Category Archives: Life

To die under a great reaching tree

Beautiful words from my beautiful cousin!

Betraktandet av skuggor

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Outside it is still windy. I can see the trees dancing in their sway outside the window. The sky is a thin pink strip rising and fading into peach and blue tones. Yet I am here, on this wheeled bed. Inside this hospital room, looking outside this window. My body is tight with pain, and I can see my blood has soaked the bedclothes a deep ruby red. I turn my thoughts to the cement pavement still out there, beneath the early evening sky. J and I had walked upon it hours earlier, in the mid day heat of the August sun. Where my feet and legs had been swollen and thick as they balanced my round belly, heavy with Aya. Along the canal, back and forth, we had walked and waddled. To speed up, to wait out, Aya’s arrival. In a rhythmic contracting pain.

I close my eyes, and…

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Are you a Jackhammer or a Hummingbird?

“If you can let go of passion and follow your curiosity, your curiosity just might lead you to your passion.” – Elizabeth Gilbert

I wasted some of my twenties feeling depressed about my lack of passion. Like most people my age, I’d been told I could do whatever I wanted with my life, but had no idea what I wanted. I had things I loved to do, but no idea how to turn them into a career. Somehow I found myself sitting in a cubicle typing away about topics I didn’t find so interesting after a few years.

Then, driven by my unhappiness, I let go of the idea that I had to be madly, deeply committed to my career and started to just follow my curiosity. I knew I was adequately entertained as a substitute teacher right after I graduated from college. I felt drawn to the elementary school I walked by each morning on my way to work. Even though I didn’t feel a moving passion to become a teacher, I was curious whether it would be a good fit. So, I applied to a teacher residency program, got accepted, and quit my job.

It was a good move. I pushed myself to become more outspoken. I let go of a lot of fear. I loved working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Maybe it wasn’t anything close to what I’d ever imagined for myself, but it was enough. I felt inspired, motivated, and dare I say it, happy.

But, as I’m beginning to understand is my nature, it wasn’t enough to hold me for more than a few years. After the birth of my daughter, I experienced a sort of renaissance where suddenly I had permission to explore all my curiosities without needing to be financially viable. In the past two years, I’ve written a middle grade novel, started an online business, and taken on two part-time jobs at a Waldorf school, one teaching games, the other special education.

Pulled multiple directions, one of my new year’s resolutions this year was to focus. Because I’ve been conditioned to attack goals one at a time, I felt a need to put more energy into fewer projects so I could actually “accomplish” something. Then my step-mom pulled me aside and had me watch this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert.

It finally clicked.

In Gilbert’s description of either being a hummingbird (someone who flutters from project to project) or a jackhammer (someone who focuses intensely on one “passion”), I realized I needed to let myself be a hummingbird for awhile. My whole life, I’ve tried to approach everything with a jackhammer resolve, when really I derive a great amount of joy from exploring my many curiosities. And, the best part, there’s still hope for one of these curiosities to become a full-fledged, all-in passion.

Whew.

Talk about a relief. It’s amazing how reframing your perspective can change everything. So, this year, instead of trying to focus on just one or two things, I’m letting myself be a hummingbird for a bit longer. In fact, I’m embracing the hummingbird and trusting it will lead me where I need to go.

What about you?

***

Here’s a teaser from Gilbert’s talk, (the full version is available in the link above):

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Finding Gratitude in the Dark Spots

“When you stop moving, you die.”

It looked like we were ballroom dancing, our arms meeting to form a circle. It was his job to push me out, it was my job to hold my own. He was stronger. He won. My shoulder lost.

November started with a lot of pain. As a Waldorf games teacher, I was sent to a training to learn how to teach Greek wrestling, javelin, discus and long jump to fifth graders. As with any good teaching, we learned by doing. However, I only made it partially through Greek wrestling before I sprained my shoulder. A small little muscle underneath my blade wasn’t as strong as my will. It tore in my stubborn resistance and released a flood of emotions. I cried. I was embarrassed. I sat out and watched with jealousy as the other teachers got to throw the javelin and leap through the air.

Still, even through all the pain, I was determined there had to be some silver lining to my temporary disability. The impetus, perhaps, to finally coax my determined toddler to sleep through the night without my constant soothing. A deeper empathy for how my students feel when they get hurt and can’t participate. An appreciation for being able bodied. Something. There had to be something good, to make sense of that much discomfort, that much challenge in doing the simplest tasks. Apparently you need your shoulders for just about everything. Even laughing.

Thanks to three weeks of physical therapy, my shoulder now only hurts in attempting to do things like push-ups or down dogs. The doctor was right. I was still young enough to heal quickly. But, she also changed my perspective with one simple sentence.

When I asked about keeping my shoulder immobilized, she told me, “When you stop moving, you die.” Of course, there was nothing imminently deadly about my injury, but her point hit home. It’s so easy for injuries to become our excuses to no longer move, which in turn feeds more dire health consequences. I get it. The healthiest old people  are those who haven’t stopped moving.

So, on this weekend full of gratitude, I’m choosing to be thankful for what’s hard. Hurting my shoulder was hard. Encouraging my daughter to sleep without as much comforting was really hard. A lot of this month sucked. But all these challenges made me determined to never stop moving. It was my weakness, my lack of upper body strength, that failed to protect a tiny little muscle that was the key to so much pain. I’ve avoided lifting weights pretty much my entire life, but now thanks to my shoulder and that doctor, I’ve learned an invaluable lesson. Move, even when it’s not comfortable.
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The Words Are Back

Damnit.

They’re back. A blessing and a curse. I’ve learned with practice to get out of bed and write them down. Otherwise, I just lie there for hours as they pulse behind my eyelids.

It’s 2:23 AM. I should be asleep. One hundred and twenty little people wait for me tomorrow, ready to run, jump, and play outside. Anxious to know if I’ve learned all their names. Try as I might, I haven’t. Once a week just isn’t enough. I still have about 30 to go. It’s always the ones I don’t remember who ask. Always.

The four hours of sleep won’t be enough. I must let out the words and close my eyes again. Maybe the two droppers full of Passionflower tincture will help. The Melatonin is too strong. It leaves me grumpy in the morning.

I used to awaken in the middle of the night years before she was born. I went through a period of what I now accept must’ve been depression. I didn’t know how to escape my cubicle. I felt stuck. I worried I would never discover a job I loved. Life seemed long. My stomach ached and the doctor suggested anxiety. I didn’t believe him.

Now I have too many vocations calling my name. Life feels short. My husband is contemplating a tattoo reminding him to focus. Maybe I need one too. I don’t want to give up my time at home with my daughter. I teach games class at a Waldorf elementary school. I’m attempting to run my own business. I write. I lie awake in bed and contemplate signing up for yoga teacher training. Like I really need something else.

I expect her to summon me back to bed any minute now. “Mommy!” shouted into the darkness. A siren song. She knows when I disappear downstairs to let out the words. At best she gives me 45 minutes. A crib is headed to our house as we speak, on some airplane or truck or train or sitting in some warehouse ready to be picked up. 19 months of mostly co-sleeping and it’s finally time to try something else.

Even so, I wouldn’t have done it differently. It helped me bond with a colicky baby, connecting us in a way that only the warmth of bodies and shared dreams can. The relief of no more screaming and no need to crawl out of bed to nurse. In a way, it saved me for a very long time.

But now, my shoulders hurt from lying on my sides and I’m hopeful extra space will buy us all more rest. Or at least me, since everyone else seems to be asleep around here. However, I know the words will still drum in my head, pulling me downstairs much to the confusion of two sleepy dogs on the couch.

Yes, for better or worse, the words are back.

And, right on cue, I hear her stirring. My time is up.

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Getting Meta: The Stories we tell Ourselves

A collection of notebooks I found around the house... I'm sure there are more.

Time to whip these suckers back out and get intentional about my present and future again.

I have always been a storyteller. When I was a kid, this got me into a bit of trouble as I molded my reality to fit the story I wanted to tell. I wasn’t a liar, per se, but I manipulated details to create my world into one where I wanted to live.

Without stopping to notice, I am still the same person. I tell stories all the time. And just as when I was a kid, they are neither true nor false, but rather subjective to the lens I choose.

Today I was feeling down for the first time in awhile. Maybe it was the weather. Maybe it was those pesky hormones still sticking around after baby. Really it does not matter. What does matter is what I realized.

I had a choice. I could either tell myself a negative story or a positive one. Both were true enough, depending on which details I chose to focus. What a thought. I could live in whichever story I wanted, so why choose the gloomy one?

Time to get out those notebooks again and be more intentional about the stories I'm creating now and five years down the road.

I love old pick-me-ups in forgotten journals… It is like the old me knew I would someday need a picture of a fish saying, “Boo!”

Even so, I let myself bask in the gloom for a bit. Sometimes I enjoy a good mope. Contrasts are good. Recognition of feelings is good. After all, we can’t always opt to live on a bright, fluffy cloud. {Where is the growth and variety in that?}

Still, we can choose where we want to spend more of our time. Overall, I prefer the rosier lens. Maybe not the one filled with rainbows and unicorns, but the one where even the less enjoyable details serve some bigger, higher purpose.

Have you stopped to think about the stories you tell yourself? What kind of reality are you crafting in this very moment?

With those questions in mind, I am off to create a new story for myself, one where I get back in the driver’s seat and count my blessings for what they are worth. {A lot…}

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Month Seven: Changing the Meaning of Home

Another cross-over post; writing, writing, writing up a storm today! Too bad baby naps aren’t always this productive 😀

Leap of Mama

We said goodbye to our first little home as a family this month, good thing the path ahead is so exciting. We said goodbye to our first home as a family this month, good thing the path ahead is worth it…

It has been two weeks since we moved. Despite my excitement about our new adventure, I also had my worries. I did not know if two bedrooms would be enough. I was concerned we would miss our privacy. I feared I would somehow feel rootless, or homeless in a nontraditional sense, without an entire house to ourselves. Most of all, I did not want our little family to lose the intimacy of those precious moments shared just the three of us.

To my great relief, our first two weeks have made any trade-offs unimportant. So far, I do not miss a single item stuffed into our 1,500 cubic feet of storage, (and, yes, we used all 15 feet of vertical space thanks to my clever cousin-in-law). Nor do I lament…

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Living my Bohemian Writer Fantasy (a Couple Months at a Time)

A cross-over post from my other blog as I embrace life as a mom and writer. The scariest part of this decision? I have zero excuse not to write!

Leap of Mama

The sale-pending sign hangs outside our house. This leap is getting real! The sale-pending sign hangs outside our house. This leap is getting real!

Our house is in escrow. Half-packed boxes are scattered in every room. By all appearances, we are moving. Five years in one house is the longest I have lived anywhere. Ever.

It feels good to go through everything and make piles. Keep and give away. We own so much we never use. Going through it all is a good reflection on what matters.

I like stuff. Dresses, jackets, shoes, woven wraps. But I have more stuff than I use. More stuff than I stop to appreciate. More stuff than matters.

My favorite part of moving is finding the person who could use what we don’t. Baby swings, strollers, clothes. The list goes on. For most everything, there is a person in our life or sphere who will put the item to better use. It is like a puzzle.

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Gearing up for Fall: Focus & Writing Inspiration

As the light begins to change again, my connection to childhood and the seasons feels stronger than ever.

As the light begins to dim and Eloise continues to grow, my connection to childhood and the seasons feels stronger than ever.

Childhood was intertwined with seasons. The excitement of a new school year with the supplies and smell of the classroom, the changing of the leaves with pumpkins and candy, a big parade on an old Stockton television with turkey to follow, Christmas trips to the city and then the countdown to Santa, banging pots and pans on New Years, cold rainy days inside with a puzzle and Mom, valentines from friends as the light began to change, spring rain and green hillsides, the hug of summer heat and endless summer nights, all to begin again.

It’s the same rhythm that made me love teaching. In a world of windowless cubicles there are no seasons. In a classroom everything changes with the month of the year. So it is at home. I can feel the end of summer. I must have been four years old the last time a fall went by without school or outside work. Reflexively I prepare to focus again, even if this time it is from home. It is that burst of completed effort before the holidays arrive and everything slows again. Life in synch with seasons.

Blogging fits into the cracks of life, those moments when she is asleep or in someone else’s arms. The real work of writing is the bigger projects, the ones that require more determination to keep going even when there are fewer words to say, (as opposed to the instant gratification of a quick post shared…).

I am almost ready. The trick is picking one project instead of getting distracted by five. A tired promise, but an important one all the same. In the weeks before Eloise was born I started a middle grades fiction novel about a girl named Indigo who lives next to a cemetery. I think I’ll start there, seasonally appropriate after all.

What are you gearing up to work on this fall? Maybe we can inspire each other…

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Saying Good-bye (For now) to My Little Sister

This is the face I always remember best.

This is the face I remember best.

A week from tomorrow my little sister, K, leaves for college. When I stop to think about this I tear up. Sending her off on her first journey into adulthood comes at an interesting moment in my own life, as I welcome my daughter into this world and anticipate the path that lies ahead.

My little sister gave me my first tastes of motherhood with thirteen years between us. Thinking back to K as a child makes me smile. She confounded me. I pained myself to be obedient and make everyone else happy. She would wake up and make herself a bowl of ice cream to eat with her morning cartoons and think nothing of it. She made her decisions for herself, not others. This is not to say she was not generous, she has just always known how to care for herself first.

In our family of five kids, K managed to still stand out.

In our family of five kids, K managed to still stand out, (yes, she is the fabulous little person in the middle).

It took me eighteen years to understand how this perceived rebellion was beautiful. I used to try and change her with my words, make her more like me to make others happy. Instead, she always stayed her course and others were happy still. It blew my mind. She showed me she could be her own person, less eager to please, and that others would adapt and be better for it.

While I stayed close to home and went to college in Davis, she is off to study film at NYU, on the other side of the country, a move I was too afraid to make. I only applied to California schools and UW, (which I turned down because it was too far). I have no regrets, as each choice took me to the life I have today, but I also admire her. She has always been good at pushing our family outside of its comfort zone.

My family often jokes that Eloise is already like her Auntie K. Strong-willed, focused, determined. There was a time when this would have scared me. However, as I get ready to send off my sweet blonde-haired sister, I can only hope Eloise grows to be just as true to herself and that I can be the mom who gives her space to follow her heart. As I hug K good-bye, I will feel Eloise in my arms too, making it a little harder to let go.

Good luck Auntie K, we will all be rooting for you!

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Come join me over at my new blog!

I know posts about motherhood aren’t for everyone, but in case you missed the memo, I am now blogging over at Leap of Mama as well. Whether you are a first-time parent, empty nester, or suffering from baby fever, you are welcome! Come on over, click follow and join the fun.

I'm sure you don't want to miss what is happening in the world of this cute face.

I’m sure you don’t want to miss what is happening in the world of this cutie.

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The Old Lady at the Door

An old woman knocked on my front door this afternoon. She knocked and knocked and when I did not answer, she knocked some more. At first she knocked on the door and then she knocked on the window with her keys and then the door again. The dogs howled and still she did not leave. Instead she sat in one of the wicker chairs on my front porch and made herself comfortable in the hundred and ten degree heat.

Reluctant, I opened the door, baby in arms, dogs still growling. I knew who she was. She was the same lady who stops cars dead in the middle of the street for a ride. I have picked her up on the corner before, her arms waving back and forth like it is an emergency. My husband has taken her to the farmer’s market. My mother-in-law waited for her to walk up and down each isle of the grocery store just last week. When she stops you, she gives you no choice but to let her in your car. She does not budge.

So when I opened the door, annoyed because I was trying to get the baby down for a nap, I told her I could not take her. I knew she could manage for herself. Sometimes I sit and watch her stand in the middle of the road until someone lets her in his or her car. She is quite capable and here I am, standing on my front porch in the heat with a sleepy infant who does not like the car, listening. The baby smiles, giving her more fuel. Inside I groan.

There are no apologies for waking the baby or causing such a ruckus. Just a straight face and a lot of complaints. Her knee, the blazing sun, her small social security check, her need to go to the store, (which we have learned is always followed by the bank and the post-office and the…). No sympathy when I tell her the (smiling again) baby is fussy. Instead stories about her grandkids making millions of dollars and those years she worked for Harry S. Truman and how her name is Bernice.”Like our street?” I ask. She does not respond.

I look at her clothes, a wool jacket and long pants. I am sweating in just shorts and a t-shirt, anxious to get back into the air-conditioned house. I feel sorry for her but still do not have the time or energy to take her all over town. After all, I have a trip to get ready for, a messy house about to be listed for sale tomorrow, a baby who should be asleep. I accept her phone number and tell her next time I leave the house without the baby I will give her a ride but warn her it might be a bit, I am leaving tomorrow. She finally gives up.

I ask if she has asked any other neighbors, she says no. The new neighbor pulls into the drive and she yells across the yard, the girl stares back uncertain if the woman standing on my porch with me and my baby is really yelling at her. I shut the door and shake my head. I call my husband and complain. I feel bad but she makes no attempt to be understanding. She is not like the other old lady who lives down the street, the one with the old cat who has now passed, who thanks me and apologizes every time she knocks because she remembers what it was like to have a baby with barking dogs.

This old lady pushes, so I push back. It is my nature to push when pushed. But now it is 4AM and I am awake while everyone else sleeps and I wonder if just maybe I should have been a little kinder and done something for her. Growing old sucks. Growing old alone is worse. Maybe I would be that pushy too.

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Deciding to Jump: To Go Back to Work, Or Not?

Still a little rough around the edges, but working on a new blog to separate out some of my more personal writing– I will still be blogging @ oliviaobryon about writing/teaching/travel, but also want to see what it is like to take a more focused approach in the blog world. If you enjoy my mommy posts, I invite you to follow Leap of Mama too!

Leap of Mama

It's the sweet, quiet moments like these I hate to give up. It’s the sweet, quiet moments like these I hate to give up.

I am standing on the edge of one of the biggest jumps of my life. Either I go back to work part-time as an intervention teacher and attempt to juggle my dream of writing into the mix of afterwork motherhood, or I take a deep breath, and jump straight into life as a stay-at-home mom and writer.

For many, the answer seems easy. JUMP. But the decision is much more layered than I expected. I love my school, my students, my coworkers. Some days I feel on the verge of going stir crazy at home. I have a part-time job waiting that may never be there again. The predictability of a work schedule, a paycheck, and good health insurance speaks to my cautious nature. Returning to work is somehow the less frightening choice.

With a face like this, it is hard to leave home. With a face like this…

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