do. Often this means laughing or singing when it's raining or when my legs are cramping. On 28th there is a crossfit studio and a sign that says, "OH MY QUAD." I reach this sign around 3/4 of my commute and I smile ear to ear every single time. Yeah, my quad, I feel it. It's there and I am alive. I've never been afraid to feel, and maybe this is why I require a lot of intense physical activity in order to feel human. My physical body must deeply relate to the emotional.
The other day my dad met the girls and I for pizza. He was asking about my commute to Octave's school and kept talking about how it wasn't really a practical use of my time. It takes 35 minutes each way, and I give myself 40. I make that trip 4 times a day. So it takes up 2 hours and twenty minutes. I completely agree, it isn't the most practical. I often wish I had more time to spend with Bijou at home or at a park. But that's understandable and obvious. What's interesting is that my sister and our friends take their kids to school and extra activities everyday and probably drive that same amount, if not more. But everyone thinks car commuting long distances and dealing with traffic is completely normal, while getting exercise and sometimes getting wet, is not. His first comment was something like, "so are you thinking it's probably time you guys get a car?" And I said, " no, I just think we we will eventually move closer to her school." My dad has always been a huge supporter of me and all my endeavors so I don't say this to insinuate any judgement or discouragement from him, because it's not there and I don't feel any. I only say it because it brings light to how interesting our cultural perspective is. Also, I just keep thinking how inconvenience is nothing more than perspective, and maybe something that takes a little more effort does not take more than it gives.
Last week we rode back home from a Kindergarten potluck in Laurelhurst Park. The sun went down, the street lamps came on, the air started to cool, but we hardly noticed because our movement kept us warm, and all four of us were buzzing with enthusiasm. We passed cars playing every type of music, smelled cigarettes and car exhaust. We saw twinkly lights in backyard bungalows, restaurants filled with lovers and dreamers, and misfits yelling obscenities on sidewalks. We got closer to home and the energy and life refused to cease. It felt like falling in love, and it was. I am falling madly in love with my life, and our city. Our life, this city. The intentional, slow, messy, good life. It's official, I wouldn't trade it for anything. Not even a looming job opportunity boasting three times the amount of money just inches from our fingertips. I'm not going anywhere, I'm staying right here to revel in the beautiful life we've so patiently and humbly made.
they are playing in the bath and i am cleaning up dishes. it's taking longer than i thought. time feels so much more precious now. and dishes is not what i want to be doing. i want to be with her, with them.
one full week of school is almost complete. she loves it, absolutely loves it. this i am not surprised, i knew she would. it was my heart i was struggling with. but surprisingly i like the schedule. my bike commute has gotten down to thirty minutes because even after two weeks i am getting stronger. four times a day i pedal to and from. somehow i totally forgot about the going home in between with a little one who needs a nap, so what i once thought was just a 2 way commute is actually 4. it's something you probably don't think twice about on four wheels, but can make all the difference by foot or bike. i like a time and place to be. i can show up on time with enthusiasm, and so we do. but i ache in almost part of my being. i wonder how everyone else is not aching too. if they are, why aren't they talking about it? why do we accept things as completely normal even when they make our hearts leap out of our chests?
i pull her out of the bath with hot tears rolling down my face. she wants me to wrap and rock her like a "baby burrito," they way I have since she was one year old in our scabby, stinky apartment in Casper, Wyoming. she hardly fits, but i don't dare admit it. I will make this fucking work. she asks me why i am crying and babe walks in wondering just the same. "i know i sound ridiculous. but how are people okay with this?" he has no idea what i am about to say next. he is trying to be comfortable with my crying. "i miss her. this is not enough time. this is not how it should be. i keep her up late and she wakes with dark circles beneath her eyes. i put her to bed at a reasonable time and i don't feel like it's enough time with her." this is what i was afraid of. this is what felt so off. and yet this is who our society works. None of it makes sense, but I don't know what I can do about it.
it's not that i can't or don't want to be without kids. in fact, i do and i love it. i need time to myself. i love pursuing my own passions. i have many. but this is something hard to pinpoint. and even harder when I see her thriving. she is head over heels about school, and this community is all i could have ever asked for, and more. Her teacher is a dream, and thankfully her classroom will be more like a beautiful extension of home, rather than the soul stealing picture of school I had once envisioned. But still, I ache. Maybe I just see it all flashing before my eyes. Maybe this is time and place where time and space completely reworks itself, leaving you feeling like, it was just yesterday....
I brush my teeth and hear her from the other room, singing a song..."there is no one else like my mom. she's different than all the rest. i love her more than galaxies." i hope she's authentic and not learning to coax my weary soul, because I'm fine when I feel, and I feel, so I am fine. I don't need her to say that. But my god, it feels good.
i almost push snooze, but instead i wake with vigor (pretend) and pedal myself to yoga. i park my bike at 5:23 am with just minutes to spare. a man startles me, and i remind myself he is just a man. i want to assume he is kind and innocent and so I say good morning. he returns the gesture. i tell him i am glad i am here (at yoga). " I almost pressed snooze," I tell him.
at 7:15 am I exit the studio and hear the city just beginning it's day, while i have already climbed mountains, if only within myself. The same man is still there, rummaging trash, sitting on the bench, collecting nothing for something. he asks what i have planned for the day and i tell him I will take my daughter to school. He asks about after. I say work, he assumes house. i say, maybe. i'm not quite sure what it is i want to be doing.
i come home and make a lunch for Octave's third day of kindergarten. i ask if she wants leftover pasta in her lunch, and she replies all of my fears summed into one, heartbreaking answer. "no, because other people might think it is weird." three days. it only took three to understand the status quo of kindergarten lunches. my blood boils, my heart races, my words are already inadequate. she might not believe me the way she used to. please, let her believe me. i hold truth in the very center of my being. i can only mutter something like, "babe, it doesn't matter what other people think. it only matters that you eat what you like. if you don't want pasta, that's ok, but only if that's really what you want." I cannot dismantle the generations of fear that have brought us here, in just one sentence. It will take months, years maybe to undo one second of her lunch room experience. Relax, I tell myself. You are her mother, you hold the most power (for now). Don't you dare let fear steal your thunder. It's just kindergarten. It's just lunch. And yet, it's not.
i let my love pedal her to school because my thighs have endured two consecuetive days of hot yoga and 26 miles of pedaling. Ironically, I would rather scrub floors. and so I do, joyfully. warm water, vinegar, tea tree. i scrub. i worry. i hope they make it there, on time. or at all. why my mind entertains these morbid ideas is disturbing. i ask it to go away and so it does, reluctantly. i have so much loose. and i've never been one to think, never, or not me.
i exhale, pour mushroom coffee and open a book. i could get used to this, until ten minutes later...
bijou comes back with my love. we read her favorite books and make puzzles. then we put on a show and escape to our room to make love. because that is what we use shows for, and i don't feel bad about it.
a few hours later, i pick octave up at school. she is bright and happy and undeniably tired. dark circles beneath her eyes, dirt in her once neatly parted hair. it was a well lived day. or so she says.
we meet a magic mama and her magic babe for vegetable juice and vegan cookies. we talk about the nuance of privilege and choice, parenthood and life. a crazy woman tells our girls about a dog who ate the neighbors chickens. we are confused. we smile and eventually keep walking. this is why i love the city.
we find our way back to hawthorne, back to our bike, after stopping for every bug, every flower and every dog and it's owner. we pedal home as the sun begins to set. there is car traffic but we are free from it. we kindly acknowledge, wave and weave through people and their stories. theirs are ending, ours are just beginning. the day feels lived in and full. there is beauty and grit everywhere i look. it feels like the life i always wanted to live. the life i wanted to give my children.
around 31st and stark we see the ginger haired unicorn on a scooter, who we keep managing to see every few days. it's like our paths are meant to cross, and so they do. the girls ask me how i know it's the same person from the few days before. i tell them you don't see too many ginger bearded, unicorn wearing, scooter riding, late twenty or early thirty something men. and so, he is easy to spot. the girls immediately love him, and so do i. i think he is one of us. bijou tells him he is a sweet man and he says he will ride with us to Ankeny. the world feels at my fingertips, and in this moment I want nothing more. i am happy to be awake and vulnerable on a bike. i am proud to have the children i do, and am grateful that this is the kind of life we live. the city is our playground. we dreamed this. we chose this. we created this. i can't get enough.
my city, our love affair.
the only time i hear the train is when it's half passed midnight and they've fallen into a static slumber. I'm wide awake, eating crunchy things, (salted) just so I can do it alone. and while i'm told it goes against our biology and design, and while that makes complete sense, alone is what i crave. alone is where i brew and burn and come alive, so i can (joyfully) come back to them (and also, me.)
I was in Oklahoma City in the parking lot of a Whole Foods. Octave was just three months old, snug tight against my chest. A woman with cut off shorts and a cool haircut ran after me, with a desperation I had not yet known, but would soon enough. She had seen me in the check out line, wearing my baby and watched me walk out to my old blue Subaru with Colorado state plates. She assumed I had just moved there but I happily told her we were just there for the summer while my husband was in job training. All these years later it's hard to remember the exact words she chose, but she was eager to help me find community. She told me that she had moved here a few years ago and it was hard to fit in and find other like minded mamas but in the last year she finally had. She mentioned something of unschooling, and told me how inspired she was with the communities in Colorado. If I had Colorado plates, was wearing my baby, and investing our humble pay check on real food, maybe I was also onboard with unschooling. But I had not ever heard the term, so I just smiled and nodded and thanked her for her encouragement. We exchanged numbers and she hoped I would come to their group, but a week later our car broke down in the 110 degree heat and we were living in a scabby apartment where I was afraid to lay Octave on the floor, and the tap water was so discolored that I whole heartedly believed that drinking soda pop was the healthier option. I flew back to Portland for the remaining two months so I could teach dance and be with my family. I never went to that group, but it was there in the least likely of places where the first seed was planted. I drove home and immediately googled "unschooling." I didn't have an aha moment, in fact it seemed kind of strange to me. It seemed like a shame to keep your kids from this right of passage, and yet there was something about it that peaked my curiosity, and subconsciously I resonated, if only a little.
I've always been drawn to the natural process of things. I am often trying to peel away the layers of cultures and ask myself, what is innate and what is learned? My eyes were first opened in massage school when I started intimately learning about my body, natural medicine and real food. I dove deep into books that started shaping every choice I made. A few years later I had the desire to have a baby, and I dove deep into books about pregnancy and child birth. I dug past what I saw everyone around me doing, because by that time I knew that our society tends to do almost everything backwards from the most natural or intuitive way. I've always wanted to work with my body and nature, not against it. A veil was lifted for both Chris and I during those 10 months of pregnancy and birth and this process made us the people we are today. We were then able to look around and see how almost everything we do as a culture works against the way our bodies and minds thrive. Parenting and transportation naturally became the next things to dive head first into. Almost six years later we have cultivated a life that we used to dream of. The last six months I've done little more than just marvel at our life. It was once so hard and now it isn't. Most days anyway. Five is hands down my favorite age, and I can see the fruit of all the seeds I planted and watered and maybe even forgot about it some days. Arriving in this place again, with space to think and feel and settle into our days, I kept noticing how much anxiety I was feeling thinking about sending Octave to school, but I'm typically not an anxious person. Being as though I had not yet charted this territory I was not able to discern what were just the normal mom feelings that come up when you send your first born to school, and how much of what I was feeling was my deep intuition telling me that this was not a good thing for us. I went round and round and spent more time thinking, researching, and talking about this topic more than anything else. It consumed me. I knew something wasn't right but I couldn't put my finger on it.
I made countless lists in my head and on paper, comparing and contrasting all the options for school. Despite my lists clearly leaning towards another side, I applied to a handful of charter schools, like a French immersion, Waldorf and environmental school. Of course, we explored our neighborhood school, because that is what makes the most sense, and I know that when you take your kid out of their neighborhood school and put them somewhere else, the quality of our education system severley decreases, and it's already pathetic to begin with. And because I am white middle class, almost full time stay at home mama I have the opportunity to do so. It's not fair and it's perpetuating the racism that white people like me want to pretend doesn't exist anymore. I knew this and ached over it, and yet I couldn't handle the thought of my five year old in sitting inside at a desk for eight hours a day, at a school and in a system that would work against the things I so deeply believe in. She ended up getting into the school I was most excited about but even that didn't make that ache and anxiety go away. Because it wasn't about which school she went to, it was the quiet and humble belief that there is a better and more natural way to teach kids, or at the very least, my kids.
So, I felt and knew all of these things but I was also filled with fear. I was afraid of missed opportunity for them, and quite honestly for me. I've loved every single moment staying home with them, even the most frazzled days, but the desire to create on a larger scale has only intensified over the years, and I was looking forward to some days with more time to myself. I was afraid that if I went down this path I would never get a chance to dance more, write a book, and build a photography business. I was also afraid of making another big life choice that makes us different. I was afraid that they would be as terrible at math as I am. I was afraid that my girls would look back at me and think I had made a big mistake. But then I let go of all that fear and started remembering that everything is fluid and I have the ability to create this life how I want to. It is isn't black and white, all or nothing, it is mine for the making.
Last week I woke up and had the courage to say what I've known all along, and that is, that I want to educate them a little differently. Or maybe, a lot differently. For some reason it's scarier than all the other choices I've made that keep me swimming upstream, and yet nothing has given me a deeper peace. Fear is quite often the only thing I am afraid of, and when I feel it, I know I am about to break though.
While I never thought I would be a homeschooling or unschooling parent, it turns out I am kind of a blend of both. I guess I just thought it looked one way, but that way is so painfully outdated and looks nothing like the vision I have for my daughters. My intention is not to shelter them or take them out of reality, but quite the opposite. I want to give them the world through unbiased eyes. I also want them to prolong their childhood for as long as humanly possible, and I'm seeing that the school system is not so good at that. I want my girls to be life long learners who are self aware, can articulate themselves, and are just as emotionally intelligent as they are academically. I want to give them the freedom to be whoever they want to be and the tools and resources to be able to choose a wide variety of vocations or careers. But even more than all of these things, I want them to be good humans who love to learn, and seize every moment like it is remarkable, because it is. I don't for a second think that I can give my girls all that they need, forever. But I do strongly believe that I can give them the majority of what they need right now. And the things I can't I will happily supplement.
For Octave's Kindergarten year I found a farm for her to volunteer on for a few hours each week, as well as a science and art class with other kids her age. We are going to start taking Italian classes again and keep doing all the things we are already doing but just a little more intentionally. She is most herself when she is nature and around animals so that is going to be her starting place. We are going to continue to be outside as much as possible and allow all the traditionally segregated subjects integrate itself naturally into the everyday things we do. I plan on having a basic curriculum or starting place that is a little Waldorf inspired, but also want to create my own, and then leave plenty of space for learning opportunities to come up naturally. My head and heart have complete peace about this decision and I am also hyper aware of that fact that even having this option is a gift. I don't take it for granted for one second. I am hopeful that I will slowly find my way and understand the balance necessary to pursue my passions, make money, and give my girls a childhood and education that I always dreamed of. I'm excited for this journey to teach, shape and shift us, because life is fluid, and I am best when ever changing. But like almost every big decision we have made, we are taking it one step, or in this case, year at a time.
Last fall I was feeling ready to put myself out there as a photographer, and so I did. The first few jobs I took were with friends and their families who have seen my work, like it and wanted to support me. I was eager to say yes, because I wanted be their person and it feels good to document for people you love. But it kind of bombed, and even though they were gracious, I knew it was shit, and it made me feel terrible. I doubted if I was ready or if it was even what I wanted to do. Christopher was really encouraging, telling me that it was my thing I just need to hone in on my style and my cliental. It seems painfully obvious but it hadn't really occurred to me. I just felt like maybe I could do it all. I can't. I was trying to conform to what they wanted rather than give them my best self. I am learning. I am good at capturing candid moments and movement, in natural light. I'm good at making the mundane things comes to life and look extraordinary, because to me they already are. I want to capture humans in their natural state and refuse to contrive children into cheesy grins only to get an ice cream cone after our time together. I say give them the cone now, let is saturate their favorite outfit and let me capture all the in between faces that might mean nothing to every one else, but everything to you. Let me capture your kid having the biggest meltdown and you in the trenches. Let me capture your love in the beginning, middle and sometimes end. Let me capture your squishy belly that just gave birth, your wrinkles and wisdom, your good to honest self. The moment I have to place people and ask them to look at me, the magic is already over. There is nothing wrong with that kind of photography, we all need a classic family photo, a christmas card or portrait, however that isn't really my strong suit. I'm grateful for the friends who supported me and let me learn the hard way on them, because now I am finding my niche. My friend Laurel let me come in and do my thing and I was so inspired before, during and after. THIS is what I want to do!
I pedal into the balmy, beastly sun at set. I feel both vintage and brand new. I feel the way I used to dream. I park my bike next to another and wonder just about everything I could wonder about it’s rider. A complete stranger I want to know without warning. I indulge my curiosity, like I always do, but especially when I am alone. I smell Italy and herbs. It’s rosemary beneath my feet, and the summers heat in the creases of my sweaty skin. It’s right here and now, but first, it was all those years before. I order bubbles at the bar and forget about all my names and identities, because sometimes forgetting is just another way of remembering. I live between these two worlds, unsure of which I would rather reside. But really I want both, and so I say it with bones in my back, because I’m no longer afraid to admit it. I want to be the woman I am now, all those years before. It’s deceiving and impossible and so I want it even more. But magic has long been my trick. I just can’t help myself.
My life has always had a dense quality with magic woven in and around the seams. I was five years old, wearing pink and a side pony when I first put this feeling into motion. From the moment I woke until the moment my eyes closed for rest, I felt like I was made for something epic. My little chubby fingers were just hopscotch squares away from holding it in my arms. A good nights sleep and a dream catcher above my head only enhanced, or rather encouraged my daytime inklings. I would wake remembering every last color and detail with a fierce longing to fold it into my story by day. I wanted something more and yet I already had everything I could ever want. My dad would wake me each morning witnessing these theatrical eyes, opening my blinds and telling me, “it’s great to be alive!” This was only the cherry on top of a self-aware expedition for greatness. Now, I am at an age I glorified and looked forward to as a young child. My desire and wonder has yet to seize. Time has somehow always been on my side. Magic and colors ignite at every mundane opportunity, playing tag and I spy through my blood stream. I have unraveled life with my movement and sweet sighs, only to just now begin to find my voice, and use my words, quite literally. And now my voice is their childhood, the place from which they see this world, for now, or maybe forever. This is one of the most beautiful and terrifying things about being a parent, the power of every last word and belief I hold about myself and this world. How it can transcend my own reality, and absorb itself into theirs, how it can become them. Dear God, it better be good. So I am first becoming the woman I dream of but also the one I already am, and creating the childhood I dreamed of, while also sharing the one I had. Mine was good, but oh how I can make it so much better.
I once misunderstood, and maybe even judged women who I thought lived vicariously through their children. I am not so sure if they did, or if maybe I just saw it all wrong. Whether I missed something or suspected something unhealthy and ill intentioned, I will never know. Maybe I am no different, but all I know is that I am truly having the time of my life, even on the shittiest (literally) messiest, loudest, gut wrenching days, when I want to scream and cry (and I do.) Those are few are far between now. I feel right back where I started, still feeling child like but wearing age and intuition like I once wore pink and that side pony. Only now I see that this is my epic. Shared, doubled, quadrupled. Us. This is the magic I always felt and was called to share. It looks just like them, because it is them. It's us.
She feels like her days are more numbered. I can tell by the way she takes more time in moments she never thought twice about. I see her visit her own mother in the tired space between her furrowed brow. She wants to tell me that one day I will understand, but she doesn't want to be cliche, because sometimes I think that she is, and I've probably let her know more than once. But this time she uses intentional language, sharing only her perspective, careful not to project anything on me, but secretly wanting me to see the connection. Of course, I do. She talks about her parents more than I ever remember, or maybe I am just listening, because like her I know that where she is I might go, and where they are, she will too. When she doesn't know I am looking I see a sadness in her I've not ever seen, maybe even a sadness she has never felt, until now. I feel it too, but it's wrapped in joy because I was given that gift too.
She is eager to show her granddaughters what her Dad used to do with her. I remember her showing me this when I was young. It's only now that the details mean so much. Fast food straw wrappers turn into growing caterpillars. It really is clever. And cute. And it made Octave smile like she did when she was three. Pure and majestic, like she was absorbing the very last breath of awe left in the world. I wonder who taught this to my grandfather. I hate that I never cared until now.
In the last week I've had more upsetting encounters on my bike than I've had in all the years I've been riding. Last week a man boldly yelled out his window, "BAD MOM!" And a few days later and man screamed, "I can't believe you are doing this with kids. Do you know how dangerous that is. Are you f*cking stupid?" He was outraged, red in the face and almost hyperventilating. I rode away so angry I could cry. Today I smiled at a man who was staring me down, because I assumed he was just curious and surely he didn't realize the mean the look on his face, but I was wrong because as I got closer he shook his head, and wagged his finger with so much hate and anger that it made my stomach sick and my eyes well up with tears. These people don't know the first thing about me. They don't know that I am actually a good mom who thinks so deeply about every. single. choice she makes, and who also gives them the benefit of the doubt, and wishes them well, even after they swear at me in front of my children. I didn't take any of these encounters personal, but what upsets me to no end is the backwards thinking in our society, and failing to notice that riding a bike with or without children is not dangerous. Bikes can fall over or ride into hard objects, or people, but most likely they are never going fast enough that anyone could get seriously injured or die. Cars ARE actually dangerous. I avoid busy roads at all cost, riding only in bike lines and quiet side streets and I am the least confrontational, most low key rider you will probably ever meet. I'm like Julie freaking Andrews on a bicycle. But I just can't help but wonder how riding a bike is unreasonable with children when going 70 miles an hour on a freeway with hundreds of other cars going the same speed, (with kids in the back seat) is not. If riding a bike is not dangerous in and of it's self then why am I shamed in doing so. Why can't our society see that the answer should not be to discourage people from walking in crosswalks or riding bikes for fear of all the things cars could do to them, but instead do their part to make the road and world a safer place. Those people who yelled awful things at me and thought I was a bad and unsafe mother were the same people who sped past me, at a dangerous speed and put my kids lives at risk. They shamed me for my life choices, but what about their choices just moments before? I'm sad and mad and forgiving all in the same moment and holding on tight to the deep rewards and joy that comes from riding slowly and happily through my city streets. I am not a bad mom, just a mom who might make choices that make some people uncomfortable, just like all of us, depending on the time or day or scene. Love all the mamas, and love all the people. The worlds needs different people, places and perspectives.
She asks every question under the sun while I am huffing and puffing, pedaling up a hill I have been preparing for since a few miles back. I can hardly catch my breath, and it is hard to answer with intention. She senses and hears my struggle. "Do you wish we were not on this hill right now? Do you not like hills mama?" It takes everything in me to spit out, "It's not that I don't like hills...they are just... hard." She continues to ask similar questions, trying to understand the nuance. We make it past the hill, I catch my breath and start to explain that just because something is hard doesn't mean that I don't like it. I tell her that most things I love are hard. I feel the importance of this conversation and know these words are shaping her entire worldview for the next fifteen something years, if not the rest of her life.
The next day I am running on the treadmill, shaking in plank and grunting through burpies. They are watching my every move. I notice that they see something new. Moving my body, whether it be dance, yoga or the gym has always been "me time." I used to quietly escape for some personal time and workout for an hour to myself. I felt I needed some peace and quiet to think and just be. But then schedules and motivations changed and I found myself with the two of them, beat red and sweating, the greatest version they might ever see.
At first it was not fun and it was definitely not easy. Sometimes it feels like very few minutes someone has to poop or pee or needs something that might interrupt this time. It used to bother me and I felt entitled, like I deserved an hour to myself to sweat without interruption. But then I surrendered, because I am a mother and now there is no clean divide between me, and them and us. Time and space is just a big beautiful blur, and it's ours for the taking. After a few days I realized how powerful this whole exchange was. I've always wanted to be a transparent mother. I've wanted my children to know I am fully human, and alive, and deep down, just like them. But often there is a disconnect between the things we want and the things we do. If I want them to know I am more than just their mother, it means inviting them into these spaces. It means laughing and crying and sometimes even yelling and sulking. It means sharing myself the way I do with my sisters, the full spectrum of emotions, and explaining my heart every step of the way. It means them coming with me to my morning work outs and dance events. It means that every once in a while I will sit beside them on the couch, read my own book and not feel bad about it. It means that I might take a hot bath mid day on a Tuesday, just because my soul needs it, and I will let them soap up my hair and drop oils into my bath. It means I will read my book with many interruptions and my bath will not be as relaxing as it would have been if I would have waited until they were in bed. I will probably always be a little distracted at my dance events, and my work out will be twenty minutes shorter than if done alone, but living deeply and fully alongside them is a gift I want to give them. It is also a gift I want to give myself. How will they ever know who I am if I only come alive once they are in bed, or when I am away from them? They won't. And so, I've softened into this new way, the way I have always wanted but have resisted because I didn't like how hard it felt. I didn't like the resistance I felt beneath my chest. I assumed something must be wrong because I didn't like the complexity and contradiction of all the things I still desired, while simultaneously desiring nothing more, because they were the greatest of all dreams come to fruition. But nothing was wrong, and complexity is good, I have just been finding my way, and I am finally here today, neither selfish or self sacrificing, just fully myself, listening to their needs as well as my own. And like I tell Octave as I pedal up those hills, just because something is hard does not mean that I don't like it. In fact, I've come to love it that much more.
Octave recently looked at herself in the mirror and told me she loved who she was. I witnessed this whole encounter in slow motion, like it was a day dream, but my very own life. My lips pursed, contracted, smirked and lengthened, alongside my heart. She told me that she loved making her muscles strong, and eating nutritious food and using her creative brain. While those words came out of her mouth and I believe that she meant every one of them, I also know that those exact words have flowed from my very own mouth. She is not learning by my preaching, she is learning by my living. Suddenly all the pressure of motherhood felt irrelevant or rather, lifted. I just need to be okay with myself. I just need to be a good human, who loves hard and fast and deep and wide, not only them, and the stranger painting portraits across the street, but myself, sipping hot coffee in their presence because it's better hot, almost too hot, and I've drank it cold for far too many mama years.
When the sun shines in Portland no one is allowed to pee or nap or do anything that could possibly bring us indoors. We are out from sunrise to sunset, no matter how tired or cranky or hungry, or in our case, even sick. You pack snacks for the entire day and expect the most tired, happy humans come bedtime. Good God, our souls needed this. We were at the park all day, and made grilled pizzas on the rooftop all night. Bijou smelled of sweat and metal swing set and Octave's feet were black from spending the entire day, perched beneath a tree making "fairy gardens." I almost forgot how much I love summer. The smell, the joy, the willingness to say yes and just surrender. Ah. Eek. It is almost here!
And Bijou, I finally captured her the way I see and feel her. She is tricky to consolidate in a thought, memory or photograph, and I love that about her, but I often feel like the photographs I have of her say so little about who she really is. She lives in the transitions, the in between spaces that don't get much recognition. I can so deeply identify. But today I pulled my camera out after a few weeks of trying my best to let my moments be rich and deep enough on their own, and I am so glad I did.
I find a $20 bill inside my wallet. It is a surprise, which means it is unaccounted for and needs to be enjoyed immediately and most thoroughly. Your sister is at school and you and I could use something intentional and special, just the two of us. My mind races at the possibilities of twenty dollars at our finger tips. I think of a museum and an open art studio, or our favorite book store, but then my stomach begins to hunger the way my bones beg to move, and my mind mends when understood. I must eat. We must eat, but something special.
We patiently wait in line at my favorite breakfast spot in North Portland, maybe even the world, that is, the tiny spec I've tasted. Sometimes it's fun to make bold claims on something I know so little about. A woman comes over and offers you a small cup of orange slices. You purse your lips and squint your eyes the way you do when you feel loved. I ask you how she knew oranges were your absolute favorite and you can do nothing more than raise your shoulders and giggle. I stare at your profile, the way I did when you were first born. I am still enough to take in all of you. You pick the marionberry cornmeal muffin from the inciting case of sweet breads and pies, before we decide on the egg sandwich and a side of yogurt. I am calm and centered. Last night I took a dance class. I know myself, and I feel myself, almost sure and surely secure. You are mirroring my every breath and it is good, and I wonder why it has taken me five years to arrive here, the mama I always wanted to be. It could be the dance class or time, but it is probably both.
I am wearing bright plaid tucked into my favorite pair of jeans, and the only shoes I own that are suitable to wear sock less. My hair is an unbrushed mess, just how I like it. There is no make up on my face, and I feel beautiful. I hold you at the bar while we patiently wait and watch. Waiting and watching is kind of our thing. My coffee is hot, but not too much so. You sit on my lap while we whisper and observe. We watch bread baking in the back of the restaurant, records being flipped in the front left corner, and reflections I can see in front of me, but are really behind me, all the way across the street. I learn that a pastry case has nothing to do with pastries, and everything to do with the foreshadowing of the serendipitous encounters you are clever enough to anticipate.
People are watching us, but not like they usually do. It's almost as if they want what I have, like what I have and who I am looks good and intriguing. It is something I have not ever felt since becoming a mother. It is there at the bar, with you on my lap, wearing plaid and unkept waves, where I begin to reshape and define motherhood. Not for them, but for me. Our food arrives and I try to sit you in the barstool beside me. You panic and don't like the way it feels. Heights make you uneasy, they always have, and I wonder if you will be twenty something when I remind you of such a trait and many preferences that I have known long before you ever did. I place you back in my lap and I savor the smell of your shampoo. I look at my plate and admire the perfectly cooked eggs, inside thickly sliced house baked bread, soft but not messy, just how I like them. I sigh and smile and remember why I love this place. The smell, aesthetic and the flavors that fill the spaces between my bones bring me pleasure, and I just keep saying, 'and,' because I don't ever want things to end. Especially good ones, but even bad, because time is always good.
I am a sturdy structure craving color and calamity. You see I know a girl named Calamity and she fills me with anything but. Color and calamity, that is why I am here. That is why I chose this outfit and this place and this life. I place a humbly weathered napkin inside your favorite "twirly dress," and continue to admire the way you look and feel. I look back at my sandwich and wonder how I will manage eating it gracefully, if at all. I recognize that years ago everything about this exchange would have broken me. How I would have needed my own body on that stool. How I would have tried to give my body and patience so freely but would continue to fall short. How guilty I would have felt for this whole exchange of bodies and time and space. Our bodies, this time, and my space. Space and time and bodies, it is no longer mine, and that is a gift in disguise, something that can't be felt until it is known. Or maybe it is the other way around. My God, I have done it. I have become a mother, and a damn good one, I will proudly proclaim. Even when I yell, even why I cry, especially when I cry, and even when I am the most idealic version of my loftiest daydream, like I am right now.
This experience wakes me and shakes me, but I am more still than I've ever been, not to mention with a little human at my hip. I desperately want to take a picture. Any picture, but mainly ours. You are adorable and I have come home. The space is beautiful, the colors just right, the music so fine. It's something I want to remember, forever. Of all the moments I capture, THIS should be the one. But now these ramblings and this inner conflict, to take or not to take our picture becomes a burden, so I don't do it. But still I want to, until I don't. Until I settle back in my bones and our beauty and my cup of coffee that is still warm. There is no picture my Bij Neej, but now you've got me, the woman who was made brand new inside those savory walls of Sweedeedee, and it was just you and me.
Not one or two, or three, but four. FOUR YEARS! That means the honeymoon phase came and went and despite my best efforts, I couldn't save myself from the rain, or reality. It means that somewhere in there I thought we were crazy and I cursed under my breath more times than I can count on my two hands. It also means that you might believe me if I told you I still love it and would choose it all over again.
We started out calling this an experiment, and it probably still is, because isn't everything? I gravitated to that word and type of language because it makes people feel better. Too much confidence brings forth all the devils advocates and it's exhausting to defend all the things you have been wholeheartedly working through all the years prior to making such a big decision. And even more, I know myself well enough to know that choices (but not too many) are the gateway to my heart. There is less of attachment to "experiment," and it implies that any moment you could call the whole thing off. It gives the illusion of choice and when given choices I make good ones, not necessarily easy ones. After four years this whole adventure feels more like an experiment gone right, even though I am not so sure I could name what it is I set out to achieve. I think I just like counter cultural things, and crave new perspectives. I am continuing to discover and redefine what it takes to live a rich and meaningful life. Over the course of my own it has meant shaving my head, getting rid of my cell phone, selling my car, and spending every last penny in my bank account to buy a pair of Italian sunglasses that did nothing more than make me happy. Every once in a blue moon things can actually make you happy. It means listening to those little things that don't always make sense, but make your stomach stir with stardust. When we began this adventure all I knew is that I wanted it to be magical and life-giving, like I want everything to be. After coming full circle, from riding the wave of the initial shock and joy, and then feeling the struggle, the doubt, the frustration, and at one point, the indifference, I have found myself right back where I started, smitten and smothered in all the joy. I can confidently conclude that it has been nothing short of magical and life giving, even when it sucked. Because sometimes it did, and sometimes it still does.
Whenever I had a hard time without a car I was careful to take note of when and why. I realized that taking a two hour bus ride once a week to Oregon City to teach dance was not life giving. While I adore my students and the studio and that job, the 3-4 hour commute made me resent all the other beautiful experiences I was having the other 6 days of my week. I was realistic and made changes, deciding I would teach once a month, and for a longer chunk of time. I was also honest with the fact that when Chris and I go on a date I want to wear high heels and arrive quickly and effortlessly. I don't want to smell a soggy bus or be fanning off my sweat while I sip a cocktail. Now that we have a little more room in our budget, we can actually go on dates, and pay $15 for a car share or uber. Even after paying for public transportation, and a car share or a taxi once a month, it is still financially advantageous to live without one.
The girls are 5 and almost 3, and it already feels like we are entering a new phase of life. Diapers are almost a thing of our past and Kindergarten is just about here. On the cusp of this transition and now that we are not destitute, I am often asked when we are going to get a car. When I share that I have come to love this lifestyle all over again, I am transported right back to five years ago when I eagerly shared my enthusiasm to have a natural birth. I am made to feel naive. I keep trying to look for blind spots, maybe these people know something I don't. In fact, I am sure they do, but there is also something they don't, and that is, even though I admire and love them, I may not want my life to look just like theirs. I might not want to be signing my kid up for a million and one activities in opposite sides of the city. I may not think that commuting crazy distances in search of opportunity is a normal part of parenthood. I truly say this with little to no judgement because Octave is about to start school and I would have never imagined the complexity of it all. When I was pregnant I certain my kid would go to our neighborhood school, end of story. While that is still on the table, it feels more conflicting than I thought it would. Every mother wants the best for their children, it's just our ideas of "best," that could be challenged and redefined, or different from person to person. All I know is that I thrive when things are fairly simple, and I think my family does too. Simple doesn't have to mean less opportunity, in fact it can mean quite the contrary, but as American's it's hard to believe that less is more and so we go, see and do, and schedule the life right out of our days, and we have to have the very best. I don't want this for my family. Maybe this means that they don't get attend the best summer art camp that Portland has to offer, because it is too complicated to get there by bus or bike. Maybe it means that I am not as prepared as all the other mamas, because all that comes with me throughout the day is what I can carry on my body. And maybe I am almost always on the break of a light sweat, but I truly believe that what they are gaining far outweighs these seemingly petty details.
The point of living without a car is not to proudly claim that I am super woman and can do everything human powered, it is quite the opposite. It is being honest and saying that I can't or don't want to do everything. It is vowing to slow down and smell the roses, to stay a while in one place, because that is where you are. It is making the transitions, or the journey from A to B just as beautiful as the destination. It is blurring the lines of meaning and redefining success. It is vulnerably exposing yourself to people and places, and trusting your body like most of us trust machines. It is showing up a little wet and a little cold, but bravely alive. Not everyone needs to sell their car to experience these things, this is just the way I have done it, and it continues to work, so we continue to do it. Four years. And counting...
Our blinds perfectly frame the woman on the balcony across the street. She is wearing a D.A.R.E. to keep kids off drugs shirt, and I am taken back to middle school, in the suburbs. I wonder if she wears it, ironic or proud. I watch her methodically stir buckets of paint, for walls, or art, or furniture, I cannot tell. I am too tired to inquire more. More would mean moving my body again, for some number a mother could understand. But dear God, I love the city. Curious observers, obscure aesthetic, colliding stories. I need the city.
I put away toys, sweep floors, and organize dishes with an urgency only desire can know. It is imperative that I sit and measure my days in rhythm and words. Each night I hover above my day, recalling every last story that begged for paper. By the time there is space, the inspiration has evaporated. I wonder how something so real could almost escape me. Time feels brave and fragile and I feel a paralyzing pressure to use it wisely. Such cognizance could maim a mother. Especially me.
I want to write something profound, something that reads as good as it feels, but postures and colors and expressions of my day ruminate inside hidden corners of my brain. They take up space in my body, waiting for hands to humbly hold silly, sappy stories. The later is so compelling that anything but feels like failure. Experience without production, it's not easy when bones forget their purpose...to stand, to feel, to support, to create. I could never choose. I'm still here, looming thoughts, eager fingers. Waiting, or rather, being.