I have been feeling out of sorts. The grief lingers... the changes in our life without Paul still jump at us when we least expect them to.  I am equal parts happy and sad when my kids feel down...I keep reminding them that the strength of their relationship with Grandpa is what is causing this sadness. Had there been none, they wouldn't feel much. But there are moments that just grab you without warning and you sort of look around thinking, "Hey! I thought this was over." But it's not and it won't be until it is. Or, maybe it won't ever be and we will just live in this new way. I think that is the unsettling part... accepting that this IS the new way. The other part of this is understanding that everyone in my family needs something so different. I like to talk because it keeps Paul alive. Big Man doesn't, or can't, for too long.  It's a sticky wicket trying to manage and respect individual needs.

This, combined with the shift to summer, has been sort of rocky. I didn't mean to be busy, but a daily run to tennis lessons (I am frantically trying to finish this between dashes to the courts) with two kids at two different times seems to suck away at my morning. The afternoons are full of swimming and the library and chores and reading and music and who-knows-what-might-come. I have tried to set my sights low on personal accomplishments and am wondering just how low I can go.

And while I don't have a wildfire lurking in my backyard, I do have a pre-pubescent tween who seems to be in for a long slow smolder as well.  I am thankful for the supporting cast of aunties whose gentle and funny ways will guide both of us through. I really am banking on the fact that she won't remember her harpy  exasperated, short-tempered mom but fun-filled trips to Camp Auntie. Diverting college funds to a therapist will remain an option for awhile.

All of this is to say that my MAJOR accomplishment for the summer thus far is whittling down 694 g-mails to 24. These messages went back three years ago. I could chronicle my involvement with the marriage amendment, my communications with CNN editors, The Huffington Post, and a few local editors. There were emails regarding our journey to finding an acreage and learning about Andrew being killed and trips being planned and friends whose hearts have been broken and inquiries to me regarding my job interests and personal messages from writers I admire. The whole spring of Paul's illness was there as well as book club dates and reminders of favorite recipes I wanted to try.  I know it sounds silly, but this task made me feel better. While this month of June has been a wash as far as visible progress, I can see that I have had an active life, I have created new friendships, renewed old ones, and continue to maintain those that feed me in my daily life. I have put myself out there in ways I could never have imagined three years ago in writing and speaking and teaching. One slow month does not define my life.

It always hardest to see in the thick of things....a message I need to send to myself a little more often, I think. And from all this turmoil, new things are brewing even if I don't know what they are yet.

For now gentle reminders that I am where I am supposed to be are the whispers that carry me throughout my day.

For the Birthday Girl

I can't believe my mom raised four kids between two small towns in rural Iowa and lived to talk about it. When I think of the resources available to families today, and moms in particular, it makes me want to weep for that girl in her young twenties just doing what had to be done out on the farm. Cooking, cooking, and more cooking. Cleaning and ironing and hauling food out to the field and running farm errands non-stop. There wasn't a lot of time for socialization, few people to bounce ideas off of, few people to ask for help and certainly no instant chat rooms to run to when you felt alone, stranded, at your wit's end.  It makes me think I am a major wuss.

I have never been one to take a lot of time to examine what I did or did not get from my mom. Being a parent myself has made me see that we all do the best we can with what we are given. I know my kids will have their own therapy bills to contend with though I hope they adopt my approach which has basically been, "Get over it already!" It saves time and money.

The long and short of it is that we do not have the perfect relationship. She had a difficult life and I worked hard not to add to it. Without even realizing it, I kind of stop letting my mom be my mom because I didn't want to be a burden when she already had so much to bear. I made that choice not to lean on her though she has always been in my corner. When I couldn't find a job, when I  finally had a job, at all the speech meets for students I coached for the first time on my own, when I lost many babies, when I had babies, when Paul died, and so many other times in between my mom has been at my side. Her physical presence has been my gift. My mom, despite my not really opening up to her or leaning on her, has always planted herself nearby. And so I credit her for not giving up on me, on us, for accepting what is and running with it. Mom is much more resilient than I fear I will ever be.

And so it goes without saying that I love her, but it must also be said that I love her in ways that have yet to reveal themselves fully to me.  

I was never the perfect daughter.  And she is the mom that I know and from whom I have based all other female relationships upon. It can feel complex and sticky and burdensome and overwhelming and I will never pretend to understand it all.  But what is great about love, especially mother-love, is that it doesn't have to be figured out or perfect or what we want it to be or what we think it should be. If we are lucky enough to get out of the way of all that crap, it can just be.

I am working on that and she is letting me.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.

Well, it's June.

Lots of random things on my mind with little time to focus. In no particular order, we've had these things happening....

- morel mushroom hunting. Big Man scored big time in a very concerted effort. The man did not give up. He was privy to no special land or information, but the guy can spot a dying elm tree!  And so, in many stolen moments he walked and walked and found some loot. He was joined once by a medical student (ok- forced...they don't know it's part of their gig at Winona Health. Some view it as a perk, others a peculiarity), once by a beloved aunt and uncle, and most often with Dog. She's a boon companion who does not complain or talk despairingly about long uphill hikes like some Things we know.

-blasts from our past.  Friends from residency visited our farm and all of the people, dogs, and kids blended well, a friend from my first teaching job spent a few days with me, and I met an old high school friend for a whirlwind lunch a few weeks ago. Last Friday, I met a dear woman whom I met early on in my life in Winona.  We see each other randomly but had not really talked in a long time. All this social time has left me thinking a lot about how we tend to relationships and which ones get our focus.  A woman I know believes in what she calls "seasonal friendships". There are different seasons or stages of our life and we are drawn to people who help us through those particular phases of life.  But there are those that we keep no matter the season and who seem to require little nourishment and thrive despite a lack of tending to. In each case, I was able to pick up where we left off and it was easy and comfortable and meaningful.  Big Man will be the first to admit that he is a gardener of plants, and I am the gardener of people. It's clear...we know our strengths.

-living with loss.  This has been strange, us living without The Original Big Man. Thing 1 received a beautiful birthday card from her aunt who wrote about how proud Grandpa Paul must be of what a sweet and loving girl she is becoming. It sent us both to tears when, a minute earlier, we had been giggling.  Yikes!  Big Man is  churning on...looking at the wonky way in which the tree he planted in his dad's honor is situated and trying to figure out best how to correct it's stature.  It seems a fitting metaphor for how we are all trying to live. It feels wonky and not quite right. Will it ever?  Thing 2 wants to hear his voice and goes silent when we talk about Grandpa. It's hard for him. I keep imagining Paul's interjections in conversation. I think, "This is when Paul would say 'Well, sure...." and state his case and I would likely disagree with him. It's just still too weird. And sad.

-politics. I am still reading about it, not commenting, ruminating on the system in general. I think, despite how anyone feels regarding gay rights, what I got from the whole experience was a front row seat to democracy in action. It restored my faith in the system as a whole. There is unrest and discomfort in my local scene,especially regarding our frac sand mining issue, and I find myself asking, "What would I do?" I don't think I want to run for any sort of seat and yet, as I get older, I see that real change occurs with policy making. And yet I can think of nothing more detrimental to your personal relationships- marriage, kids, friends, than becoming a politician. Oy vey!  But, how else can I get involved? 

-job changes. Big Man is finally hanging up his hat at Winona Health. Given the size of the community and time he has spent here, it is harder than one might think. I have been surprised at what a toll it has taken on all of us. My roll at The Book Shelf puts me out in the community sometimes .  People feel compelled to ask questions and offer kind words and express sadness. It is hard for people to say good-bye to their physician.  After losing his dad and bearing the weight of trying to be the kind of doctor he wants to be until his very last day here, I feel a bit like a cheerleader on auto-pilot who is down to her last pom-pom. Or, is it pom?

-my blog.  A dear friend offered some suggestions in order to make it more inviting for people to comment. Since I am not tech-savvy, I am working on this. If you can comment easily, do!  I would love to hear from you and will try to figure out how to reply to you.

I long for a day of focus. My last day of school was supposed to be mine, but instead Thing 2 is sick and I am writing in between trips to help him clean up after an upset stomach. This is life, my life. In all of it, I would not trade one thing.