The Speed of Summer

Every year around this time a huge red and white tent is erected on the corner of the county highways that intersect near my house.  Every year I think the same thing, “It’s awfully early for fireworks, isn’t it?” And every year, it dawns on me that it is already the middle of June, that it is in fact not too early for fireworks to be on sale, and that time is a capricious tease.

I swear the Earth actually speeds up its trajectory around the sun in summer, and that its maddening pace can only be felt by those over the age of eighteen.

All of the old adages about time creep to the front of my mind.  It gets faster every year.  Don’t blink.  Carpe diem. The days are long but the years are short.  And the thing is, they are all frustratingly true.  No amount of eye rolling in our younger years can prevent the truth behind these words from catching up with us down the road.  

There’s a large poster affixed to our refrigerator door that says, “Before You Say You’re Bored, Have You Considered…” and goes on to list dozens of activities the boys thought up for the long summer days ahead.  I, on the other hand, cannot remember the last time I’ve uttered the phrase “I’m bored.”  We wake up each morning and stare down the same 24 hours, yet we view the hours through such different lenses, me and my children.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to see the hours through the eyes of a child again.

But I do know one secret to slowing down time.
I do know one small trick that stops the Earth in its tracks.

Be present. 
Being as present as humanly possible slows the march of time.

Be right where you are. 

Be with the people you are with.

Engage your senses in the task at hand.

Aiming for attentiveness in a world of distractions is not an easy task, but it is a worthwhile one, and its rewards are so sweet.

The smell of the vines on your tomato plant while you pull weeds.

The taste of rain as it falls from the sky.

The sweetness of mint chip for lunch.

  The icy cold shock of the deep end in June.

The sound of a band that makes you get up and bust a move.

The way you get lost in the pages of a book.

The freckles on a sun-kissed, sleeping face, waiting to be counted.

The sound of the ice cream truck through your kitchen window as you chop vegetables for dinner.

The warm sun on your arms as you sit in traffic.

The friend’s voice on the other end of a long-distance call.

The goodbye kiss on the way to work, and the welcome home embrace at the end of a day.
We can’t add hours to our days, but we can add life to our hours.  We just have to pay attention.  And this is the extent of my summer bucket list this year:  Be present.

“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell.  This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” – Mary Oliver 

On Becoming Safe Places

“It seems like we need more Safe Places than just a couple of gas stations.”

My ten year old’s eyebrows furrow the way they do when he is trying to reconcile a perceived wrong.  I follow his gaze to the sticker on the gas station window.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Bite down hard on my bottom lip to keep the tears from coming.  I’m not ready to explain all of the things that I know about this life to my child.  I’m not ready to explain how much I don’t know.  He’s only ten.  

But he’ll be eleven soon.  A middle schooler.  A tween, whatever that is supposed to mean.  The librarian had the audacity to hand him the Teen Summer Reading Program sheet.  Time marches forward no matter how loud we protest.

So, I’m not about to lie either.  He’s too old for false reassurances about abundant imaginary safe places.  

“Yes, yes it really does,” I respond.  

And I ask him what he thinks a Safe Place is for, and he already knows, and we talk awhile about how to be a safe place for the people we love, in all contexts.

That was just last week.  

This week I was reminded how true his young words are.

Yesterday, Vanity Fair released an article on Caitlyn Jenner.  Within my small circle of friends online and in real life, the response was overwhelmingly affirming.  When the article was shared, the comments were about her bravery or her beauty, or gratitude for living in a time and space where we can celebrate someone’s choice to live authentically.

But today, some other responses slipped into my online world.  Someone’s “like” of an article clearly written from a place of fear, someone else’s comment on a small-minded attack.  

And the first thing I thought of when I saw these remarks was my ten year old son.  And in that moment, these people I know, and in some cases know and love, became unsafe places.  

Because when Caitlyn Jenner says  “I’m not doing this to be interesting.  I’m doing this to live,” I believe her.  I don’t know what it is to be transgender, but I do know what it feels like to carry some part of ourselves that is difficult to reconcile with what is asked of us by this world, or by our smaller communities or even our own families.  And I know many of you do too.  When this happens, we are left with some difficult choices.

We can choose to repress or hide or attempt to eliminate a part of our being.  Some of us make this choice every day, and die a slow emotional death as a result.  

Some of us choose addiction.  We choose to numb the pain of living a lie.  Some of us have stood on the other side of addiction and watched someone we love disappear even as they stand in our physical presence.

Some of us drown.  Some of us cannot find a lifeboat and we choose to leave this world and the people we love behind.  Even more devastating, some choose to take someone else along when they go.  

These are the tragic choices.  These are the choices of those who cannot find a way out.  Sometimes these are the choices of those who simply cannot find a safe place.

And then there are the Caitlyn Jenners.  They are the ones who are able to find a lifeboat, grab on for dear life, and paddle to shore, even if it means living differently than everyone around them.  The Caitlyns, they survive.  They get to live.  And some of them shine brightly enough to become a lighthouse to those who are still trying to find their way to the shore.  I’m so damn grateful for the Caitlyns.

I know that those of us who pontificate on the Internet are not in the business of changing hearts and minds online.  I know that those of you who agree with me are shaking your heads and saying, yes, yes to all of this.  I know that those of you who don’t, if you are even still reading, are shaking your heads and saying, no, you are so very wrong.  I know that some of you clicked unfollow before you even opened this link.  

All of that is fine with me.   I’m not writing this for any of those reasons. 

I’m writing this for that one friend, that one family member, that niece or nephew, that cousin, that aunt, uncle, next-door neighbor, lifelong friend, high school acquaintance, mom from my son’s baseball team, friend I met on Instagram, I’m writing this for my sons, my husband, my own parents, for any and all of my people that need to hear this.  I’m writing this for you.

I want you to know that I am a safe place for you.

If you need to talk to someone, I will listen to every word. 

I will not pretend to understand exactly what you are going through.  

I will not attempt to give you advice.  

But I will listen to your story, and I will believe you.

And if you are ready to swim to shore and live a different life, a life that you have always known you were meant to live, I will be there waiting to celebrate with you.  

A Perfectly Messed-Up Story

 A Perfectly Messed-Up Story
Written & Ilustrated by Patrick McDonnell
Category: Picture Book

 And so begins A Perfectly Messed-Up Story.   It is the story of Louie, but it’s also the story of you and me and every human with whom we share this messy and unpredictable planet.  

Louie is happily skipping along through his book when suddenly his story is interrupted by blobs of peanut butter and jelly.  And fingerprints.  And crayons.  

At first, Louie’s response is despondent.  No one will want to read his messed-up story.   His story is ruined.  It is over.  There is no other possible outcome.  

Yet, his story continues on, all around him, and Louie makes a choice that changes everything. 

There are some books written for children that should be required reading for adults, and A Perfectly Messed-Up Story is one of them.   Maybe this won’t always be the case.  Maybe because of the the work of authors like Patrick McDonnell, these important messages will find a permanent home in the hearts of our children while they are still young, and they will carry these truths into adulthood.  Maybe they won’t need a refresher course. 

But some of us do need one.  Some of us do not know that no one’s story is without blemishes, or that there is no perfect path through this life.  Some of us don’t believe that we are not the sum total of their mistakes, or the bad things that happen to us.  Some of us enter adulthood with the crippling belief that if we carefully arrange the pieces in the exact right order, we can put together our lives’ puzzles without a single blunder or mishap creeping in.  

I know this because I carried a suitcase full of these beliefs into adulthood with me and have spent the last fifteen years unpacking and discarding them one by one.   Sometimes still my luggage will start to feel a little heavy again, and I’ll unzip my suitcase to find that one of those perfectionist tendencies found its way back in my bag.  The need for approval.  Indecision based in fear.  Productivity as a sign of success.  I pick it up, examine it for what it is and let it go again.  The discarding of these beliefs is probably life-long work for any recovering perfectionist, but I can tell you that every year my load is lighter and my heart is more full as a result. 

When I stumble across a book like A Perfectly Messed-Up Story, I purchase it without hesitation and read it to my children more often than they’d probably like, given that they are ten and eight years old and slowly outgrowing their love of pictures books.  I read it anyway, because I’m dedicated to raising kids with a mindset that leaves room for mistakes as an inevitable part of growth, failure as a necessary step on the path to success, and grace as the lens through which they view themselves and others.  All of that is easier said than done, but I think it starts with telling our kids the truth.  They will make mistakes big and small, bad things happen to all people, and their perfectly messed-up stories are still beautiful. 

So is Louie’s.  

So is mine.

And so is yours.