Thoughts on Thriving

If you were reading this column back in 2020, you may remember that my “word for the year” – which I chose instead of making a New Year’s resolution – was “THRIVE.” 

When 2020 began, our baby boy had just been given the diagnosis of “failure to thrive.” This, combined with a mysterious respiratory virus, resulted in two hospital stays between December 2019 and January 2020, one of which involved the horrific experience of having our two-month-old intubated in the ICU. We needed to help him thrive; not only that, but our entire shaken family needed to figure out how to thrive together.

In retrospect, the word seems like an ironic choice: Two months later, COVID hit. 

In many ways our family did thrive in 2020, just not in the ways I might have predicted. Our little boy was the most obvious success: The months of lockdown kept him from getting sick while he gained weight and strength. He is now a hefty, active toddler. The rest of us worked hard to thrive as a family through the disappointment of cancelled plans and the monotony of housebound days. We tried to adopt behaviors that would keep ourselves and others safe during an unknown and rapidly changing pandemic situation, while still attempting to prioritize things that aided our mental, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual health. 

It was exhausting. And when the year ended, I looked around and realized that I had two adolescents in the house who were struggling to thrive.

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

Dog Days

It’s that time of year again.

Our family has now logged in eight straight weeks of summer vacation. We have spent countless sultry days at the lake, eaten gallons of ice cream, lit sparklers, chased fireflies. Our annual trip to the Maine coast has come and gone. I am tired of weeding the garden. My daughters have stayed up late binge watching “The Clone Wars” so often that it feels routine. “What are we doing today?” they ask each morning, and – although much of what I thought we’d do this summer has been left undone – I am running out of ideas. School remains weeks away.

The dog days: In our house, they aren’t so much about the weather as they are about a fuzzy, sultry, oppressive state of mind. 

This year, however, my daughters have taken the concept of the dog days literally, by renewing their campaign for a puppy.

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

Early Summer Snapshots

The weather never seems to be normal lately: too wet or too dry, too cold or too hot, record this, record that. It could be that there never really was a “normal” – that weather is just prone to dramatic fluctuations from year to year. Or it could be that climate change is ramping up in earnest, like they’ve always said it would. Whatever the reason, it’s probably a good idea to pay attention.

I’m not always good at paying attention to things that aren’t screaming for my attention. But this year, the weather has gotten pretty close to screaming at me through a series of violent storms. 

Most dramatic was the tornado that ripped across our property in late March, toppling power lines and our neighbors’ buildings. Two months later, to the day, a severe thunderstorm blew down trees in downtown Middlebury and knocked out our power for about 15 hours – notable because it was the day of our daughters’ piano recital on Zoom, necessitating a scramble to find a location that still had power. 

Those two storms made us twitchy enough that when we got the bulletin about another severe thunderstorm headed our way last week, we sprang into action. This storm had a buildup that lasted for hours. As scary-looking clouds mounted in the sky, my husband cooked dinner at 3 p.m. in case we lost power, and I walked the dog through powerful wind gusts. 

Our efforts were puny compared with those of our neighbors, who were haying our field.

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

Pain in the Back

I’ve been middle aged for a while now, but it didn’t feel official until last month, when I threw out my back. 

My husband, who has spent much of his adult life sitting at desks and working on computers, was throwing out his back and neck on a regular basis long before he hit middle age. Sometimes he’d just roll out of bed the wrong way, and he’d spend the next few days with his head cocked to one side, moaning painfully. But I have spent much of my adult life chasing after children rather than sitting at desks; this was my first experience with severe back pain.

It happened in the least glamourous way possible. My husband and I had to participate in the same meeting on Zoom, so we were sharing a single laptop screen. Attempting to hide from our children, we chose to attend the meeting in my “office” (a desk and chair set up between the washer/dryer and the sewing machine). My husband arrived first to set up, so he took the chair; I arrived several minutes late, after getting the kids settled, so I perched on a stepladder. I spent the entire 90-minute meeting atop that stepladder, hunched slightly forward and to the right so that I could see the laptop screen. When the meeting ended, I could barely stand. 

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

The Pod Swing

The pod swing hangs from a beam in our living room like some overripe fruit in a tropical rain forest. It is tear-shaped, made of durable lime green fabric with electric blue trim. You enter the swing through a narrow opening in the fabric; when you settle onto the round, electric blue cushion inside, you are surrounded by lime green on all sides, encased like a pupa in a chrysalis. 

The pod swing was not an intentional act of interior decorating. I never cast a critical eye on our living room and said, “You know, what this place really needs is a pod swing.” We purchased the swing on the advice of our son’s physical therapist; it’s supposed to give him practice in “not feeling in control.” 

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

Reflections on A Decade

My third daughter turned ten on March 1. 

The momentousness of the occasion didn’t hit me at first. With birthdays, I’m usually just relieved to have them successfully behind us: Gifts purchased, wrapped, and opened. Cake baked, frosted, lit, and consumed. Birthday child feeling sufficiently loved and celebrated for another year. 

But after the last candle was extinguished, I did the math, and it seems that I now have three children with ages in the double digits. This leaves only two children in the single digits (and without pierced ears, ten being the age at which our family considers you responsible enough to handle earrings.) 

Maybe that doesn’t seem momentous to you. To me, it marks the shocking realization that the majority of my children are more than halfway to adulthood. 

My daughter’s birthday points to another milestone: If she is ten, then our family has now lived in Vermont for ten years. 

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

Crying At the Movies

We were snuggled up on the couch (or crammed in, depending on your perspective) for our family’s weekly Friday movie night. In the flickering light from the screen, I could see three pairs of worried eyes staring at me.

“Uh, Mommy,” whispered one of my daughters, “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” I sobbed. “This scene just gets me every time.”

We were watching the 2015 Pixar animated feature, Inside Out. The last time I’d seen this film was in a theater five years earlier, and I’d broken down in sobs during the exact same scene. 

Inside Out takes place largely inside the brain of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. Riley’s emotions go haywire during a time of major change in her life, and the film follows Joy and Sadness as they try to get Riley back on track. In the scene that always shreds me, the two emotions have met Riley’s old imaginary friend, “Mr. Bing Bong,” in her long-term memory. Joy and Bing Bong become trapped in the Memory Dump, where memories fade into oblivion. They attempt to ride a toy wagon out of the dump, but Bing Bong realizes that the two of them are too heavy. He helps Joy launch the wagon, and then he bails out in mid-air. Joy escapes, realizes he’s no longer with her, and looks back down into the Memory Dump. Bing Bong, as he vanishes, waves up at her and calls, “Take [Riley] to the moon for me, okay?”

Gah! 

It seems I will never be able to watch this scene without dissolving into tears. My children don’t understand (yet). I’m not sure I understand entirely, either: Why should I weep repeatedly over the disappearance of an animated pink cat-elephant-dolphin hybrid that only ever existed in a fictional child’s imagination? 

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

On Giving Up Coffee

I fell in love with coffee slowly. I wasn’t until midway through college, when a friend took it upon herself to introduce me to coffee in the form of a sugary sweet hazelnut latte, that I became interested in the beverage at all. I continued to guzzle hazelnut lattes (which I now consider “adulterated coffee”) at Starbucks franchises during my post-college years, working my way up to the “venti” size (which I believe is Italian for “the approximate volume of a bucket.”) Over time my coffee drinks included less sweetener and milk, so that when my family was living in California’s Bay Area – the epicenter of coffee snobbery – I was a coffee purist. 

For over a decade, I drank my coffee black, preferably from freshly ground beans. Although the caffeine kick was helpful as our household filled with young children, I drank coffee for love. Quality was more important to me than quantity: My habit was to drink two cups of coffee per day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. I loved the taste of coffee, loved cradling the warm mug in my hands and inhaling its aroma, loved anticipating my second cup during those endless afternoons of early motherhood.

Which made it acutely painful when I had to give up coffee. 

Click here to continue reading the final “Faith in Vermont” of 2020 in The Addison Independent.

A Geese-Eye View

My daughters began digging the hole on the first weekend of October. 

The large window over our kitchen sink is my window on the world – or the world of our backyard, at least. It was from this vantage point that I spotted three of my daughters hard at work with shovels on a Friday afternoon, clustered around a growing pile of dirt right in the middle of the yard.

“What are you doing?” I called out the back door.

“We’re digging a hole!” they shouted back.

“Couldn’t you have picked a less central place to dig it?” I asked.

“Daddy said it was okay!”

And that was that.

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

Like Little Children

I have a confession to make: With five children in our family, I can no longer remember important individual milestones. Were you to ask me at what ages each of my children walked, talked, cut their first tooth, I couldn’t say. I could give you a range, which would be, “Somewhere between the ages of birth and two.” 

I love my children deeply for the individuals that they are; ask me today about their personalities and tastes, and I’ll tell you in detail. But past details have all receded into the fog of thirteen years of sleep deprivation. I cannot recall my fourth child’s first word, what everyone wore for Halloween two years ago, and I have difficulty remembering everyone’s current shoe size. 

I mention this to give you a sense of how significant it is that, over the past month, three of my daughters said things that I felt compelled to record in my journal so that I wouldn’t forget. 

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