Advice from Dad

FD-4I’m always happy for good advice. I love those little signs with wise sayings you find on Etsy. What I love even more is the advice my dad left me with.

I miss my dad every day, not just on Father’s Day, which is coming up quickly. As the years go by, I feel closer to him in some ways than I did when he was alive. He left me when I was 27, armed with fantastic advice that didn’t make sense until I had more time under my belt.

It’s been 8 years since he died, and also nearly 8 years since I found out I was going to be a mother. Talk about the circle of life playing out all at once. Nine days after my dad died, I found out I was pregnant. Fast forward to now. The brood has grown to three. My babies have helped heal me, salve for the incredible loss of a parent, and have forced me to grow and change as a person in ways I could never have imagined.  Since becoming a parent, I’ve had more than a few chances to reflect on the advice my father gave me. Parent to child, it all sank in.

PSA/Warning:  My father wasn’t a warm and fuzzy sitcom Danny Tanner kind of guy. His words of wisdom, and the delivery thereof, were nothing short of unconventional. This was part of his charm. Offended? Sorry, not sorry. His advice has turned out to be the kind that I have only realized the value and weight of through experience in an epiphany ah-ha kind of moment later on, where I suddenly feel 85% smarter than I was second before.

FD-2

Here’s the highlight reel:

# 1

Picture my first day of high school, September 1994, the days of thigh highs and pseudo-Catholic girl skirts, thanks to Britney (“Oh bae bae bae beeeey-beeee.”) I just turned 14. My dad drove me home, sparing me from me trudging in the 90-something degree heat and nearly 100 percent humidity that NJ never fails for during the first week of school.

Like all good parents do, he asked the standard question: “So, how was the first day?”

Me: “Meh.” (Standard socially acceptable answer from a teenager.)

Silence. And we waited together, watching the blinking amber traffic light at the cross section through his work van’s windshield, air conditioner humming, the tools still swaying in the back of the van.  He broke the silence: “Remember honey…only the mean girls have fun in high school.” BAM. I know I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Sit on that one. The traffic cleared, and we crossed.

Translation: Don’t compromise your values for popularity.

FD-5

# 2

Dinner at the potential father in-law’s, circa 1999. I’m 19. I was heading out the door, fluffing my hair, doing the 1, 2, 3, “how do I look” inspection in the mirror in our foyer. I saw him watching me from the couch in the reflection, trying not to smudge my eyeliner.

Dad: “What are you bringing?”

Me: “Bread.”

Dad: “Good. Because only assholes show up empty handed.”

Me. “Bye, Dad!”

Translation:  Be generous.

FD-3

# 3

September, 2006. I’m 26 in a few days. When my dad was going from specialist to treatments and back again trying to get better, I’d sometimes go along to keep him company. This, a gorgeous early day, was one of those days. He had to get a biopsy on his leg that day, and knew that he’d be in pain later. Despite using crutches at that point, he insisted on driving – and parking, and refusing to use the handicap hang tag. Stubborn? Yup.

He’s driving his Sprinter Van, and scouting parking:

Me: “Dad, you parked in a no parking zone. (Gesturing to the more than obvious sign next to his van) You’ll get a ticket.”

Him: “And if I park in that parking garage down the street, (gesturing to the more than obvious lot down the street),  I’ll pay $40, at least. If I park here, when I hobble out later after this biopsy, I’ll have, say, a $30 ticket and I won’t have to walk as far. Screw ‘em.”

Translation: Take calculated risks, and don’t look back.

FD-6

My dad was not a Hallmark card talking, let me-take-you-to-your-ballet-lesson, can I come to the Girl Scout dance type of guy, though I more often than not wished for some after-school TV special version of that father as a girl. Now, I wouldn’t have wished him any other way. The day before he died, our last conversation, I held his hand and told him that he was the perfect dad for me. He tried to tell me of the mistakes he made and what he should have done better through an oxygen mask, and I shushed him. I didn’t mean he was the perfect dad – he was perfect for me. He knew that his daughter, who followed his advice and was a good girl in high school and didn’t have *too* much fun, meant it.

The ladies in winter

Well, it’s been a long blogging hiatus. Understatement! Happy to say I’ve surfaced, + for the first time in a long time, the girls and I had one of our Mommy and me photo shoots. Let’s be clear – Gwen and I had a photo shoot in a gorgeous dress given to her by a wonderful friend. Teagan, after getting all dolled up and making me wish I had her hair, tormented me with crazy faces and hysterical laughter, followed by rapid cartwheels. Typical Tea! So glad she enjoyed it. Ha. Hope you enjoy too. Much more in the works! Expect lots more of Gwen in front of the lens! *Teaser!*

More and more, the girls who once insisted on dressing the same and having the same toys are SUCH individuals now with well defined likes and dislikes + opinions of their own. Tea’s logical with the ability to reason her way around anything; Gwen is charming and will compliment you till the sun goes down. Tea babies any baby she can get her hands on. Gwen builds elaborate mini architectural structures all over the place. I love watching them grow, shift, change, mature. These images are a testament to what every parent tells me – it goes so fast! It does. It really, really does. And I’m slowing down to take it all in.

Gwen and Tea-9Gwen and Tea-8Gwen and Tea-11Gwen and Tea-17Gwen and Tea-5 Gwen and Tea-16Mommy’s little hippie!Gwen and Tea-18Gwen and Tea-14Caught in a rare moment of not messing with Mommy. Oh, those eyes! Just like her Daddy’s – they’ll get her in and out of trouble.Gwen and Tea-12

This is what love looks like

Before Gwen was even speaking in sentences, she decided that she was head over heels for the small, stuffed horse that her Aunt Colleen gave her. She took it everywhere with her, couldn’t sleep without it, and cuddled it day and night. One of Gwen’s gifts is an amazingly sharp visual memory. She always knows where her little horse is. I’ve gone looking for her companion at bedtime, always to find him just where she told me he was “hiding.” In the toy kitchen’s oven. Under the living room chair. In the car. “His” name is Cimmeron, after a horse in a movie that looks pretty similar. “Cim,” or “Cimmy” as she nicknamed him, has been a faithful companion for years. He’s been through a lot. He looks it too.

cimmeron-9

His eyes are chipped. His once fluffy coat is this and spotty from so many dryer tumbles on a low, cool setting. His mane is patchy. His hooves – I can’t say how many nights I’ve sewn them back together in whatever color thread Gwen requested. Each time he breaks, Cimmeron looses a couple more of the beads that once made him fuller.

cimmeron-2cimmeron-3cimmeron-4cimmeron-8He’s been dragged all around her waddler, toddler and pre-k years, stuffed into small toy purses, pushed on park swings, attended countless tea and birthday parties, gone on family vacations & is held tight and close when thunder rumbles on a warm spring night. He has a voice too.

He’s beat up, no arguing. But I will argue that this is what love is – it’s worn, used, tested & full of stitches and imperfections that are ultimately perfect and make it stronger with each bump, scrape and scar. This is love. And this is what love looks like.

cimmeron-10

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

– Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

How did you get so big?

It’s a question I ask the kiddos all the time – how did you get SO big? No, but really? I thought it yesterday when Teagan was walking in front of me – seeing how her stride was longer than I remember, because her legs are getting so long and thin now. We’re convinced Gwen grew about an inch one night last week when she demanded to go to bed at 6:00 pm: (um, ok!) “I’m exhausted.” Hudson is a whirling dervish right now, and it’s only when that little human is looking back at me in one of my images that I really get a good look at him. Today was one of those days.

Today we sported super-comfy organic cotton creations from Spiritex, locally made in Asheville, NC. Miss Tea is SUPER picky (hideous understatement as I’m having flashbacks of her thrashing on her bedroom floor, accusing pants of “choking” her legs.”) about her clothing and fits and feels, and I’m 100% happy to report that she was delighted with her Heart’s in My Pocket tunic and Little Leggins. Hint, hint, Valentine’s Day is coming!

Spiritex Spiritex-3 Spiritex-5  Spiritex-13 Spiritex-8 Spiritex-9

Ok, Who’s this KID looking at me? Where’s my baby boy? Why can I picture him at 10 here, not nearly 3? When I ask Hudson how he got “so big” his answer is always the same: “Because I IS.” I can’t go grammar-psycho on him. Just can’t. You keep on with your subject-verb agreement error. It’s way cute. Watch out, pre-k girls, watch out. Stud-muffin is donning his Explorer Hoodie and pants. Uber cozy for a freeeezing cold (insert frozen face emoticon) NJ winter day. PS – He likes warm hugs.

Spiritex-12Spiritex-11

 

 

Gwenyth in Wonderland

So this happened. Aunt Melissa gave Gwen an Alice in Wonderland costume, and being as theatrical as she is, she became Alice for our photo shoot. With our yard lit up in fall’s perfect shade of gold, we had a lot of fun together. And a lot of imaginary tea. When we were finished, she told me, “Mommy, I’m always Alice in Wonderland.” That’s pretty point on, kiddo! Enjoy the 801 photos! “I’m late, I’m late I’m late!”

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Alice a 700-27Alice a 700-4Alice a 700-5 Alice a 700-8Alice a 700-28Alice a 700-29 “Yes, that’s it!” said the Hatter with a sigh, “it’s always tea time.” 
“Alice:How long is forever?”
White Rabbit: “Sometimes, just one second.” Alice a 700-3Alice a 700-16 Alice a 700-18 Alice a 700-19 Alice a 700-33Alice a 700-20 Alice a 700-21 Alice a 700-22Alice a 700-32Alice a 700-25Alice a 700-10
 
“Take some more tea,” the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly. 
“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.” 
“You mean you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.” 
“Nobody asked your opinion,” said Alice.” 
 

Perspective and sunset swim

Let it go, let it go…sorry. Now it’s in your head, I know. I had to. It’s relevant, I promise. Not the song, but the sentiment. Bear with me. I’ve always been a bit…how shall I put it…uptight. Those who know me best would nod. My sister is probably laughing. (And you can stop now.) It’s been a life long struggle to go with the flow, to be carefree – well maybe not carefree, but more like bamboo  – bendable – and less like concrete. I’m a work hard, line-up-the-dominoes and watch them all go down my way type of girl. Motherhood (life itself) continues teaching me that I can’t control it all, or sometimes anything at all!

And that sometimes…sometimes it’s just plain fun to take my hands off the wheel, keep my mouth shut, shove that neurosis under wraps and sit back and watch life in front of me instead of meddle with it. Actually, it’s a lot of fun.

Recently, we spent an evening with our friends on their private beach in the lake community we live in and took some photos of their little one for her birthday at the “golden hour” (all photographers drool now.) The sun was setting, the light was perfect, the air was balmy and the water equally as inviting. In birth order, Gwen, Teagan then Hudson dipped in their little toes, feet, legs, and then the rest, fully clothed. Splash into the sunset. Who could resist?

My first inclination was to freak out…you don’t have your suits on…your clothes are going be soaked…the car seats will be soaked…blah blah…but you know what? What’s the harm? Who cares, really? REALLY? Sometimes I sit back and measure what matters and what doesn’t by remembering something my dad said a few months before he died. He was sick, and knew he wasn’t getting well. We all did, but moved through our days like that wasn’t real. I was bugging out about being late to some event for work, and called him for directions because mine were wrong. I was in full freak out mode. Screeching and all. He said, “THIS is not a problem. Cancer is a problem.” Yep.

Who was I to get in between the pumpkins and a perfect summer night? Get soaked, be happy, get dirty, giggle, swim, smile, watch the sun dip down over the treeline, get to know those warm summer nights that make the feeling between air and water invisible, twirl in the last rays of the day. Live. Know that your mother learned a lesson a while back that keeps things in perspective from a man you never met but who lives on in you.

Let it go…let it go. Sorry again. See? I promised it was relevant.

And enjoy the sunset. I did.

black and whiteblack and whitelake sunsetbeach sunsetbeach sunsetbeach sunsetsisterssistersfriendsfriendsgirl at sunsetgirl at sunset my babies-21 my babies-22 my babies-23 my babies-24my babies-7 my babies-8my babies-37 my babies-38my babies-29 my babies-30 my babies-31 my babies-32my babies-28my babies-34 my babies-35

 

 

Shine

I’m part of the Mommy Blogger Collective. Each month we’re given a one word prompt to riff with. This month’s prompt is *shine.*

Gwenyth, my monkey, came into this world nearly 6 years ago. She has reminded me every day since last Wednesday that she wants a “purple” birthday party, because (this week), it’s her favorite color.

girl with flowers

I’m not sure what I expected from motherhood. Before I had Gwen, the last time I had changed a diaper was 1984 acting as a 3 year old fumbling “helper,” wrangling one on my sister. Gwen was born at 7:22 am. That night, after visitors were in and out, and a thousand pictures of my tiny baby with taken, the nurse assigned to me insisted that I “get some sleep” after my 19 hour drug free labor (!). She promised my bundle of joy would come back to me “in a few hours” to eat. NOT a few hours later…1.5 hours later…I can vividly re-play the creak of the hospital room door, the tiny squeak of the baby-cart and the hideous (don’t roll your eyes and lie, it is awful) shrill of an infant cry, MY infant, as she was pushed into my room by an apologetic nurse who let me know that she and her team “couldn’t console” this little baby like they could the others. Oh, holy crap. This was the soundtrack to insomnia, I was sure. I don’t know what I expected out of my first night as a mother, but I think I (foolishly) expected sleep. (Don’t all laugh at once.) I held Gwen on my chest, pet her tiny back, and she fell asleep in an instant. So it began, and so it went. She slept there all night long, only waking up to eat, for the first 8 weeks of her life, and it’s time gone by that I cherish.

About 3.5 years later, when she first began preschool, Gwen had an inconsolable crying fit (notice a theme?) over an art project. Her teacher couldn’t figure out what set her off. That night when I tucked Gwen in, I asked her why she was so sad, so upset by the project: dip hand in paint, stamp hand down, teacher makes sheep ears, tail, etc. Each sheep was white, identical. My 3 year old explained in a serious way I’ll never forget: “I don’t want to be a white sheep. I want to be pink or red.” My lesson as a mother? My kid, though a bit more difficult, knows who she wants to be. She digs her heels in and can pitch fit when someone tries to define her. Yes. I’m thankful.

Zoom to the present. Tonight I’m editing Gwen’s graduation photos. She’s my free-spirited millennial hippy, who makes fairy rings out of flowers alongside elaborate architectural structures out of found objects. She’s far more interesting than me already.

Jumps when it’s not time? You bet. Talks when it’s not her turn? Guarantee it. Marches to the beat of her own drum? Absolutely. She made the drum. Cried the loudest and longest in the nursery? Yep. Won’t be one of the white sheep hanging on the wall? No way, no how. I wouldn’t change a thing. My little girl shines.

graduate

“Shine” is the June writing prompt of The Mommy Blogger Collective. In addition to a monthly writing prompt, the collective hosts a monthly blogger featurette. This month we are featuring Christina of Mouse in Your House. A few words from Christina — At Mouse In Your House, I’m bringing you stories about being a working mom, quirky family lifestyle trends, frugal living, DIY ideas and the talented people who make life something amazing. I hate getting bored and occasionally use Mouse In Your House to ask people very personal questions that I would, otherwise, never get away with. My goal is to find chicks and gents doing something cool and inspiring, which could lead to a feature about a family who took the year off to travel the world one day and the next day’s post could be all about how to dress a stylish toddler. To qualify for a feature, I need only go, holy moly that is frigging awesome….and you may even get a long set of questions for our next Q&A. That’s the way I roll. And P.S. I LOVE budgeting and it has taken over our lives in the past. We recently graduated from living in a 400 square-foot apartment to a 1,400 square foot house in my beloved small town of Knoxville, Tennessee. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.

/// The Mommy Blogger Collective /// Christina, Courteney, Dena, Erica, Erin, Gillian, Katie, Misty, Nicole, and Renée. ///

Good morning, joy!

snow 12

I’m often taken aback by my kids’ infallible sense of anticipation and adventure. Adults wake up at 6:43 AM and know “It’s Thursday, it’s Friday…” Days equal weeks, and weeks equal months. We’re so linear. Kids? Not so much. Not at all, really. And I love that about them.

My kids wake up full of nothing but anticipation of the day. Some days our girls wake up, put on knitted cat hats, and meow all morning. Why not? Today, a zebra and a frog where dancing in our bathroom. More than once, Hudson has ripped open the fridge and wrangled the whipped cream for “breakfast” while I eat my bowl of organic oatmeal. Fun? Yep, I tried it! (Before anyone gasps, that’s followed up by his favorite, bananas, and other whole foods.) My point is, I just never know what they’ll surprise me with. It’s random bits of fun, imagination and magic combined. They are all emotion, no logic. Kids really do balance out the adult world.

snow 1

We make our lives as predicable as possible by necessity, and that fact tends to blot out that zest, that arms-wide-open “come at me day!” attitude that my pumpkins demonstrate every day. I revel in the wonder that I see in my babies’ eyes each morning as they peek out at the world when I pull up their shades, and eat it up when Gwenyth stands on her toes to see as far as she can and whispers, “What a beautiful day.”  I’m loving the questions and snippets of kid wisdom that Teagan, my “little poet,” comes up with: “Mommy, why’s the moon chasing us?” “Mommy, do dinosaurs have belly buttons?” “Do chickens lay bunnies?”

geagan

Every day they wake up with open eyes, hearts and minds – and they are thrilled, really just so excited to be part of the world. That’s goodness. That’s really living. It’s the feeling of a permanent Saturday, the thrill of that first day of summer vacation or Christmas morning, it’s your birthday, it’s a trip to the beach, your first time on an airplane….at the core of things, it’s joy at the dawn of each day, just for the day’s sake.

Before you pull your shades up tomorrow, promise to keep your eyes open for chickens laying bunnies, down some whipped cream from the can, wonder why the moon is chasing you, and remember the things that make you grateful to be taking a trip around the sun. Let yourself be open to the wonder around you, and in that, I hope you’ll find joy!