Live the Questions

I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way to the answers.

Rainer Maria Rilke writes wrote these inspiring words in one of his remarkable  letters, collected in the work Letters to a Young Poet. This quote arrived in my inbox courtesy of Brain Pickings

Live the questions now… and someday live your way to the answers.

This is such a perfect piece of wisdom. Perfect for anyone struggling through times of sadness or loss. But perfect too for those of us racing through this ever-changing life caught in one incessant transition and bent on pinning it down.

And I’m so bad at living the questions.

As much as I celebrate the ideas of patient mindfulness and wonder, I encounter questions with an intensely bull-headed belief that I can answer them. I react to ambiguous challenges and unknown horizons as if they are gaps in a puzzle, as if I simply need to search for the proper piece. As if completing the picture, answering the questions, and winning life depends solely on cleverness and speed.

This compulsion leads me to snatch answers too urgently, wedging them into the gap of a question even when the pieces do not precisely fit.

We all live a life of questions, to varying degrees. I would say parents parents face these questions more than most.

We continuously stand upon a threshold between one phase and the next, wondering what’s on the horizon. Wondering what’s required of us. What do I need to do to prepare my child for the next phase? Or to prepare myself? What balance should I strike between learning, work and family time and social fun, or personal growth and parental responsibilities? As the kids grow older and need me less, where should I be spending my energies?

If we approached these questions, like I sometimes do, as a puzzle whose pieces I already possess, am I denying myself the opportunity to discover the correct ones, to live my way to the answers?  Not only am I cutting myself off from a better answer, but I’m preventing myself from learning.

So this is a new resolution, a new habit to practice: nurturing patience enough to live with the questions.

I’ll view the questions in this jumbled,family-filled life of mine as a mountainous horizon instead, shrouded in cloud cover. And I’ll live my way to the summit.

On a lighter note, here are three fantastic questions (no answers required) that arose this week.

  • When I was in your tummy with Maya and Elliot, did we have fun? (Max, clearly)

  • Did I miss Maya in your tummy when she left to be born? (Max again)

  • Did you like having such a good boy baby? (Max)

  • Do fifth graders date? (Maya, clearly)

Happy Solstice

I’ve begun to light candles early in the afternoons, a winter ritual to compliment the many strands of light I’ve wrapped around and woven through the darkest corners of our home.

The encroaching darkness is tempting me with thoughts of hibernation. And naps. It makes me skeptical of the necessity of whatever remains on the to-do list.

As always, this year-end darkness makes me introspective.

We’ve arrived again at the Winter Solstice, a notable astronomical event  and a celebrated moment in Scandinavian cultures since – possibly – neolithic times.

I think of the Winter Solstice as the true New Year, a celebration of beginning again as we  take a breath at the place where darkness stops gaining on us. A moment of quiet before the light begins to return.

For thousands of years, these darkest days of winter have been reserved for celebration. People instinctively gather with friends and loved ones in a collective breath of relief.

We have made it through another year, we sigh hugging one another close.

Just look at all we’ve done – learned – made, we whoop with joyful smiles and anther toast.

And look a the trials we’ve muddled through, overcome, tolerated, we grumble briefly, not pausing long on our grievances.

A simple, classic ceremony for Winter Solstice lingers on that last idea. A Releasing Ceremony is an opportunity to let go of all that holds you back and make space for growth and change in the new year. It’s an opportunity to let go of any thoughts or roadblocks or toxic, unhelpful snags have kept us stuck in the past year.

The solstice is permission to take a moment and rant. It’s okay.

It’s time to air your grievances, Seinfeld fans, but only on the condition that you will let them go. Resist the urge to revisit them. Unburden yourself and leave your energies free for something new in the new year.

I – for one – feel like I need permission to complain.

It’s not that I never do, but all of my complaints tend to land on Joe. Plus, they’re repetitive and whiny and unhelpful.

And it makes me ashamed. What do I have to complain about when so much tragedy impacts so very many others.

Parker Palmer put this shame of mine to rest in a recent post. “Forgive me,” he wrote, “for adding an apparently trivial personal problem to my list of major social ills, but we all live at the intersection of our small worlds and the big one around us. If we want to serve others, we must attend to both.”

It can feel petty, even risky if you’re superstitious, to rail against the drudgery of small problems in a world filled with immensely complicated tragedies. But tonight, because we live at the intersection of our small worlds and the big one, let’s allow ourselves to focus enough on our personal grievances to release them.

Let them go.

Write them on a sheet of paper and toss them into your solstice fire along with your Yule Log.

At this turn of a new year, let’s clear our brains of depleting worries. Let’s make room to spend tomorrow’s energy on ideas that renew and invigorate us. I, for one, will be working to develop a beginners mind, an idea I’m just learning about, but really enjoy.

In Buddhism, “beginners mind” is an attitude of openness, of self-kindness and forgiveness, allowing for mistakes, for fumbling attempts, and for earnest, persistent do-overs.

I’m still learning about beginner’s mind, weeding out the pop-Buddhism from the dogma from the nuggets of philosophical truth, but the part I love is this line from a famous Buddhist scholar, Suzuki,

“In the beginner’s mind there are many ways, in the experts mind there is only one.”

Being brave enough, vulnerable enough to approach the world as a novice, to try something new and not be great at it, and to persist anyway, that is a resolution worth keeping.

As the sun sets on the longest night of the year, I strive to internalize the  peace there is in darkness and the release that comes from facing grievances directly and sweeping them forcefully away.

I strive to begin again, with a refreshed mind.

What a wonderful stage the solstice sets as we set out to gather with loved ones over the next two weeks.

***

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper

So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

 

Simple Joy Sundays: Contented Kittens

In the spirit of sharing my wonder over everyday blessings, let me tell you how our Santa letters went this year.

Maya (out of the blue and fully aware of Santa’s current address): Let’s write our letters to Santa!

Elliot (gathering crafting supplies): I don’t know what I need. Just a fish maybe.

Max: My friend T is sick. I think Santa should bring him extra presents to make him feel better.

Maya: And E is sick too, let’s ask him to bring stuff for them.

Elliot: I bet Santa’s really busy, how does he have time to read all of these letters? Maybe we should get him a gift instead of cookies?

Maya: We already have new kittens, that’s all I wanted this year. Can we put our kittens in a our stocking and take a picture?

While I prepared dinner, the kids launched their own letter-writing campaign for Santa, partly on behalf of their friends. The requests they made for themselves involved, almost exclusively creatures for the barn (pigs, horses) or their bedrooms (fish, hamsters) or their magical imaginations (unicorn?). I won’t lie, I have no idea how Santa will fulfill any of their wishes, but watching my three little kittens think through their wish list and settle on wishing good things for others was incredibly gratifying.

The actual kittens, on the other hand, weren’t thrilled about the stocking situation!

Simple Joy Sundays: Wonder

During this season of gratitude I find it challenging to convey what authentic thankfulness means. For years our family has spent some amount of time each week sharing things we’re thankful for. In fact, that’s the motivation behind my “Simple Joy Sundays” series: at the very least, I can share my gratitude for a simple, joyful moment.

Too often, the things I’d like to share here feel trite (healthy kids)  or mundane (time together) or boastful (such above average children here in Lake Wobegon, am I right?), so I shy away from posting. Too often, our family gratitude conversations also feel trite (for family) or mundane (for Wild Krats) or boastful (my editor loved my last piece!).

When I encountered the quote below while working on a piece for Doing Good Together, suddenly sharing the little things didn’t feel so contrived.

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Happiness doubled by wonder. Doesn’t that just feel right?

True gratitude is a shifting of perspectives. Gratitude is, at its essence, a movement from consciously enjoying a moment or a gift to being humbled, to wonder at the fact that this gift is yours at all.

I am thankful for healthy kids. Those aren’t words I murmur thoughtlessly. Some days I am so awestruck by this good fortune, I feel guilty. What a gift. What a wonder. I am thankful.

And time together? Joe’s new work schedule has put such a premium on time, it’s a wonder I ever allow other weekend plans at all. When I can massage our schedule enough to score a full, unscheduled day at home, enough time for us all to wind back down to a mindful pace, wonder comes more easily. And I am thankful.

Somehow aiming for wonder feels easier than practicing gratitude.

Sharing a sense of wonder with the kids often feels like my most important role. “Look! Notice! Isn’t this cool!” I’m forever exclaiming. A walk in the woods is considerably more joyful with opens eyes and an eager gaze. We see so many signs of our creature neighbors moving about, preparing for winter. We wonder over our hardy rooster, who recently survived a coyote attack in a remarkable display of steely nerves (more on this story later).

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In this world that ridicules too much enthusiasm as juvenile, that mocks a person who shares too many smiles as simple-minded, that is all-too-often suspicious of kindness, I say we must all nurture a sense of wonder. Not only is it a shortcut to gratitude. To wonder is to notice the world around us. To wonder is to be mindful of our treasures and, more than that, to be earnest enough to share our joy over them.

Today, I am full of gratitude for time together, for a healthy family, and for the energy to wonder over the wold at my doorstep. I am thankful.

 

 

 

 

Interview With Our Birthday Girl!

An ode to our amazing eight year old.

This girl. Words cannot contain her. I cannot begin to describe the multi-colored rainbow of possibilities contained in this one little person. Though, of course, for our annual interview, I’ll give it a try.

She is fierce, equally passionate in all joy (her beloved kitten Anne Shirley) and all sorrow (she refused to listen to the end of Anne of Green Gables once Matthew died because, Mom, he was the best character, even better than Anne). Or, if she’s indifferent to something, it simply does not exist for her – like family dinner when she is not hungry.

She is a riot of personalities in one small, strong body, equal parts silliness (always bordering on inappropriate), somber thoughtfulness (a tender heart like her sister), and unyielding seeker of justice (say what you mean and mean what you say around this youngling or you’ll likely find yourself called out!)

Also, she refuses to be photographed without bribery or trickery.

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She can make me lose my cool like no one else in the family. She can make me unspeakably proud in the very next moment. Before her stretches a year of being eight, a golden age in childhood where magic still frolics in the woods and independence is given freely.

Cheers to another year of fairy houses, dance parties, and big questions.

Now, to the interview!

1. What are your favorite things to do?
I’m happiest when I’m day dreaming, downstairs  while spinning to music.

2. What do you like to eat?

My favorite food is chocolate fondue with vanilla wafers, strawberries, and apples. 

Her birthday dinner is actually chocolate fondue, with cheese fondue (and broccoli, sweet peppers, & meatballs) for dessert.

3. What do you dislike eating?

I really, really don’t like chili – because of all the tomatoes – or bananas.

4. What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I’m grown up, I’ll be a person who works at a pet shop, to give pets to good homes.

Mom is guessing she’ll be an attorney (due to excellent negotiation skills) or a creator of …. something (due to her unusual way of approaching and solving challenges).

5. What will you do on your birthday?

We will open presents, eat cake, play with my friends in my trampoline, and I’m going to run silly races. Oh yeah, and build an egg drop.

6. What is something unique you love about your family?

That they give lots of hugs and kisses and they love me.

7. What is your favorite color?My favorite color is pink.
8. What is your favorite toy and why?

My favorite toy in the world was Chickie- poo, and Moosie (her reindeer) and Lamby and Bear Blankie. (all lovies since before she was one).

My least favorite toy is our set of bongo drums. Max plays them too loud.

9. Who are your best friends?

Zoe and Sophia S, Taylor and Reagan, lots of kids in my class, and of course Maya. 

10. What is your favorite thing to wear?

This. (pointing to her cozy cardigan sweater).

11. What is your favorite television show? Movie?

Sponge Bob Square Pants… and Tangled.


12. What is your favorite song?
My favorite song is “Let it Go.”
But first she murmured the name of a pop song that I didn’t catch, and corrected herself saying, I think the real version of that song has bad words in it. Thank goodness for Pandora’s censoring options.
13.  What is the best thing someone could give you?A pet horse.

14. If you could go anywhere in the world to visit, where would you go?

Under the sea to visit the mermaids.

15. What is one new thing you would like to try this year?

Try not to be such a cranky bottom. Cause I am, sometimes.

16. What do you like about second grade?

It’s super duper easy. And gym class is really fun!

17. Finish this sentence: the most important thing about Elliot is….

I like kittens. (pause) I like my family!

Dad says….. how she cares for her friends and family.
Maya says…. she’s really sweet and cares about frogs, and she’s also funny.
Max says… she likes to play with me.
Mom says… her one-of-a-kind perspective. Give her some quiet one-on-one time and you’ll have the most amazing conversations, I guarantee!IMG_4066

Watch Elliot grow through the years with these old posts.

Simple Joy Sundays: The Gift of Time

This  weekend spilled over with time. Much need time to connect. Time to rest. Time to turn buckets and buckets of homegrown apples into sauce and syrup and apple butter.

Time has sloshed over the edges of our days in dreamy waves of morning snuggles. It has unfurled itself in a bright ribbon of meandering walks. Time has snapped and sparked in our much-used fire pit and floated away in billowing embers, like fireworks in the starry fall sky.

Last week’s melancholy evaporated amid the arid necessity of getting on with things. In it’s place was the happy hum of routine, the productivity of the first week of school. Lunches packed. Homework checked. Days summed up over family dinner.

In contrast, this luxurious over-abundance of weekend time has been our gift to ourselves. We’ve gone full hermit over here, my friends.

It has been a long time since I’ve gone full hermit, once a relatively frequent necessity in the overwhelming throes of new parenthood. We haven’t guarded weekends this closely since before we moved to the country.

Since, let’s face it, the last time Joe worked five days a week in an office.

I spend greater-than-average effort evaluating the way I budget my time. Perhaps its my inner economics major standing up for my inner philosopher poet. Or maybe it’s the only trick I have to keep the demands of my quirky, introverted self satisfied.

Whatever the reason, when I spy an imbalance, I clear some time and start anew.

How we spend our time is how we value our life. I say it over and over on DGT, live your values – act with intention – proceed with purpose. Do you believe in living a compassionate live? Practice compassion, daily. Do you believe in spending meaningful time with those you love? Don’t relegate them to bed times and the occasional carpool conversation.

The last few weekends, we’ve found our center. Or I have. Time alone with Max all week was lovely. Over the weekend, I surprised my astonishing girls with one-on-one dates, giving them time of their own to let their inner selves sparkle.

Joe’s new position makes time more scarce than ever for him, but we carved out every scrap we could. We connected.

I do love when we become hermits, together.

Always, the time we give one another is a gift. Weekends like this are both a gift, and an opportunity to look with fresh eyes on everything we hope to add back to the calendar.

Brief stints of hermit life refresh us for the frenzied parade that is family life. We just needed a moment to come back to one another. To hear each other speak.

And we needed to take a good look at time -how we spend it, how we waste it, and whether there’s room for a quick nap- before we open ours back up to the world at large.

On Melencholy

Behold the melancholy of this, the last day of summer.

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Okay, so maybe the kids are not sharing my melancholy.

But the happy beach scene occurred early this weekend. Today the house resonates with piano practice, the packing of school lunches, and an on-going runway of potential first-day outfits.

Here in Northern(ish) Minnesota, the air is crisp and cool. The birch leaves have begun their golden, rustling dance. The heat of the past week has broken, letting us know, in no uncertain terms, that summer has reached its end.

The entire universe seems to assume I’m ready to throw a celebratory party as I drop my brood off at our community school, where the experts can guide their young minds through the uncertain terrain of common core and golden rule.

The truth is, I am significantly less excited about the start of school than my kids.

IMG_3297The structure and schedule of the first week may be exciting. It may improve our family dinner habits and restore our circadian rhythms. But with it comes the death of spontaneity. The unexpected hike in a nearby park, the impromptu ice cream run… the demotion of bed time in favor of an extra hour on the tire swing. All gone.

The worst part about the schedule: it drags us along, a rapid current devoid of compassion for a person’s yearning for solitude or stillness. It drives us all too quickly to the beginning of June.  I know, sometime early next week, I’ll experience a moment of panic and paddle furiously up stream in a fit of protest. I know by April I’ll need a life vest (good thing we have travel plans round about then).

And I know the gentle pace of summer – even with full days and short nights – is a gift, a reprieve from the rigid requirements of the rest of the year.

IMG_3298I know, too, this melancholy is a petty complaint, born of the privilege that is my life as a work-from-home, stay-at-home parent.

I just want to raise my hand for a moment and say that I – and surely I’m not alone – am not gleefully ready to dump the little monsters on the school’s doorstep and get on with the business of life. My list of science projects, messy experiments, long hikes, small adventures, and be-lazy-in-the-hammock books is long enough to fill a year’s worth of summers.

It is this time of year (and in April) when that funny little word gets bandied about: homeschool. 

Lighter now, complaints aired and educational threats made, I’m ready to shove off into the current of the new school year. Once again, we’ll embrace the challenge together. We’ll set far off goals and race down stream to reach them sometime next spring.

And we’ll keep our minds eye on the stillness and unscheduled joy of next summer on the far shore of June.

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