“Mommy, can I talk to you about something?”
I dropped what I was doing. It was the first minute — literally, the first — that I had sat down to relax in almost ten hours. The day was impossible. One kid home with no summer camps or activities planned. Another kid home on day three of the stomach flu. An overactive inbox. A stressed out husband. A bored and restless puppy. A kitchen filled with disarray and clutter and piles of mess.
I had just sat down to breathe, nothing more. I wasn’t looking to hop on Instagram or text my sister or even to check the weather. I just wanted to breathe. I just wanted to try to find a moment of solace to regroup for the evening shift. For the piles of laundry that were calling my name. For the next round of the stomach flu. For the work deadlines that still loomed ahead into the night.
I dropped what I was doing and turned to her.
“I feel like you don’t have any time for me,” she whispered, her bottom lip starting to quiver.
My heart fell. I knew where it was going. I should have booked a summer camp. I should have tried to cut back on work this month. I should have hired a dog-walker.
“I know,” I said. “In some ways, today, I don’t.”
I wanted to make excuses and find an extra ten hours of free time and bring a smile back to her face and explain to her again about why I am a working mom and how it benefits us in so many ways and how we are beyond fortunate for our circumstances, lack of time and all, but…I couldn’t. I didn’t.
“Today, I didn’t have enough time,” I said gently. “I just didn’t.”
No excuses. No miracles pulled out of my back pocket. No promises.
I was the worst mom ever in the best possible way.
I was honest. I was sincere. I was looking her in the eye and telling her what she didn’t want – but maybe had to – hear, with all my love. I was letting her see that some days, the world wins. That it piles up on top of you and you can choose to try to fight it all and climb further uphill or you can let it slide a little. You can realize that some times, there isn’t enough time. And some days you can’t prioritize where your time goes, no matter how badly you want to. I tried to show her that some days you will be the best worst you and that’s all you can be. And most importantly, that I think it’s ok. It’s ok that I failed a little that day. And it’s ok that she called me out on it. And together, we will make tomorrow better.
I was the worst mom ever but I was going to own it.
She smiled a little. Just a hint. Wiped away the tear that had started to roll down her lightly freckled cheek. She looked to the summer sky above, just starting to soften in the evening light. And she looked back at me.
“It’s ok, mom,” she said. And she sat down next to me. And we took a deep breath.
I was the worst mom ever and in that moment, it was the best thing that had happened all day.
My kids get along tremendously well. For a boy and a girl who are almost four years apart, we are frankly in awe of their relationship, of their friendship, of their mutual adoration.
But they, like any siblings, aren’t perfect.
My daughter is nine. My son is five. Some days, they may as well live on different planets. And sometimes, they are speaking two different languages. Not often, but sometimes.
I started to notice how these challenging moments would take shape and it was often through words.
“You’re bugging me.” “You can’t do that.” “You need to do this.” “Stop that.” “Don’t do that.” “You’re bugging me.”
It’s the behavior we expect of siblings, I suppose. But it was hurting my heart to see them throw these random thoughts at each other, never thinking of what their words meant or how they might bounce back. And frankly, I was getting tired of trying to interject. So rather than try to correct all these emotions and all these expressions one at a time, I introduced a general rule instead:
You must speak to each other with love and respect.
It doesn’t mean you can’t get annoyed or frustrated or even angry. But you must communicate with each other with love and respect. I am not telling them what not to say, I am telling them what to say (kind of like at the swimming pool – I never yell at my kids to stop running…instead I yell at them to walk). And it’s a concept that even my five-year-old can understand. Two simple words, one simple mantra, easily adoptable in most any situation:
You must speak to each other with love and respect.
When they’re in the moment, when they start to snap at each other, when “you’re bugging me” rears its ugly little head, I don’t jump in to referee or to pass out punishment or to take sides.
I remind them to speak to each other with love and respect. And most of the time (most…), they do. They take back their words and rephrase them. They slow down their pace and soften their tone. They find another way to say “you’re bugging me” and move on with their moment.
And I stand back and watch it all.
You guessed it, with love and respect.
This is another “Dear Mom in the restaurant line in front of me last night…” letter.
And I hate those.
But if I could have spoken to you, if you would have looked me in the eye, I would have said this.
I saw your little guys with you. I saw that they were restless as the witching hour started to rear its ugly head for all of us. I saw that the noises and lights and action surrounding them was a lot. It was a lot for me, too. I saw that you were anxiously hoping that the line for take out orders would move a little faster. Why does that place never move a little faster?? I saw that you were keeping your eyes fixed on them, maybe too tired or nervous or anxious to look up. I saw him doing his very best to get comfortable. He rocked back and forth and back and forth and back and forth on his heels and toes. He pivoted his arms up and down, up and down, up and down. And he shook his head over and over in a habitual twitch, trying to find a sense of calm and security not only for himself, but for you as well. He did his very best. I saw his little brother pawing at you, making special request after special request as little brothers do at this time of day, demanding more of your attention than you probably had to give. I saw you move your gaze back to him, willing him to feel safe and secure with your eyes. Willing everyone bumping and pushing past you in line to give him a little more space. Willing that damn line to hurry up already.
You didn’t look my way, but I saw you. And had you looked my way, I would have smiled. I would have given you a look that said how amazing you are as a mom. I would have hugged you and your boys with my eyes. I would have told you that I hate the witching hour too and that this place is always way too crazy and that people really should be more considerate in line. I would have let you know that your boy was beautiful. That he put a smile on my face. In that moment, to this complete stranger, he was perfect.
If you would have looked my way, I would have smiled. But you didn’t. You walked out ahead of me, staring at the ground, pulling your boys behind you, pizza boxes stacked high in one arm.
You walked ahead of me. But you left a little bit behind. You sparked another one of these letters.
And I thank you for that.
The best part of our vacation was coming home.
The sun is shining bright in San Diego this morning. My familiar cup of coffee is lukewarm by my side, a very happy puppy is roaming the house, in a state of constant awe that her beloved family actually came back to her. The kids are taking one more day off from school thanks to a very delayed 3:00 am airport arrival and my husband and I are back at our keyboards, catching up on work and life and everything that happens when you spend a week far away from home.
The best part of our vacation is this.
Costa Rica was everything we dreamed of and more. In fact, it may have been one of the best trips we have ever taken. It was our second trip to the country and the Pura Vida essence was just as amazing as we remembered it. The landscape wild and lush, the people warm and sincere, the ocean water clear and therapeutic. We stayed in a beautiful hotel that we loved (message me if you want recommendations or details!), my husband got in all the surfing he could find, and we took the kids on so many first-time adventures (zip lining, jet skiing, mud bathing) we could hardly wipe the smiles from their faces.
The best part of our vacation is now.
Coming home to the house that we love in the community we appreciate each and every day. Coming home to the beautiful weather we never take for granted and the schools we love and the friends who always greet us with a “welcome home!” and a smile. Coming home with bags filled with laundry and keepsakes, bits and pieces of the Pura Vida life tucked away in our drawers and in our hearts forever. Coming home with a new sense of appreciation and renewal.
The best part of our vacation was coming home. And it was the best vacation we ever took.
I wrestled a bear this weekend.
It wasn’t black or brown and it wasn’t covered in fur. But it was in the wilderness. And it was scary and intimidating. And it had been chasing me down for a while now.
And I wrestled that bear.
I went to my very first creative retreat in Ojai; a writer’s retreat for women called Spark that is hosted regularly by Kelle Hampton and Claire Bidwell Smith. I went in with a lot of hesitation. My passion for writing had gotten stale and I wasn’t even sure if I enjoyed writing any more. I was investing time and energy and money into three days of the unknown which is particularly difficult for a planner like me. And I was going it alone which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the weekend, but was incredibly intimidating at first.
So what happened at Spark? I met some beautiful women. Women from all over the country, each with their own story to tell. Their own words to write. Their own bears to wrestle. All of us were mothers, which was a common thread, and writers. But beyond that, we were coming together without any perceptions or expectations. And we left with so much more.
I engaged my senses and finally realized just how important the sensory experience is to me. The trees felt so tall, the sky looked so blue, every bite of food felt nourishing and fulfilling and the full moon looked extra bright that night and every sip of rosé tasted like my first. I took it all in – sometimes with new friends, sometimes in silence – and it filled me up.
And I wrote. A lot. A lot more than I have in a long time. Some of it was light, some of it was heavy. Some of it was inspiring and some of it was kind of shitty. Some of it made me cry and little bits of it made me laugh. I shared it with the group, which was a first for me. My voice shook here and there, uncertain and nervous. I shed my tears and fears and dove in headfirst because that’s what our resident Buddhist chef Goyo told us all to do. And I kept on writing. I am writing today. I will write tomorrow. And I will write the day after that.
During one of our last “share” sessions of the trip, I wrote a piece about body image. Mine, yours, all of ours, really. It wasn’t what I set out to write when I put my pen to my paper that morning. I wasn’t looking to go there, to feel that, to say those words. But they came spilling out of me and I had to share. I refused to look up while I read. I didn’t want to meet the eyes of the women around the room, to know they were likely looking at me and my figure in a different light. I just kept reading and finished it with a small, silent exhale.
When I looked up, tears and warm smiles surrounded me. And I knew it was mine for the sharing. They were my words but they belonged to all of us, in some way, big or small.
A woman from Chicago who I had just met two days prior was the last to leave the room, moving onto our next activity. I really liked this woman from the start. She had left her four children behind to step way outside of her box and come to Ojai and write and read and create for three days. And you could see in her eyes how much she needed it.
“That was really great,” she told me, pausing in the doorway. “That was really, really great. You wrestled a bear, girl. You wrestled a bear.”
I thanked her and we moved on with our day.
But that bear – and that weekend – will always stay with me.
Oh my god, today you are nine.
Nine feels so momentous to me. Nine feels like it’s almost ten. Nine feels like it’s so many more than two or three or even six. Nine feels like everything right now.
Today you are nine.
Today you are in third grade. You took on a new school this year with such uninhibited courage. You didn’t let the bad days get you down. You didn’t let the not-so-nice girls stand in your way. You walked in there with a smile on your face for everyone who crossed your path. A determination in your eye. A heart that was wide open. May it always stay that way.
Today you are very into Harry Potter. You are on book six right now and every time you finish one, I race you to the store to get the next. I can’t imagine putting your love of reading on pause, even for a second. It is so glorious.
Today you are a dog owner. It might be the best thing that has ever happened to you. You are stern with her. You want her (and us) to know that you’re a responsible, mature dog owner and that all those books you’ve read on them have gone to good use. You are a great dog owner.
Today you are starting to dip your toe into the tween years that linger ahead of you. You get “embarrassed” sometimes. You “worry” about things. I always thought I would dread the teenage years with my kids but I’m not. I am so interested to see what you become, how you navigate them, how we work through them together. You are a thinker and a feeler but you’re also confident and brave. I have to believe that all those things are going to work in your – our – favor. But for now, for nine, you’re also still a kid. A glorious, goofy, watch cartoons in her pj’s with her little brother, kid.
Today you are open to trying new foods again. It goes in cycles with kids, every few years. You are a little more open-minded lately. Some things work out, some don’t. But at least you’re trying. Favorites still remain pasta of any kind, cheese pizza and bagels. But you’ve also tried lamb and liked it. So let’s call that a win.
Today you weigh 64.5 pounds. You asked me if you looked skinny once a few weeks ago. It stopped me in my tracks. We talked about it briefly and moved on. I hope you don’t ever come back to it. I know you will probably will.
Today you are still a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl but you’ve branched out into plain long sleeved tees instead of character-clad ones. It makes you look like such a big girl. Hair is still firmly in its ponytail most days.
Today you are in this in-between phase where half of you still wants cuddles and hand-holding and the other half wants to close her bedroom door when her friends are over. I feel like this whole year will be an in-between kind of year. Not quite a kid, not quite a teenager. But still all mine.
Today you still sleep with ten stuffed animals every night. You went for a sleepover at your grandmother’s the other night and your grandfather had to drive the five miles back to our house at 10pm because you had forgotten your stuffed animals at home. I answered the door in my pajamas and looked at his tired eyes and apologized for you. He just chuckled. It was simply history repeating itself, he said. You are your mother’s daughter. By the time he got back home with the stuffies, you were already fast asleep.
Today you are taking tennis (for me) and art classes (for you). You are showing a lot of progress in the former and a lot of natural talent in the latter. You like to lose yourself in the art studio, getting your hands dirty, soaking up the coolness of the teachers, having a place that is yours and yours alone, without the distraction of your usual friends or even your family. It’s your thing.
Today you are still super close with your brother but the relationship is shifting a bit. Your patience wears thin some days and you show it. Nine and five can feel like two very different planets sometimes. But somehow, you always manage to come back to what matters. You bend, you give, you let him win. You are the big sister that we hoped you would be.
Today your favorite color is turquoise. You like bootcut jeans, even though I buy you skinny all the time.
Today you are nine. I can remember what it was like to be nine. It strikes me every day. You will remember this so well. You will remember the ice cream cake we’re going to have and the Harry Potter gifts you’re going to get. You’re going to remember what nine glowing candles look like. And how the balloons filled your room when you woke up this morning. You’re going to remember your friends coming over to celebrate you and your dog going crazy with excitement. And the best part is, we will always get to remember it too. Because it will be the day you turned nine. And it will be everything.
Happy birthday, D.
If you follow me on Instagram, I have shared a few snippets of our new home. It is everything we wanted it to be: light, neutral, airy, sparse. It leaves lots of room for running kids and sleeping puppies and natural light to flow in without distraction. Many friends have remarked on how tidy it is, how neat, how uncluttered…and it’s exactly the vibe we were going for. A space made up of space and not a whole lot more, where we could all feel a little bit lighter.
But, naturally, because I am one who favors extremes, I am now fixated on making our cozy home office into the exact opposite. Warmer, darker, filled to the brim (in a stylish way, not a hoarder way)…I want it to feel like the home’s hearth. A den-like library with books everywhere and soft lighting and dark curtains. A place where my kids can curl up with their favorite characters and a blanket and enjoy a cocoon-like sense of comfort and love. A place where I can escape from the bright, airy vibe of our central great room and retreat a little. A place where I can begin to store memories and treasured finds and books – real books with pages and all! – again. Where I can write and daydream and collect.
A place where I can add a little clutter to my simple life.
Because maybe sometimes that’s actually what we need. Not less, but more. More inspiration, more ideas, more creativity. Not all the time, but maybe sometimes?
We spend a lot of time and energy simplifying in this life and I am a big advocate for living an uncluttered life – physically and mentally. But maybe if we all gave ourselves one little pocket, one little space, one little area where we could clutter it up and make a mess and fill ourselves up – physically and mentally – then maybe simplifying the rest would be even easier.
More of everything.
*image above – major inspiration for my space! – via Vogue.com, photographed by Francois Halard.
As a working mom – or a working woman or a non-working mom, for that matter – we are all really good at investing in other people. Investing our time, our emotions, our talents, our money. Giving to others in our life so they can be stronger, better, healthier, happier.
But I realized over the past few weeks that I haven’t been investing anything in myself. I was feeling super low-energy in my body and my mind. Unmotivated, uninspired. I was mentally beating myself up for goals left unattended, for words that I wasn’t writing, for the exercise I kept conveniently dropping from my schedule. I was going through the motions of the every day and keeping a lot of things to the high standards I subscribe to in all areas of life…except for my own well-being.
And I know I have no one to blame but myself. Somehow, it was ok for me to focus on everything else – again – without giving a second thought to how I was feeling. Until it wasn’t ok. Until I knew that if I didn’t wake up – physically and mentally – and take some time to invest in myself, the mental beatdown was going to get worse. And I also realized that maybe, just maybe, it was ok to do it for myself and no one else. We’re so good at the whole “I can’t take care of everyone else if I don’t care of myself thing” and that’s honorable and lovely but what if you just want to take care of you. Not for them? Not for anyone else? Just for you. I think that’s ok, too.
So I started with the frivolous: beauty. I made a hair appointment and invested in something I have been wanting to do for a long time: eye lashes. Simple, natural-looking lash extensions that make my face instantly pop with a new brightness. I love them. I invested in them. In the money and the time commitment and the upkeep. I invested in myself. Because they make me feel pretty. And confident. And less rushed in the morning.
Then I made a mental investment in the physical: exercise. I have been a longtime lazy girl. I don’t like exercise, I don’t crave exercise, I don’t feel compelled to exercise. Until I do it. Then I feel the instant benefits and wonder why I just can’t commit to investing the time and the energy into my health. Well this is me, getting back on the horse, and trying to make it a priority again. I am challenging myself to invest in myself for the next 21 days. And hopefully beyond, but let’s start with baby steps. 21 days doing some sort of physical exercise every day. It’s really half mental and half physical for me but it’s an investment I need to make. You can follow my Instagram (and now @wwgwynethdo on Snapchat – on the days when I can figure it out!) to see how I’m doing. And feel free to call me out while you’re there.
I took a bath. Last night, at the height of bedtime happy hour in our house, when the kids were running around asking me to find the pajamas and crayons and stuffed animals that were sitting right under their noses, when the dog was chasing them with my slipper in her mouth, when the dinner plates were piled high and the emails were still coming in, I looked to my (amazing) husband and told him I needed to go and take a bath. I invested in my own well-being, my own voice and used it to put myself first. He encouraged me to go for it so I said good night to my half-naked kids, patted the dog on the head, walked into our bedroom and shut the door behind me. I took a bath and I lit a candle and I put on a face mask and I just sat there, embracing every moment. The noise still rumbled away right outside my door, and I knew it wasn’t going anywhere for long, but investing in just those few moments of solitude and quiet, right in the middle of the hurricane…it was the best move I had made all day.
Finally, I invested in my writing. I have been so lazy about writing lately (as you’ve noticed as you had to dust off this URL just to find this post). I haven’t been reading, I haven’t been writing, and I haven’t been nourishing my creative outlets beyond Pinterest for far too long now. So I am signing up for a writer’s retreat in May where I am investing time and money in my craft. It’s an indulgence. It’s money that could easily be put elsewhere right now. It’s a weekend away from my kids and with a whole room of complete strangers. It’s taking a chance on the unknown. But it’s also taking a chance on me. And that’s what matters.
Giving back to myself so I can be stronger, better, healthier, happier.
Taking a chance on me.
Investing in myself.
I hope you take some time – and some initiative – to do the same.
*image via Death to the Stock Photo