First Things…and Wedding Rings

My immediate thought, after my three-year-old daughter swallowed my wedding band, was: Well, I guess there really IS a first time for everything!

This past month has been full of firsts for our family, which is typical of early September. There were the first days of the new school year, with one daughter entering a new third grade class, one daughter beginning kindergarten, one daughter starting part-time preschool, and the remaining daughter resuming homeschool. We visited new classrooms for the first time, packed our first lunches, navigated the first day jitters (and completely forgot about the requisite first day photos!)

Three weeks into the school year, and everything still feels new as we struggle to find our footing, figure out who’s going where and when, sign up for extracurricular activities, and help our exhausted daughters transition out of their lax summer sleep schedule.

We are experiencing additional firsts since moving to a new home in early August, figuring out how things work in this house and how our land is best managed.

And, in less happy news, one of our daughters is undergoing treatment for her first bout with Lyme disease.

So many firsts, so much newness! But the wedding band incident trumped it all.

Click here to continue reading this month’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Hello, Again! An Update.

My view every day while washing dishes.

My view every day while washing dishes.

 

Today is my birthday. Last year, when I turned 40, I used the occasion to write an update on the topic of discomfort. My husband and I had just concluded a very difficult, uncomfortable year hashing out what we should be doing with our lives and whether that included moving homes, and we were gearing up for a potentially difficult, uncomfortable year. Added to the regular chaos of raising four young children was a 5-month sabbatical in Berkeley, California (including a venture into homeschooling), followed immediately by summer “vacation” and a local move, and then the start of the new school year.

If you’re a regular reader, you know this.

A year ago, I embraced this discomfort as an opportunity for growth and change. I still believe that, but I have to admit that part of me was expecting a break sooner or later. If you’d asked the me of a year ago how I thought I would feel on my next birthday, my honest answer would’ve been: “Relieved and settled.” With multiple moves behind me, and with our family and our stuff installed at last in what we hope will be our final home, I anticipated that this would be the year when I could relax and breathe again.

Turns out that just because you’re not moving doesn’t mean that you’re settled.

Lest you think this post is about to veer into whiny ingratitude: Don’t worry. I have a loooong list of things to be grateful for, and I know it. I have a loving, supportive, and healthy family. My husband likes to cook. My daughters are growing up, and becoming more fun and interesting and enjoyable every day. As of this year, all of our girls are in some sort of school at least a few days each week, and I even get to homeschool one of them, which is one of the most special, fulfilling, and challenging things I’ve ever done.

And this new home: A year ago, I could never have imagined what a gift it would be. It is full of light, and its size, layout, and spirit just work for our family. Then there’s the land. I’m not sure that I can even begin to do written justice to the land yet: the beautiful rolling green fields that I see out every window, where we walk the dog and watch butterflies and collect milkweed pods in order to send their feathery seeds into the wind.

All of this is so, so good.

But moving a family of six takes an awful lot of cleaning, and packing, and unpacking, and cleaning again. We spent the better part of a month lifting boxes and climbing stairs and pushing vacuums and wielding paintbrushes, and we are exhausted.

Our old house is still on the market, and we expect it to sit on the market through the winter: The Vermont real estate market is slow on a good day, and it appears that we may have chosen a bad day to put our house up for sale. We will survive, but obviously this isn’t ideal.

And that land, that beautiful land: We have plans for it. Plans that involve garden beds and brush hogs and tree cutting and chicken fencing. My to-do list these days includes things like: Research building compost bins from pallets, and Borrow Tricia’s pickup truck for bulk mulch and soil. 

Then there are some days that are just mice-in-the-glove-compartment, beavers-felling-backyard-trees, blueberry-bushes-mysteriously-dropping-leaves, one-child-has-Lyme-disease type of days. I’m not kidding: That was one morning. Later that day, my husband came in and said, “There’s a rabid skunk in the shed,” and I just shrugged in resignation, because of course there was. (There wasn’t: He was kidding.)

Some of our girls had difficult transitions to school. My husband is stressed about going back to teaching after a year’s sabbatical, with tenure looming a year away. We have aches and pains. And there are still big, huge “What are we going to do next?” decisions that we need to discuss, but we can’t quite seem to find the time because once the girls are (finally!) asleep at night we’re just too sore and exhausted to do anything other than eat popcorn and read.

What I’m saying is: One year later, we’re hardly “relieved and settled.” We are still smack in the middle of uncomfortable.

So, in a way, I got my wish: I concluded last year’s birthday blog post with:  “I hope to be uncomfortable for a long time to come.”

But, you see, I didn’t really believe that. In my heart of hearts, I thought that discomfort was like a mountain peak. Maybe you spent a year struggling uphill, but then you got a break. You got to look around at the stunning views, celebrating how far you’d come. You got to catch your breath.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in a year’s time, it’s that life doesn’t guarantee you a break. Sometimes you don’t get to catch your breath. Life is not plotted out like a race, with water stations for optimal comfort.

have known all of this. I have written versions of this same thing before. Still, every time I’ve climbed up one mountain only to find that there’s another peak right in front of me, or that the descent is even more difficult than the ascent, my knee-jerk reaction is: “That’s SO UNFAIR!

But here, I think, is some good news:

With age does come the opportunity to learn from our past in order to shape more realistic expectations for the present. We consider things unfair when they’re unexpected. But if I channel my four decades of experience into the expectation that life will be hard, then it won’t seem so unfair when it is. I’ll waste less time being angry when I don’t get a break, and I’ll be gratefully surprised when I do find rest.

And a word on rest: Because life doesn’t simply hand us moments of relief and comfort, we must become adept at grabbing them for ourselves. I’m slowly learning to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier so that I can claim more quiet hours, to say no to things that will clutter up our family’s calendar with needless busy-ness, and to spend as little time as possible  in front of screens.

So my birthday prescription for optimal mental, physical, and spiritual health combines lowered expectations with being proactive about rest.

How am I doing with that? Honestly, I struggle. (Also, my children seem hell-bent on destroying any chance I have to rest.) But I cling to the rope of knowing that I am not alone on this climb.

It is all a work in progress: Our family, our land, life. Frequently uncomfortable and exhausting, with quick and surprising moments of joy and relief. But I’ll leave you with this quote by Henry David Thoreau, which I’ve been reflecting upon this birthday week: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

The More Things Change

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At the end of August, as has been our custom for the past three summers, our family spent a weekend at the Highland Lodge, on the shores of Caspian Lake in Greensboro, Vermont. Travel with four young children is never easy, so when we find a location that works, our tendency is to return to it again and again. We began an annual pre-school stay at the Highland Lodge shortly after the birth of our fourth child, and it has become one of our happy places.

Returning to the same vacation spot year after year provides the comfort of knowing what to expect. It provides a coherent chain of memories: Remember what we did here last year? And it provides an encouraging sense of perspective and progress: Every year the children are older, easier, more self-sufficient. Remember those things we were so worried about the last time we were here? Everything turned out okay!

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Of Ticks and Fear

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“Mommy, is that a tick?” my seven-year-old daughter asks. She’s looking in the bathroom mirror, pointing to a small black speck under her chin.

Our family’s move earlier this month from the woods to the fields has not only entailed a change in scenery, but also a change in the pests that plague us: We’ve moved from Mosquitoland to Tickville.

Click here to continue reading about ticks — and how they relate to the current election cycle — in my latest “Faith in Vermont” column for The Addison Independent.

Decisions, Decisions

Our family moved last week.

In fact, it would be more accurate to say that our family has been moving for the past year.

It all began with a dream: What if we lived with a little less house, on a little more land? What if we grew and raised more of what we eat?

After six months of searching, we found a little less house on a little more land. It was a mere six miles from our current house – six miles closer to town. The price was right. And the house was a mess. Although it wasn’t an old house – the first section was built in 1995 – it had undergone two tacked-on additions, had a wet basement, needed a new boiler, and appeared to be mid-way through a haphazard renovation: walls were half-painted, windows were without trim, most rooms lacked light fixtures, and (as I repeatedly pointed out to my husband) none of the bathrooms included towel rods.

“Mommy, I don’t want to live here,” my eldest daughter whispered to me as we walked through the house.

“Don’t worry, honey,” I whispered back. “I don’t either.”

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Journeys in Pediatric Dentistry

Like most people, I do not love change. This is particularly true if the change in question involves putting up buildings where there were none. I realize the need for economic development: More buildings generally mean more jobs, and that more jobs are good for the overall welfare of our community. Still, I’d rather have grass and trees than bricks and mortar. If a building must occupy land, I’d rather have a charming, crumbling farmhouse than a new construction.

I’m weird that way.

But when we returned to Vermont after five months away and I noticed a brand-new construction on a formerly vacant lot on Route 7 with a sign out front proclaiming it the future home of Middlebury Pediatric Dentistry, I thought, “It’s about time!”

Click here to continue reading my long-awaited pediatric dentistry column in this week’s Addison Independent!

Addendum to “No Child of Ours”

Thanks to everyone for your kind comments and shares of my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Although I did feel that this column was one of the most important things I’ve written thus far, that was more because it was the first time I’d attempted to tackle a BIG ISSUE (racism) head-on in “public.” My frustration with the column was that I doubted whether I’d said enough. It’s hard when the most we can do is to identify something that stinks; when we can’t solve the problem quickly.

But what I can do is to share with you the complete video of the “Unlikely Advocates” talk by Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil that I referenced in my article. The link is below, and includes both Dr. Salter McNeil’s keynote address (one of the most powerful talks I’ve experienced firsthand) and the panel discussion that followed. Both are well worth your time. (The “Unlikely Advocates” event was put on by Project Peace East Bay, the nonprofit that I used to work for when our family lived in Berkeley. I am so proud and impressed and humbled by the good work that they continue to do in Bay Area communities.)