When You Accidently Expose Yourself For Who You Really Are

When was the last time that you had one of those embarrassing moments where you did something wrong or acted in a way that exposed a part of yourself that you’d rather not have other people see? Perhaps you acted rudely, or said something mean to someone publically, or acted selfishly when you didn’t get your way, or you spoke too quickly and revealed that you are jealous. There are endless ways that this can manifest itself and it almost always leaves a pit of despair and desperation inside of us. We then conjure up ways to defend ourselves, make our reputations right again, shift the blame, gloss over the wrong that we have done, and do anything we can to take the blame and attention off of ourselves. If you’re anything like me, this happens far more than you’d like to admit.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if when you were found guilty, caught in a corner, completely in the wrong, that instead of talking and impressing your way out, you could just confessapologize? ask for forgiveness? All while knowing that you are already loved and forgiven.

This weekend, my husband went on a surfing trip with some of his friends to the Outer Banks. I can already see the smirks on some of the ladies’ faces reading this. You know what’s coming next. I was awful to him about it. I didn’t want him to go without me, leaving me home alone for the second weekend in a row with all of our kids. After the long, hot, tiring summer with all three of our young children, all I wanted was a weekend away with him. No fighting and whining kids. No cutting chicken into little bite sized pieces before every meal. Some personal space to breathe and be alone with my love. I was so jealous of his friends, that they got to spend the time away with him that I wanted so badly. And I let him know it through my passive aggression: on facebook, in texts, and in person before he left.

Naturally, when he came back home he was hurt. I had acted like a child and forced him to not have a good time on his trip from worrying about me. And there it was. I was backed into a corner with nowhere to run or hide. I had hurt him in front of his friends and had done wrong. My very first reaction was to throw blame back into his face. But we both knew that he had done nothing wrong. I was jealous and hurt that I couldn’t go along, so I punished him. Seeing the hurt on his face caused me to pause and stop running the solutions to my problem of having hurt him. And I told him how sorry I was for hurting him, for being so selfish. A death to myself. My body almost wanted to physically run away from admitting that I had done wrong and asking him to forgive me. And do you know what he did? He forgave me. He told me that I am always his. There is not much else in this world that draws me to love my husband more than when he forgives me or asks me for forgiveness. In those tender moments of honesty and grace, where wrongs are forgiven without a record being kept, I am captivated to him.

Oh, to be loved and forgiven.

This Season of Loneliness

 

29033024050_dbe683bc45_o

I’m sitting in my dining room this afternoon listening to coffee drip through the pot while my two boys are downstairs in the basement playing video games. One of my chickens is out back squawking from the heat, as she does every afternoon when the day breaks in two. She makes me nervous out there making such a racket. It’s not like she’s over heated or thirsty or anything. The girl has her other chicken friends and food and ice-cold water in her trough to cool her off, but at 2pm every day in the summer she starts up out there. One day a neighbor is going to complain about the noise, I’m sure. Not as if it’s worse than the college students who live next door laughing and playing their music until 3am, or the people who lived behind us and would leave their dog out back to bark at god knows what. Sigh. The realities of living in tight quarters in a city. There are so many bodies packed together, sharing the same breathing space, that we’re bound to get on each other’s nerves every now and then.

I was thinking the other day about how little I’ve written about my grandmother, or any of my ancestors lately. I wonder why that is. Somedays it feels as though they’ve left me all together. I was sitting in the back room yesterday trying to think of a memory of my grandma but nothing came. Maybe she got tired of all of the people who live around me, too. She is from the country where she grew up bare foot and unnoticed by city ordinances. Perhaps she left me to get some fresh air back up in the mountains. Not that I blame her. Though, if I’m honest, I’m not really too surprised that I can’t think of a memory. All summer I slowly spent less and less time in my garden until it was over taken by weeds and dead from thirst. Birds swooped in and pecked the tomatoes, attracting flies to the half rotted fruit, and the eggplant grew brown and misshapen from neglect. A family of mice took up residence in the green house underneath the soaker hoses, gnawing through bags of chicken feed and tipping over planter cups. A real mess. Jason finally went out there and pulled out the vegetable plants and took down the old green house, leaving only a planting shelf for me to work at this fall.

Did she leave once I began to neglect the garden or did I begin to neglect the garden once she left? I can’t be sure. But a thick unhappiness rested on me once she was gone and I have been so lonesome for family ever since. The long tired days of summer hide the fat moon and starve the stars, whose eyes bring a mindful rest to those suffering from sadness. Some evenings I watch the sun slowly creep down into the west, burning the trees into the horizon, waiting for black night to come. It’s under the soft light of night when I can finally see. Sipping wine or bourbon in the kitchen soothes my mind and quiets my angry thoughts that fire daggers into my memories of reckless parents and grandparents who destroyed our beautiful family. My mind’s eye opens and I no longer give my anger the attention it clamors for. I search for my grandmother, who my anger loves to attack with a spear, as I flip through my cook book, inviting her to sip with me. But she’s gone. I close the book. I haven’t cooked much this summer, either. Our pantry is filled with plastic wrapped gummies and granola bars that a factory pushed out on a belt. Maybe I starved my grandmother out. Or drowned her in alcohol and preservatives. Not much unlike my childhood.

Who knows how long she will be gone. I’m closely watching the world spin into autumn as the evenings cool much more easily when the sun perches on the end of the earth, waiting to push new seeds into the dirt and welcome them as new visitors when they sprout. Springing up as miracles.

 

 

When relationship habits hurt

We turned the key of our old wooden front door and were met with a century’s worth of woody must that lofted up through the floors while we were away. With the air conditioner off for more than a week, the stale air inside of our house stuck thick in each room from not circulating. Our house’s old age always surprises me and welcomes me back home, adding us to its history and care.

Our vacation last week was a dream. While I was worried that it would be more difficult and disappointing than relaxing and fun, the way vacations can often turn out, it met us with an abundance of unexpected pleasure and leisure. Returning home we all feel refreshed instead of exhausted and remarkably closer to one another. When was the last time you heard of a family vacation actually doing that? I don’t have many pictures from our vacation, which is probably a good reason as to why it was so nice. Phones weren’t a huge distraction and we didn’t force any posed family pictures, trying to fake the fun. It happened naturally and with low expectations. No organized games, events or outings. Nothing was planned. We kept it flexible. If we wanted to go on a bike ride, we went. If we wanted to watch TV or nap, we did. Food was kept simple. Lots of snacking. No forcing the kids to stay at the table and finish their veggies. We came and went with the breeze and tried to limit how much we controlled the kids. Even they needed a break from our often militant parenting that demands their obedience and complete adherence to our rules.

Bending our family rules for a week and being a bit more free was really life giving for us and our kids. It actually helped me to appreciate the rules in our house a little bit more.  Coming home to regular bed times, screen times, eating times, healthy food, and routines doesn’t feel quite as oppressive after having an entire week of foregoing what we do the rest of the year. And it makes me miss it. I miss the long evenings with the kids, snacking on Oreos and playing cards. The spontaneous jaunts to the beach. Leisure bike rides to the store. No where to be. No one to accommodate. No one to please.

If anything, that’s where coming home has been the most difficult for me. I came home having spent time alone with my family for 7 days to friends and family, both close and far, whose expectations I just can’t live up to. This summer has been difficult in a lot of ways for me, but mostly it has been most difficult relationally. I am usually very committed to keeping up with my friends and family throughout my day and week, trying not to become insularly consumed with my children, spouse, and work. That means that I regularly text, call, and keep up on social media with people in my life. But this summer, for various reasons, I just couldn’t do it. Perhaps I felt relationally tapped out. Perhaps having older kids around during the summer proved to be a lot more demanding than I had anticipated. Whatever the reason, I haven’t been responding to texts and keeping up with phone calls like a usually do. I’ve stayed a savvy social media user and responder, though we all know that that medium of connection is much more impersonal. Maybe that’s why I preferred it these last couple of months. At any rate, once I returned home from a week away with my family, I was immediately hit with how I’ve disappointed a number of people this summer. Friends. Family. Acquaintances. How I can’t juggle so many relationships, both near and far, with any type of depth for such a prolonged periods of time without disappointing someone. If I choose to start a new relationship, an old one will naturally be taken from. To spend lots of time and emotional energy on a long distance relationship means that I will have less to give to those who are close.

And then add to all of this that I’m introverted. I’m extremely relational but it costs my mind and body a lot of energy. I am charged with quiet and solitude, which as I’ve mentioned before is a rarity around my house, not with relationships. So, it’s no wonder that being away from others and the demands that my (amazing!) relationships require was so life giving. It should also then not be a surprise that it showed me how unsustainable being constantly available to so many people is. It doesn’t leave room for me to invest deeply in a few people. It only allows for me to invest shallowly in many. And I say all of this as if I have soooo many friends. That isn’t true. I don’t spend a lot of time with people. I’m mostly always at home with my kids, reading, writing, texting, lurking facebook, being super digitally social, but not super physically invested. What a shame. For me and for my loved ones. But to stop that behavior means that I won’t be as available to as many people. To get away from my texting and social media behaviors and relationships means that I’ll hurt a lot of people with whom that’s my only form of relationship with. And I hate that. I love being connected to so many of my friends. But, in all honesty, being away from those pressures was so wonderful for me and for my family and in turn, I am so much closer to them for it.

I’m not planning on stopping my relationships with people who I primarily text and interact with online. I’d miss you all too much! And I have more long distance friends than I do physically close friends. Maybe I should just ask for a little grace when I drop the ball, or maybe my phone. I do need to be in my physical space occasionally! Or maybe just more vacations.

When You Have An Absent Minded Parent You Might Turn 6 Twice

Let me just tell you that I am often a complete disaster. I’m terribly disorganized, can be very scatter-brained, forgetful, and impulsive. As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed strategies to combat my absentmindedness, but every now and then it creeps back in. For instance.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.42.40 PM

This week was my youngest son’s birthday. The night before the big day, we told him that the birthday magic was coming while he slept; that when he went to sleep he would be 5, but when he wakes up he would be 6. We hung streamers outside his bedroom door. And when he woke up he was so excited. We had birthday pancakes. He announced to everyone at church that today was his birthday. We went to a special lunch with the grandparents. And then on our way in my mother-in-law said, “Okay, I’m just confused. Is today not the 24th?” I looked at her. Furrowed my brows and said, “No way.” It was the 24th. My son’s birthday is the 25th.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.42.56 PM

Owen heard us talking and got slightly concerned. “Wait, wait, wait,” he said. “Can I still open my presents?” I mean, at that point we were committed to it being his birthday so we continued on with pizza and cake and presents. I was so dead convinced that Sunday was his birthday ALL WEEK. But, in all honesty, there were a couple of moments where I almost had to pull out his birth certificate because I couldn’t remember if his birthday is the 25th or the 26th, so when I ended up getting the day wrong anyways, I guess I really wasn’t all that surprised. It is me after all.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.43.25 PM

But thank god that kids are so forgiving and gracious. There was none of this “Ugh, she forgot my birthday and messed it all up, poor, poor me,” thing that adults can do. We just whispered the magic in his ear again the next night and made him a special bowl of sugary birthday cereal and he declared that “today was his real birthday, actually.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 2.43.09 PM.png

I hope that they don’t grow up to resent or hate my often absentminded personality. We all just can only hope that we don’t screw our kids up too much. I’m a terrible keeper of anniversaries and birthdays. But I do love them and I always want them to feel loved and appreciated. This won’t be the last time or the worst time that I mix up a date or forget something important all together.  But I do hope that they always feel loved despite my many imperfections and flaws as I always ask them for forgiveness and grace. It was pretty hilarious that I got his birthday on the wrong day. We all had a good belly laugh over it. I hope he remembers it and remembers how much we love him. Our little Owen who turned 6 twice.

 

Moving On

Last night the moon rose through our window sweeping in the tide, alive with emotions that I haven’t wanted to confront for fear of an end that I’m not ready to face. This was the month that we were supposed to move. Classes start at universities next month and I was supposed to be a new doctoral student. Not an adjunct working working working to make below the poverty line. I answered an email last night telling my boss that I will not be returning this fall and I scrolled through lines and lines of emails that brought up a sour pit of sadness that I had forgotten was planted. My inbox was filled with students requesting to be written into my classes, alerts that doctoral students will be defending their prospectuses or dissertations, meeting requests for professional development workshops, textbook seminars, the comings and goings of the English chair, and my god what despair. Oh, how I love to teach. And write. I just love to write. I so wanted to teach and read and write and fill my days with doing what I love and be valued for it. But adjuncting just isn’t that job. It’s a shadow of what I wanted. An under paid, over worked, devalued shadow.

There is something, I don’t know, honorable about telling people that you teach at a university. I feel it every time I’m asked what I do and when I answer with my reply “I teach at Old Dominion University,” their eyebrows raise in reverence and esteem. “Oh really!” they say. I feel proud and valued in those moments. And the university knows that. That’s why they think that they can pay me $18,000 a year for teaching 6 classes, because it brings with it some type of cultural esteem that working at Wal-Mart just doesn’t. But my mom made more working at Wal-Mart than I make as a teacher at ODU. So, I quit. And I didn’t quit just because of the money. I’m too much of a romantic to quit over low wages. Walking back through the halls into the adjunct pit past the offices of associate and tenured professors is just too hard. People who I worked for as a graduate student, who wrote my recommendation letters, and who equally wanted to see me go somewhere will be on committees that I’ll never be invited to, will design courses that I’ll never teach, will write books that I’ll never write, speak at conferences with authority that I’ll never have, and I’ll walk by their offices every day with my head down, stuck, ashamed. I quit mostly because I can’t go back. Because I don’t want to be a part of an adjuncting system that exploits people for low wages in exchange for some sort of imagined cultural esteem. No thank you.

I’m really going to miss the students, those little shits. I’m going to miss thinking of creative ways to teach literature and engaging students in their writing. There aren’t many, if any other places to do that kind of work. However, I’m not one to stop at an end pass. I’m applying my creativity towards myself and my community by attempting to make a job for myself almost out of thin air. I’ve been working all summer to create a non-profit that builds, maintains, and supports learning and productive gardens at local schools. It’s a slow, bureaucratic process, but it’s going so well. Eventually, the goal is for me to be paid in the position as it’s executive director, to research and write articles on its behalf, to speak to the community on its behalf, to inject a passion for activism, social justice, and a love for our children on its behalf. That’s what I have been excited about all summer and it has made me move on from what I lost and wasn’t to be. I have an amazing education and skills that actually are valuable. There are so many things that I can do. I recognize that I am in a position where I can go months without earning any income, thanks to my spouse. That’s something that a lot of people can’t afford or have the luxury to take advantage of. But because I have this opportunity, I will not devolve into sackcloth and ashes. I will not accept what I don’t have to. I will push into the unknown and use my privilege for my community.

So. Here I am. My board of directors has named me the president of The Norfolk School Garden Collective. When I’m asked the question “What do you do?” that will be my answer. It’s what I’m building and creating. And I’m excited! I have no idea how it will work out or how it will be shaped, but I’m going to press into the unknown and what’s uncomfortable for me. I’m not used to working in this capacity. I have to adopt a new vocabulary that can speak to city leaders, school administrators, parents, food advocates, government agencies, and parents. I have so much to learn, I have so much to do and I have absolutely zero idea what I’m doing. But I’m up for the task.

I’m not sure how to symbolically or metaphorically close ones of life’s doors, or how to turn a page and start a new chapter. Those images are stupid and cliché anyways. I’m just walking. Living faithfully. Accepting what comes.  And moving on.

Living Freely

I’m embarrassed to say it but a few months ago the chord to our house phone got stuck in the freezer door and it was left ajar for 36 hours without us noticing. When we woke up in the morning there was a pool of defrosted goo-juice on the floor around the fridge. Jason got down on his hands and knees and cleaned it up, threw out the spoiled food and shut the freezer door. I didn’t say anything otherwise. I just wanted to be done with the whole mess because I had so much else to worry about that I wasn’t ready to actually scrub out the freezer. We just refroze that goo-juice on the bottom of the freezer and vowed to get to it in a few days. But I know what you’re thinking. Why in the actual hell do we have a house phone with a chord? I know. I know. Jason has a nostalgia for things that remind him of a simpler time of being chained to the kitchen wall talking to his grandmother for hours. Needless to say, we still haven’t cleaned out the frozen goo-juice.

I don’t use the freezer much. We’re not a freeze everything, meat stockpiling type of people and don’t drink our water with ice. When I need frozen berries for smoothies I quickly pull them out to avoid looking at the mess that is my life at the bottom of the freezer and quickly shut the door. But when company comes over they always want ice. When they make themselves at home, which I always insist they do, they open the freezer and stare blankly into the abyss of moldy, months old goo-juice and wonder if they should just drink lukewarm water. It’s at about that moment when I start to stare at the dog hair under all of my furniture and the old magazines and children’s books under the couch legs used to keep it even on top of our uneven floors. The smudges and dust on our white kitchen cabinets are ornate pendants surrounding the broken vent on our microwave over the stove that has stains between the glass that we just can’t seem to reach. And why is stainless steel even called stainless? They obviously didn’t test this material on my children because they’ve stained it. Permanently. When I escort my guests into my dinning room all I see is the dust and piles of papers in the office and toys and bags of stuff that I haven’t taken to the thrift store yet to donate. And forget about the laundry. If my guests look closely enough they’ll see that it’s probably the same laundry that was lying on the couch the last time they were here, just now moved into a hamper. I look at them glad that I’m at least not naked.

When I think back on my girlhood, I remember my grandmother fussing over her house and her cooking from when she woke until she went to sleep. She ironed her husband and her son’s clothes for hours after washing them and before hanging them in their closets. And there sits my family’s laundry on our couch for days. I wonder if my husband looks at that laundry and feels a stinging embarrassment when his mom comes over. Does that laundry pile up on his psyche as it does mine? He merrily fusses over his job and does his duty taking care of us and building our kids a tree house all while the weight of my grandmother’s life work hovers over me and I never stack up. Until he takes a look outside and realizes that he has tools lying around the yard and leaning against the shed. We both have pressures from our ancestors causing us to be embarrassed of our imperfect house keeping, work, and finances.  Because our bank account is as bad as our freezer. We have more frozen goo-juice than money, as it turns out.

This morning my grandmother is looking at me from across my dining room table sipping her coffee telling me that I fuss over my writing too much and need to go wash the blinds. Her fingers are pressed against her jaw as she leans on the table with her elbow. Gazing around the room she is disapproving of how irresponsible I have been. Reading and writing for hours a day instead of cleaning out my freezer. Taking Ruby for walks around the neighborhood instead of organizing the mail. Teaching Myles and Owen about plants and bees instead of weeding. I know she thinks they’re spoiled and need a haircut.  I know. The most liberating thing I ever did was to stop giving a shit of what my grandmother thinks of me from her grave. I’m disheveled. Unorganized. Dusty and cluttered. I spend my time organizing gardens at schools, reading books, research, and articles. I write. I garden. I play with my kids. I cook slow and long. I have grass stains on my jeans. Smudges on my mirrors. And I’m happy. Was she? Or did her ancestors haunt her into submission? Not me.

Not me. 

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 7.48.37 AM

 

On Finding Community Through Reconciling Our Past

Screen Shot 2016-06-04 at 4.35.28 PM

Sometimes it’s difficult for me to reconcile not having my elders around me anymore. When you’re young you look up to your great-grandparents and grandparents as being strong pillars of memory and strength. They aren’t perfect people. Actually, they often make terrible decisions and can be cruel. But still you feel safe knowing that there is someone to stand and depend on. Someone who won’t let you fall when you are in trouble or need help. All of my grandparents are gone and I often find myself feeling lost or in exile. Alone. Abandoned. There is a part of me that is angry for not being accepted into a doctoral program because that was my ticket out of my native place of south eastern Virginia. A place that I love more than anywhere else in the world, but the site where I have experienced so much pain and damage to my spirit. I sometimes long to leave this place where my family’s dysfunction is connected to its geography. We’re a fragmented, broken family. We often feel as though we are wanderers through the desert. Who are our people? Where do we belong? Where is our place in this world?

This is my home. I can feel in my blood when the tide comes in and goes out. I know exactly the time when the thick summer air begins to chill and fold into autumn. When the daffodils begin to bloom in early spring, I know that it’s time to start preparing the garden beds for peas and beets. It’s not until after the azaleas bloom that the blue crabs begin to emerge from their deep marshy beds and the bay is dotted with pots. And with each change of the season I remember my girlhood and the spaces where I walked and where I cried. But this has not always been. My family’s ancestors are from the hills of Virginia and West Virginia. The Shenandoah Valley. The Blue Ridge Mountains. They left the deep mountains to find work, to get their children a better education, and found themselves in the tidewaters of the coast leaving behind generations of stories and memories. I’ve always wondered if our family’s dysfunction and fragmentation is a generational chasm that was in some way caused by our separation from our ancestral land. It isn’t until now that my generation and my children’s generation, who were born on these marshes, is beginning to heal. That staying on our native born land, where we have walked and grown plants and begun to form new memories of place and time, has caused me to begin reconciling the pain of my family’s past.

I wonder where I will want my body to be returned after I die. I have always thought that I want my remains to be buried in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Where my ancestors are. But as I grow older and my children inhabit this land, we are slowly moving away from the dysfunction of generations that have haunted my family. I feel a belonging here that I have never felt. Maybe it’s been that I’ve found a community of friends and neighbors who have come next to me and loved me as sisters and brothers and parents. Maybe that’s why I’ve come to love this place as much as I do and am glad that I didn’t leave. Norfolk is my home and my people live here. It’s where I belong.