life lessons, Losing Dad

Dad’s Birthday 

These are my wonderful parents. The picture was taken on 11/22/1998, my 21st Birthday. My parents came to Philly to take me out for my birthday because that’s the kind of parents they are. It is one of my favorites because you can see the true love that we all got to see when they were together.
Tomorrow would have been dad’s 69th birthday. It’s the hardest day of the year for me. I revisit the anger, denial, and deep sadness that came from his sickness and eventual death. That physical ache in my heart shows up and I can’t eat or breathe right. The gaping hole that was left when we lost him pulses to remind me that it will never be full again. The crying that is accompanied by hyperventilation and then complete fatigue returns. Each year, it is his birthday that makes me feel like I’ve lost him all over again. Grief is funny that way. It likes to creep up on you and remind you that it’s still there to torture you.

My daughter never met her grandfather. However, I tell her so many stories about him that I sometimes have to remind her that he is gone. I like that this is the case. To her, he is still very much alive. He always said he would live past 100. In some ways, he was right. He lives in the old hymns. All I have to do is listen to “Come Thou Fount,” close my eyes, and I can feel him there singing along with me. He is in my head during a snowstorm when I realize my gas is on “E.” How many times does he have to tell me not to let it go below half in the winter?! He is in my daughter’s smile whenever she is really happy and her whole face lights up. I see him in that joy and excitement for life that fills her every being on a daily basis.

Because of this, I let her decide what we will do to celebrate him tomorrow. She said we should go for a hike and have a “Charlie Brown Birthday party.” So, we will do just that. Or, we will go for a hike, eat peppermint patties, and then search the city of Philadelphia for a cupcake or cake with Peanuts characters on it. I think my dad would approve!

Happy Birthday Dad! We love you and miss you tons!!

Advertisements
Standard
gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, imagination, life lessons, writing

My Daughter is a Horse.

My daughter is a horse. I don’t mean she eats like a horse or looks like a horse. I mean she is galloping around the living room on all fours shaking her head and neighing like a horse. She leaps from couch to coffee table pretending she is leaping over a canyon with a rider on her back. She will only tell me once that she is a “running horse” and then I must understand her. She will stay in character for up to 30 minutes sometimes. She remains focused and true to her character and never breaks. She has carefully studied hours of videos of horses and intently watched horses in real life to perfect her character.

At first I thought it was annoying when she wouldn’t talk to me while in character or that she watched so many horse videos. I kept thinking, “ Gah! I have a weird 3-year-old.” But then, as happens a lot now, I learned something from her. She doesn’t just say “I’m a horse” and then act silly around the living room. She commits. She studies. She will not break. She practices daily. She experiments with how a horse might move on steps or furniture. She reacts to our dog and cat as a horse might react to them. She pulls grass from our yard or on our walks and pretends it is hay for the horse to eat. Her focus and commitment is incredible.

I want to be a writer as much as my daughter wants to be a horse. The difference is I just say it, or don’t say it all but think it, and then I go about my business of doing everything except writing. I am just jumping around life being silly and not having any commitment to my passion. How many of us say we want to do something or be something and then fill our lives with silly things that have nothing to do with what we truly desire? When did we lose that sense of play and of really truly wanting to BECOME something. When we were children and played firemen or police officers or queens, we committed to those roles. We really believed we were those things and we gave it our all.

I recently visited the house I lived in in rural Alaska. We lived on roughly four acres of land in a mostly birch forest in a fairly tiny house. There was an old chicken coop on the property that my siblings and I had turned into a play house. My memories of this place ended at age 10 when we moved. I remembered a white birch forest where the trees almost glowed. I remembered our small patch of grass as a brilliant green and the trails through the woods leading into magical lands of adventure. The old chicken coop was massive and looked like the home of the fairy queen. At night, the Aurora Borealis would dance across the tops of the trees with every color of the rainbow and hiss and crackle at us and we stood below it in our pajamas and moon boots. We could see every star and planet in the galaxy. They were so close we could almost touch them. As an adult, I walked around our old property and everything was just brown. There are a scattering of birch trees, but other trees are there as well. The chicken coop was tiny and not the least bit magical. The place from my memory was nowhere to be found. When do we stop seeing the world as a magical place? When does it suddenly become cynical and ugly?FullSizeRender (5)

Life is magical to my daughter right now. She understands play and imagination. She looks at our mess of an urban back yard and calls it our “secret garden.” She finds the tiniest flower growing from the tiniest weed and jumps with joy screaming “momma, look a beautiful flower!! I’ll pick it so we can put it on our table.” My initial reaction is to protect her from the cynicism and ugliness that I see as an adult. As I have been observing her and recognizing my own sadness, however, I think I am going to take a different approach. Instead of trying to protect her, I’m going to let my imagination come back. I am going to welcome her with open arms. I am going to join my daughter as she neighs and gallops and I’m going to see the magic in our little backyard.
And then I’m going to write about it because that is what writers do.

Standard
Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Run Momma Run

get up.

Four and a half years ago I ran my fourth half marathon. Two days later I found out that I was pregnant. I was a runner first and foremost. It had become the most important part of my life and I had fallen in love with every race and practice run. Running was the first img_2820thing I thought about when I woke up and it is what I planned on doing as I fell asleep each night. I had run two full marathons, four half marathons, a ten-miler, and countless 5Ks all in the span of about 4 years.

After I had my daughter, I got back to running pretty quickly and even got my body back. I began dreaming of the two of us running together across that first finish line. Then, shortly after her first birthday, things started falling apart. Life changed drastically for both of us and the running me seemed to disappear. The fun loving careless me disappeared too. The fearless me disappeared. The anxious and depressed me took over. My career and my daughter were both wonderful, but other things got out of my control and I just shut down. I shut down completely. My body, mind, and spirit all took a hit. Until a few weeks ago, I was pretty sure I would never fully recover.

Then, we lost a close family friend. This was a man who has been a mentor and pastor when I was in college and who had been an inspiration to my entire family. At his funeral I thought about the fact that there would never be anyone who could replace this man. He had a way of reaching you at your lowest and showing you how to rise up. Through stories told at the funeral, I was reminded that we all fall down at some point. If we are human, it is inevitable. The important thing is getting back up. This pastor was gifted at meeting people at that point and helping them get back up to finish the race. I wished I could talk to him one more time because I knew he would know what to say to help me to get back up. I fell down two years ago and I have been down too long.

When you are a solo parent of a toddler and you work full time, finding time to run, or work out at all, is nearly impossible. Finding “me time” in general is almost unheard of. When people tell me to take time for myself, I scoff. The other thing that is impossible, however, is being a solo parent and not asking for help. Trying to do everything yourself is a great way to completely burn out. Over the last few months, I have been slowly asking people for help. Family and friends have stepped in and fed my daughter, watched her for a few hours, taken her to school, and invited her for play dates.img_2818

Today was one of those days. My daughter was invited to a play date for the morning with the understanding that I leave her there. So, I laced up my running shoes, drove to my beloved Kelly Drive and walked 4 miles as fast as a snail!! It was sunny and beautiful and freezing cold and it felt amazing. Every biker, runner, walker, and Canadian goose passed me on the trail and I did not care one bit. I listened to the playlist I made for that half marathon four years ago and I remembered the me I used to be. Since I tried my first  bootcamp spinning class two days ago, my legs were solid blocks of painful cement that buckled at every incline, but it didn’t even matter. My body, mind, and spirit were up and moving together for the first time in years.
So, after months of not writing, here I am again. It is not to boast or gain pity. I am here for accountability. I am a writer and I am a runner. If I am truly going to “get up,” I must img_2821do both. This post is about as good as my sloth-like morning stroll, but it still feels great because I am not lying in a heap on the floor under my computer. I’m sitting in the chair and I’m ready to write again.

 

Standard
gardening, Going Solo: Single Parenthood, Uncategorized

raw and open

Eight years and a few months ago I told a friend that I couldn’t imagine being happier about life and more excited about my future. I felt amazing. I was in the first semester of Grad school, I had just moved into a new house, I had gone from being a couch potato to running races and practicing yoga regularly, I had a new job as the executive director of an organization that brought me joy, and I was in the beginning stages of a new relationship with the first man I ever loved. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Then, like a sledgehammer to the skull, we got the death sentence diagnosis for my dad. He was dying. That’s it. There was no hope given. They could help him live a couple more years, but cancer would kill him and it would kill him soon. My dad. The man who lived his life serving others and would literally talk about what he would be doing when he was 100. He enjoyed life so much that it was contagious to be around him. He had already had cancer twice before and would joke about it. “I don’t get sick, I just get cancer,” he would say with pride.

A church friend recently talked about a garden being the metaphor for our lives and God being the Master Gardener. I have taken this idea and used it to help myself work through this season of my life. As I have highs and lows with my literal garden, I see the parallels with my life. Before the diagnosis, my garden was lush and full of herbs, flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Heck, there were freaking butterflies and honeybees fluttering around. You get the picture?

My dad’s diagnosis was the first nasty weed. What followed was three years of watching my father struggle and hope and eventually die. My relationship of three years, the one that was supposed to last forever, died four months later. It was a relationship that might have lasted had it happened at a different time in my life, but sometimes grief has a way of killing things in its path. Three months after my relationship died, I  jumped into a summer fling with a man who I thought I knew and who I thought was an old friend, only to find out he was a complete stranger, was not at all who I thought he was, and I was left to face a pregnancy and eventually parenthood, alone. My lush happy garden slowly rotted and turned into a heaping compost as I blamed the Master Gardener and kicked him out.

Even moments before my daughter was born, I was sitting in the middle of my compost pile thinking the garden and life I once had would never happen again. I was admittedly, angry, hurt, defeated and hopeless. Then, the moment they put that baby girl on my chest and I saw those crystal blue eyes, a small but strong bud popped out of my heap of mush and began to bloom. Trying to keep this “bud” alive and blooming has required months of fighting a broken legal system, three years of pinching pennies and constantly worrying about money, learning how to ask and accept help, and inviting the “Master Gardener” back in.fullsizerender-3

A few days ago, in my actual garden, I spent the entire morning pulling up weeds, removing broken glass, ant hills, and dog poop, and pulling up dead tree trunks. It was the end of a weeks-long project that I was starting to think would take the rest of my life to complete. As I stood in the sun covered in sweat and dirt, I felt the most amazing satisfaction seeing the raw and open earth that I uncovered. It was ugly and beautiful at the same time. Aside from a single strand of purple Morning Glories, everything that had been there was now gone. I immediately started to cry. This garden was me.

My neighbors told me that this garden was once home to beautiful grass, vibrant rose bushes, and lush green trees. After years of trials and neglect, it became the weed covered trash-ridden lot that I purchased a few months ago. It was so bad that one of my neighbors suggested it was beyond repair and I should just fill it with concrete and call it a day. What it is teaching me, however, is that nothing and no one is past redemption. Like my garden, I reached a point in my life where I had to realize that in order for that one flower to grow and flourish, I would have to rip out all that was old, dig up the soil, remove the trash, and start again with new seeds. I would need expert advice and help with the hardest parts of the job. Most importantly, I had to stop focusing on what once was and what I thought it “should” look like. I have to accept what has happened, mourn any loss, and focus on each seed as new life grows and a whole new garden appears.

Standard
Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Preggers

savor.

The following popped up in my Timehop today. It is from August 30, 2015. First of all, I cannot believe a year has gone by already. Bella starts her second year of school next week and I still remember the shock on her face when she took her first steps. I remember how she felt as a tiny infant snuggled up on my chest and sleeping on my belly. I still remember those first tiny kicks that I felt inside me. What a joy this journey has turned out to be. What a surprise it is to find out this little human chose me as her mother and I never realized just how much I needed her in my life. I only wish it would all slow down because I want to savor each of these moments for a little longer before they end up as yesterday.

I read this and I want to remember it and I know a lot of people can relate:

August 30, 2015, 10pm

I’m listening to Lumineers, packing up The last of Bella’s baby clothes, and crying. Tomorrow is the first full day of the first full week of school for her. School. This life goes way too fast. A month less than three years ago,  I found out she was coming into this world. Three years. That’s it. It seems like it was last week. I have learned so much about life and about myself in that time; definitely more than I ever learned in all 20 years of school. I have learned what I am capable of(and that it’s more than I ever imagined) I’ve learned what is truly important in life, and why love and forgiveness are way more valuable than any hatred or anger or. I’ve learned that money and things mean nothing in this life. I have learned to stop planning and just live. I have learned that chocolate hand prints on my wall are just as awesome as my art collection and that there isn’t a bad day in the world that can’t be cured by a toddler smiling ear to ear, yelling “mommy,” and running into your arms at the end of the day. I’ve learned that loving and supportive friends and family are a rare and priceless thing to have. I’ve learned to really give: my heartFullSizeRender (2), my money, my time, and that giving is the secret to why any of us are here in the first place. I’ve learned that having a child is a gift and should never be taken for granted. I’ve learned to give thanks for that gift endlessly. I’ve learned that being there for Your child and giving her your time means more to her than any toy or material thing you can give her. I’ve learned that even a two-year-old can show compassion and love beyond measure. And finally, I’ve learned that happiness is a choice, and when you choose it you realize that your life is suddenly easier and better than you ever knew it could be. So, thank you to all of you who have been and are a part of our life. Bella and I give thanks everyday for the people and love we have in our lives. We consider ourselves very lucky. The last three years have been the best and most exciting years of my life and I cannot wait to see what our future has in store for us.

And it’s all still true!

 

 

 

Standard
gardening, life lessons, Losing Dad


FullSizeRender (1).jpgA few weeks before my dad passed away, I caught him eating a raw potato. A RAW potato. I jokingly asked him if he’d like me to cook it for him. I will never forget his response, “No. I like it this way. It tastes like earth.”

I lived in six different houses in six different towns growing up. Each one of them had an ample amount of Earth. At each house, my parents were adamant about having a garden, fruit trees, and plenty of green. My mom covered the house with plants of various origin and my dad focused on vegetables and fruit trees in the yard. From birth, I have watched the magic that happens when a seed becomes a sprout and a sprout becomes a plant, a flower, a vegetable, or a tree. It has always amazed me and been all the proof I need that there is something greater than myself. I remember living in York County, Pennsylvania, where we had a huge vegetable garden, and hiding between two rows of peas with my best friend. We would lay in the dirt and giggle as we filled our bellies with fresh sweet peas. There is nothing like biting into a crisp pea pod on a hot summer day. It tastes like Earth.

One of the reasons I love the garden and gardening is because it is one of the few places I can still sense my dad’s presence. Just as I can feel him smiling every time I open up a new book, my dad also lingers in the sprouting of a new seed and in each shovel full of Earth as I turn it over to start something new. When I found a house in the city with a big back yard, all I could think about was the garden I would be able to have. It would be the perfect way to honor my dad and share a part of him with Bella.

I definitely have my work cut out for me. In the first year of Bella’s life, I celebrated keeping a human alive while I mourned each plant and vegetable as one by one, they died a slow and painful death. Now I have a toddler that I still have to keep alive(not an easy task) and a yard full of weeds and random treasures that must be dug up and sifted one shovel at a time before I can even think of sowing any seeds. The process is slow and has required quite a bit of texts to mom, consults with experienced urban gardeners, and googling. I’ve also discovered that, for the most part, my gardening will have to be in containers and raised beds; something totally new to me and not exactly what I had hoped for.

There is actual scientific proof that having contact  with the earth through standing in your bare feet, sitting, or lying down on the earth, known as earthing or grounding, actually improves your physiological and electrophysiological health. In fact, when stressed or depressed, direct contact with the earth has been shown to improve your symptoms. I suffer from anxiety and depression and have actually been told that regularly walking through grass or soil will eventually improve my symptoms and balance the cortisol levels in my body. It makes sense. I spent much of my childhood barefoot and covered in grass and mud. There were many times my parents didn’t know where the earth ended and I started. “Earthing” is in my blood, but I have not done much of it in the past few years. It is a therapy I am willing to try and willing to create space for in my backyard.

This piece-of-earth project is not only for me. I want Bella to have the opportunity to ground herself daily. I want her to know what a tomato seed and flower look like. I want her to remember happily hiding in the rows of peas while she bites downFullSizeRender.jpg on a piece of earth. I truly believe an essential part of good parenting is figuring out a way for your child to connect to the earth somehow. Most people my age grew up “earthing” daily and we didn’t even know that what we were doing was actually beneficial to our health and well-being. Today, however, many of us have to work to make that happen for our kids. We are fighting against computers, and smartphones, video games, and bigger flatter TVs with more to entertain our kids every day. We need more hikes, walks in the park or on the beach, and weekend camping trips. And, if we have the space, or even just a pot of soil in the kitchen, we can fight that pesky technology with a nothing but a seed, some soil, and a little water and sunshine.

So, despite the fact that we may not see our first sprout until sometime next year, I’m looking forward to the hours of digging and weeding that Bella and I have before us this fall. I’ll be doing it with my dad’s old garden tools while I think of all his corny jokes and remember how excited he was the first time his fig tree produced fruit. Hopefully, by this time next year, I will be telling you about our very first potato and how Bella and I sat in our garden and ate it raw while we talked about Grandpa Wilcox and how truly delicious the earth tastes.

 

“For the beauty of each hour of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower, sun and moon, and stars of light;  
Lord of all, to thee we raise this our hymn of grateful praise.”

 

 

It Tastes Like Earth

Quote
Going Solo: Single Parenthood, life lessons, Losing Dad

bella blooms.

I’m not going to make it a habit of blogging more than once a week, but since I am determined to do this and do it right, I think I should provide a little background to the blog as reference. I started by moving my old blogs over to this site so I have everything in one place. While writing has always been my passion, I started the blogging five years ago when I found out my dad had only a few weeks left to live. It helped to talk about it even though it often exposed some pretty intimate emotions publicly. As someone who has suffered on and off with anxiety and depression, I have a strong belief that being public about emotions is healthy and much better than bottling things up until we break. Or worse, faking happiness and perfection.

The blogging continued to be helpful through my pregnancy and my favorite part of that process was my inbox full of stories from other parents.  I felt like I joined some new club and it was wonderful to find out that no one in the club was perfect and the stories people shared were mostly about times they had royally screwed up. Personally, I feel like those are the kinds of stories we should share more publicly. My social media feed is full of posts about how great and perfect everyone’s life is, but hearing the weird and unpleasant stories, especially when we can laugh about them, is richer and a little more fun.

It is what makes us human.

I’ve been on a hiatus from blogging for a variety of reasons, but I am excited to get back to it. I live alone with a 3-year old, an old grumpy dog, and a cat who was born without balance or grace. As if that isn’t enough, I am a parent and a person who constantly makes mistakes, but is able to laugh at myself daily and walk away believing I am still an ok person despite my numerous flaws. My goal for this blog is to share a little about solo parenting(both toddlers and fur babies) and a little about my attempt at bringing the country girl inside me into my very Philly back yard.

Six months ago, I bought my first house. It is what I consider the best of both worlds. It is still less than five miles from the heart of Center City and no more than a 10 minute drive. Yet, it is still far enough out of Center City that we rarely have to deal with tourists or politicians disrupting our daily lives. The house is an old Philly row home that is original on the outside and completely flipped on the inside. It feels like a brand new house, but unlike many of the new condos popping up around the city, it was built in a time when things were built to last. It has survived over one hundred years of hurricanes, blizzards, floods, and heat waves. I was looking for a classic and although I originally wanted everything on the inside to be the original work as well, I must admit I am starting to like the facelift the house had before I bought it. I’ve never lived in a house where no one else has used the appliances or bathroom, or even walked on these floors. It makes it feel even more like it’s really mine. The biggest thing that sold this house for me, however,  was what was outside: a huge fenced in backyard that is rarely found in this area. I have a raised lawn that is 30’ x 10’ surrounded by a substantial patio all shaded by a massive Magnolia Tree. It is not the acreage this Central PA girl would prefer, but it is just enough to give me a place surrounded in green.

So, the down933F7610-DD2A-4D86-B54F-AD3BF5C9190Cside to this yard is that, like the house, it was abandoned for 6 years. Squatters filled it with garbage and with each rain, more “treasures” surface. To date, I have found diapers, a beheaded statue of Mary, shattered wine glasses and China, Christmas ornaments, broken toys, the rusted contents of a tool box, nails, cigarettes, cobblestones, pieces of a railroad, casino chips, bricks, and other random trash. Now you are probably wondering why I would want a house with a yard in this condition. The fact is that when I came to see the house, I looked outside and saw the incredible potential for the space. As I sift through it one shovel at a time(using my dad’s gardening tools), I find interesting pieces of the past and the good earth that still lives below the surface. My goal with this space is to fill it with clover and surround it with a container garden and some raised beds. This project will take a long time and since I am not an experienced gardener and barely have any idea what I am doing, I expect things to get interesting and most likely frustrating.
I see the yard as a physical representation of my life. I think that’s why I love it so much. I have also gone through some rough years and have some garbage to clear out of my life as I begin growing something new. So, as I figure out how to keep a kid, two pets, and some plants alive and growing, I’ll fill you in on the fun parts. 

Standard