Simplifying begs the question, what next?

One of the most exciting things about simplifying is what comes after. Simplifying clears the way for this question:

What do I want?

After clearing your home or your mind or your schedule, there is this space that feels like a spectacular opening, an invitation. Sometimes, perhaps, what fills up that space is the understanding that we already have everything we want and now we can enjoy that more. And that is a beautiful thing.

But it is in our human nature to grow, and I think our desires can be the touchstones for that growth. So even if we have most of what we want, there is often something else.

Recently, while my daughters were launching themselves further into their grownup lives, I suggested this:

Take the job that scares and excites you.

Delve into the creative project that you aren’t quite ready for. 

It’s exciting to see them growing into new things, becoming bigger versions of themselves. Though as parents we are not supposed to live vicariously through our children, it is hard to beat the feeling that comes from seeing your own children growing and thriving (just as there is no worse feeling than seeing them suffer, which also inevitably happens).

None of us is really ready for anything that challenges us, are we? At any stage of life, we are all sort of winging it, in a way.

Staying full of all sorts of clutter can be comfortable, like a cushion, a barrier between what we have now and what we don’t dare ask for.   That thing we want that whispers to us- or heck, maybe it screams at us- we want to hush it- because it’s too big, too scary, too improbable, or others might not like it.

OR THIS: It’s so small, so simple that it seems it wouldn’t really make any difference anyhow, so why bother?

OR IT IS INTANGIBLE: Peace. Acceptance. Relief. Confidence. Courage. Connection. Faith. How do we ask for these? We name them.

Sometimes we get what we want instantly. Often there is much work to do to get there- but at least now we are on our way. Anything I’ve gotten that I’ve wanted, came after either writing down my desire ( my form of prayer, in a way) or saying it aloud. The words I WANT hold power. They add clarity, focus, priority.

Sometimes what we want is just to know what we want. Often we know what we don’t want. But that’s helpful too. It gets us to the place of knowing what we do want.

I went through a time of not being clear on what I wanted. I tried different things and though they felt worthwhile, none were quite It. I felt I was squandering my time and energy on too many different things. I guess this was my clutter, distracting me from having to put real effort into one chosen endeavor.  It took time to get clear on what I wanted.  Simplifying helped greatly. It took saying no to all the things that just weren’t cutting it- all the things that would keep me busy but not quite fulfill me.

Now I know what I want. First and foremost, I want to keep being grateful for the intangibles that I already have so much of: love, health, faith, time. I want to always be clear on what I already have and to enjoy and appreciate all of it.

I want some less important, but still worthwhile, things. Some I may get, and some I may not, and all of that is okay. Often, the act of striving is just as fulfilling as the act of getting.

  I want to do well in the Moth Grandslam this summer and also be invited to the Moth Main stage, or some other big venue and I want to get comfortable with this idea. Okay, maybe not comfortable, exactly, but I at least want to be able to channel my nerves into something more like passion. I want to be absolutely satisfied with the way my book comes out. I want it published, well received, and to go on to write others (and it sure wouldn’t hurt to get the fellowship I applied for that would help me do this. It’s not required, but it would be sweet). And I want to know that the thing that fulfills me is adding some value somewhere, to someone else, at least sometimes. I want to keep reading good books.

I want to only crave healthy foods. I want to get clearer.  I want to have the energy, every day, to do the things I want to do. I want to get better and better at living in the present moment . I want to stop the mind chatter that only seems to cease entirely when I am writing, meditating, practicing yoga, sleeping, or listening to others.

I want a new light for my dining room because I really don’t like the gold one that’s there (we’re allowed to want petty things too). I also want a pair of white pants that are the right length so I don’t have to go get them hemmed. And while I’m at it, I want to figure out why the time on my laptop keeps changing to the incorrect time, no matter how many times I reset it. I missed yoga class today because I thought it was an hour earlier than it actually is. I want to forgive myself for still sitting here in my pajamas at noon. I thought it was eleven.

I want to let go of any regrets and judgements and worries. I want peace in every situation, every day. I know this is a stretch.

Wow, writing this makes me realize, once again, how much work I have to do and how far I am from much of this.   I know I will never quite get there. I will never have all of this. But I want to know I am trying. I want to know I am moving forward. It is natural to need to move forward, to grow, to expand in some way. And on the days I take one step backward, because I procrastinate or I give in to doubt, or I simply choose the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, carelessly or impulsively, I want to notice. Even though noticing kind of sucks. It hurts.

The thing is, when we know what we want, it becomes painfully clear when we choose something that is not that. We know when we’ve chosen in the direction that is away from our desires and it just feels all wrong, like heading east when we wanted to head west. Like disappointing ourselves. Our desires, our goals, at least the reasonably healthy ones, are a reliable compass.

Simplifying begs the question, what next? What do I want? What do I really want? It’s the best question in the world to ask, I think.   It’s the one that is always worth asking.

Not knowing is unsettling, like flapping in the wind, like living by inertia as time ticks away.

Even if the answer is the faintest of whispers, or scary or unlikely or very, very difficult, it could be the answer that is worth so much. A gift that helps us navigate the denseness of day to day life. It is the answer that only comes when we dare to ask the question.

What do I want?

Dear New Moms: Keep it simple

  If ever there was a time to in your life to simplify, this is it! You are embarking on a wonderful, sacred journey that could potentially bury you alive – in stuff, activities, chores and so much else. So much else.  As a mom with three grown kids, and plenty of hindsight, here are my simplifying tips to take or leave as you see fit:


#1 The stuff: 

* Every gadget known to man and mommy is on the market, and you simply do not need them all. Not even close. In addition, every toy, including the huge plastic ones that take over your living room are for sale. Your child does not need all of these. Fewer toys means using more imagination. Instead of accumulating too much stuff, just let them play with what’s there. Better yet, play with them once in a while. Not always, but sometimes.

#2 The activities:

*Consider all activities carefully; the amount of enjoyment has to outweigh the resources it consumes. I remember reading an article many years ago – I think it was called ‘chasing mommy’ or something like that. The author wrote about how her mom was constantly running around, from morning ‘til night. The busyness was well intended. Many of the activities were meant to benefit the child, such as leading her Girl Scout troop and volunteering at her school. But what the author really wanted was just to have her mother’s undivided attention at home for a little while each day. It’s often in the quiet moments, the unstructured time, the extra minutes lingered while saying goodnight that a child will speak what’s on her mind or in her heart. This time is precious, but there has to be room for it.

*Mommy and Me classes are clever ideas, and if you choose to attend one of these to be in the company of the other moms, then enjoy! But at least be conscious of the fact that you do not need to enroll in a class and pay money to roll your child across your belly, or clap in unison.

*Choose birthday and holiday celebrations, and other events carefully because often what you do once will be expected again and again. Do you want to bake 200 cookies every year or throw the party that leaves everyone overstimulated and cranky? Or allow weekly sleepovers for your tween or even allow the sleepover habit at all? More than likely, these choices are going to be yours to make, so wear your leadership hat mindfully and consistently. Do what brings all of you joy, and nothing more.

#3 The resources:

*When you’re deciding how many kids to have, consider your resources carefully. Children require time, energy, patience and money.  With each new child, those resources get divided again. If you and your partner don’t have plenty of all of these, at least make sure you have a huge amount of one of them.

*Speaking of money, you will often hear people say kids are so expensive and there is some truth to that. But it’s not always as expensive as some people make it out to be. Your baby doesn’t need the nursery set up from Ethan Allen. Nor does she need designer clothes, trips to Disney, or the most expensive college education available. Planning and saving is smart, but the most important resources your child will get from you are free.

#4 The work:

*Don’t waste your time or energy in debate over who has it harder, or better, working moms or stay-at -home moms. There’s just no right or wrong answer. Besides, some moms work part time. What category do we place them in? Everyone is doing what they feel is necessary or best in their given situation, which can change over the course of motherhood. I think the bottom line is, generally, a happy mom has the best chance at having happy kids. So make it your job to be happy. Keeping it simple where you can is bound to make that easier.

Wedding reflections

weddingMy daughter’s wedding- so much joy and family and love and friends in one place at one time has left me stunned. I want to do it again, but in slow motion. I want to see the people I barely saw, and eat the cake I barely ate and dance to the song I missed. But I’m grateful for all the moments I did have, and mostly for all of the moments the new couple had.

And miracles! The sun actually came out of the overcast sky during the Beatles Here comes the sun as the ceremony procession began.

During his vows, my new son-in-law touched upon his and my daughter’s starkly different childhoods, though they grew up just 65 miles apart (a topic that warrants its own post later).  What brings people together?

So much emotion, but my eyes were mostly dry, too happy to cry. Then much later, one of the groomsmen showed me a picture of his new baby and the tears came. The mere site of life, pure and new and precious, combined with the significance of the day, and I was overwhelmed. My tears did not deter him though, but rather he pulled up another photo and another. There is something relentless about the love of our babies.

Now summer is winding down. My other daughters are returning to college, the newlyweds are away on their honeymoon and I will return to my writing routine with a fuller heart, and freshness, something new but as ancient as the first breath of life.




Motherhood and all that

Maternity Stock Photography

When I thought about writing something for Mother’s Day, my focus was scattered and unsure. It is like trying to write on the topic of love for Valentine’s Day. I mean it’s just so broad and all-encompassing and elicits too many ideas. Sure, I could write about my own motherhood experience (where do I start? where do I end?) and how proud I am of my nearly grown children. And what it has been like to raise three daughters, through their growing up years, having three sets of eyes watching me, learning what it means to be female and a grownup; the ways I succeeded and the ways I may have fallen short. I might like to take credit for who they are becoming, but I also know that some of this-maybe even a lot of it- really has very little to do with me.

Or I could write about the loss of my own mother after my parents’ volatile divorce when I was four, and the need for truth that this mystery evoked in me. Etched in my mind in outlines and colors, reddish hair, white skin. What would I call her? My mother or my imagination? But that story is already part of my memoir, so I will just say this about it: It has kept me off my suburban high horse, and left me knowing that where we lucky mothers paint our homes and pay our bills and hold our children close, we could possibly, easily, slip into pretending that this is how it is for all mothers, everywhere. But other mothers have other stories, sometimes tragically different from our own.

I really did not want to go on and on about any of this, so I thought I would share a link to Brain, Child magazine which has several excellent Mother’s Day posts.  I was particularly struck by Janelle Hanchette’s story, “This Mother’s Day, Celebrate Somebody Else”. After reading it, I wandered onto her blog and found another Mother’s Day post titled,I’ve Summarized Every Mother’s Day Post (in two sentences or less) So You Don’t Have to Read Them..”

So there you have it. Her language is very colorful, and certainly blunt and humorous but she has come to happiness in motherhood after some tragic years of alcoholism. Why wouldn’t she be colorful? Her suffering, and failure as a mother, eventually churns into strength and love and wisdom and surely has made her more interesting. What I found most valuable about her story is what I most want my daughters to grasp:  That if bad things ever happen to them, they will very likely come out better at the other end. Of course I wish them joyful, peaceful, and meaningful lives, preferably free from pain and loss and hardship. I want them to be happy. But what is happiness? This is what I think it is: knowing that you have an invisible strength even before you think you need it, and believing that growth and wisdom and all kinds of interesting things come from all the challenges that mothers don’t want their children to face.