Last weekend I went to a dear friend’s baby shower and met her dear friend, Myra. Myra is a working mother of two with a brand new baby. She was introduced to my blog through our mutual friend a long time ago and has been reading ever since. Myra was beyond kind, telling me how my writing entertains and inspires her, how she loves the recipes I post and the products I share because she simply doesn’t have the time or energy to go hunting things down on her own right now. Myra told me to “keep writing” when the blog’s recent silence came up. She told me it’s a voice she loves, that it feels familiar to her and comforting and gives her a dose of inspiration here and there that she needs. Myra bid farewell to my daughter (my date for the day) and I as we headed out of the shower and she told my daughter, “Your mommy is a great writer,” to which my daughter replied, filled with pride and showing off her big, toothy 9-year-old smile, “I know.”
The next day, I logged back into this space for the first time in a while and I met Lola. Lola is a new reader, or she was for a day at least when she took the time to go through a dozen or so of my past posts and leave negative comments on each one. I don’t know if Lola works or has kids or where she lives or how she came upon this space. But she didn’t like it. She doesn’t like my writing, it’s “genuinely unreflective.” She doesn’t like mommy bloggers. She doesn’t like the comments people have left on some of my essays. We are all mommy sheep. She doesn’t like the peach salad I have been eating obsessively all summer long. It’s all vapid. It’s all basic. It’s all terrible. I am just another example of a narcissist sharing her “perfectly imperfect life”…and not even sharing it well, for that matter. In Lola’s eyes, I suck. At this, that, everything. In a nutshell.
I went back to my coffee. Drip, with CoffeeMate in it. I looked around at my “perfectly imperfect” house. The basic white kitchen, the grey floors, the Pinterest-inspired fixtures. I looked at my vapid stack of magazines and paperbacks that came recommended by mom bloggers and Oprah and NPR. I looked at the bowl of peaches sitting on the island, waiting to be made into a salad. Or maybe a trendy little rustic galette. Or maybe just eaten in big chunks with my son, the way we like it, with juice running down our chins and staining our shirts. And I decided to write for Myra.
I thought of my parents and their upbringing in Romania and how they dreamed of having a life like ours. I thought of my kids and how hard we have worked to raise smart, cultured, kind people…even in the most basic of southern California suburbs. I thought of the moms and women and girls out there who want a familiar voice to remind them that sometimes, basic can be just fine. That simple pleasures are some of the best ones in life. That loving your life and feeling optimistic and sharing that with your community doesn’t make you insensitive or uneducated or banal. Or that when life isn’t worth loving, there are people out there who want to inspire and entertain and comfort…sometimes in big ways, sometimes in small. I thought of all the moms out there that give me inspiration in return – via their images, their words, their shares and their stories. I thought about how peaches and tomatoes together are a fucking great combination and that I will stand by that recipe all day long.
And I decided to write for Myra.
To give her a minute or two here and there where she can look around at her life, at the world around her, at the people in it, and to appreciate it all.
Some days it might be vapid. Some days it might be thoughtful. Some days it might be witty and some days it might not. Some days it will inspire and engage and amuse and others, it will be random and scattered and genuinely unreflective. Some day soon, it might not even be right here in this space (more to come on that…).
But wherever it falls, whatever it is, it will be here for Myra. And for my daughter, some day. And for me. And for today, I think that’s enough.
“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.