“I was going round the world searching for an interesting place, when I realized that the place that I was in was already interesting.” – Emmet Gowin
When someone asks you ‘how are you doing?’, how do you respond? It’s such a simple question, asked with almost every greeting, but I always stumble over my own answer. I over-think it, or maybe I don’t; maybe I just think about how I would honestly answer the question — reluctant to give way to the typical ‘good’ or ‘really busy’ answers that so many of us say without much thought or consideration. Sometimes I internally scratch my head because I haven’t honestly taken the time to even consider how I actually am because, well, I am really busy.
I’ve been wanting to slow down a lot lately; I feel the pull of a slower pace tugging at my pant leg. I observe people and I can’t help but notice how buried we all are in our own worlds. The last time we were at the airport, I whispered over in Willy’s ear, “look at everyone here… everyone has their head down, staring at their devices”. It spurred a brief conversation about this crazy technology driven world of solitude where we seemingly live alongside one another but not with one another. The idea of being part of a community feels like a notion from the good ol’ days.
I’m not excluded from the people I observe.
My sister sent me an article written by a man named Omid Safi called “The Disease of Being Busy“. He, too, notices that people often answer the question of how they are with an over-exaggerated response of ‘too busy’. He goes on to discuss how children, too, are over scheduled; school, homework, and a multitude of extracurricular activities filling all of their calendar days. So much so, he says, that nobody – kids and adults alike – ever attest to being bored anymore; or even simply being, for that matter. Safi states, “What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?”.
I’m not sure, but man I long for some of that slowness.
The following excerpt from his article is my favorite, he writes,
“In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?
What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, ‘How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?’ When I ask, ‘How are you?’ that is really what I want to know.
I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.”
So how are you today? I’m in a dream state with my concentration on how to make what is possible an actual reality. I’m feeling grateful for our community of friends and family and even neighbors, who have become friends, that add to our larger sense of belonging. And I’m feeling frustrated by two boys that should be napping right now, only one just pooped his pants and the other is whining because he wants out of his room so he, too, can poop.
Safi ends the article by saying, “Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, ‘I am just so busy,’ we can follow up by saying, ‘I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.'”
It’s been more quite than usual around here and I’m okay with that – I never make this blog a priority in the sense that it’s not something I force myself to stay committed to. Hooper is no longer napping during the day and given the fact he’ll be 5 this year, I’d say we’ve had a good run. Gone are those solid hours of silence in the middle of the day that afforded me some much needed time to myself, time to regroup, reflect, write, create, and so on and so forth.
We just got back from a week in Arizona and I’m feeling overwhelmed with all I have to catch up on. Orders, emails, unpacking (and all that comes with unpacking – laundry, a trip to the grocery store, sorting, organizing, putting away), and preparing for Van’s birthday this weekend – something I have nothing planned for despite the family coming in from out-of-state and my grandma who’s taking the train in from the Valley – not to mention that 12 hour shift I have in the hospital between now and then. Sometimes it feels like there’s just not enough time in the day, not enough days in the week. And yet it all gets done, somehow or another. Or maybe it’s that what needs to get done, gets done.
Emails are haunting me like bright white eyes in a dark haunted mansion. Laundry sits washed but getting wrinklier by the minute in the dryer. And that little boy’s third birthday party remains unplanned but will be made great just as every party in the past; not by the decorations or the fancy invitations, but by the energy provided by being surrounded by those who love him.
Breathe in, breathe out. Hoping to catch up on things this weekend.
On a basis more regular than I care to admit, we get a letter in the mail from our Homeowner’s Association telling us that our boys are not allowed to ride their bikes on the road in front of our town home. I believe it has something to do with the street being private and I’m sure it’s a liability given the fact that everything these days feels like a liability. When the pleads are relentless, we close off the end of the road (which forms a cup-de-sac of sorts) with cones and let the boys have it and hope that no one of the I’ll-rat-you-out-variety takes notice. Nevertheless, I know we’ll want to leave – for reasons like this alone – in due time and the urge to own at least a little chunk of land we can call our own has been in the back of our minds much more as of late.
Our friend Chris, and his daughter Lilli, did just that and bought a couple of acres of land in Homeland. We went out to visit the other weekend on a day where the clouds granted us a bit of reprieve from the otherwise relentless summer rays. Jimmie was panting in minutes flat and both boys, with rosy red cheeks, seemed to give away the fact we live close to the water, where we’re spoiled with the kind of climate that brings hoards of tourists to our sleepy beach town in these summer months.
Their land is a beautiful contrast to what makes up our current reality; acres of land with a makeshift fence, piles of this and that that may – or may not – prove their worth in time, the freedom to shoot guns, a beautiful area dedicated to growing their own fruits and vegetables, a trampoline, and the BBQ which gets used most every night. I couldn’t help but think about the petition going around our neighborhood to have on of the homeowners replace his windows because he accidentally had white windows put in rather than the required off-white cream color like everyone else.
The kids ran the kind of wild that put them to sleep before we even made it on the highway; pushing motorized cars that lost their battery power years ago, swimming in the above-ground pool, jumping on the trampoline, hunting for bugs and snakes, fights involving dirt as weapons, and watching Lilli maneuver the four wheeler all by herself, like a pro, with the kind of deep rooted adoration that comes with watching someone just a bit older than you do something you long to try yourself.
When I place those cones at the end of our street and I watch my boys, who really don’t have as much practice time as they’d like, maneuver their bikes on their training wheels with their helmets on, I’m reminded that there is another way. There is more freedom out there, you just need to seek it out. And when you find it, you may come across a little girl driving her dad’s four-wheeler, like a boss.
A portrait of my family once a week, most weeks, in 2015
Willy: “Vogue”, by Madonna, came on the radio. Willy turned and looked at me and inquired, “Paula Abdul?” and when I gave a look of ridiculous disgust he quickly tried to correct himself and inquired, “Janet Jackson”?
Hooper: Told me he loves Fridays because it sounds like french fries.
Van: Has been going through at least three pairs of underwear a day because he insists on dribbling before he, um, shoots and then refuses to wear anything with even the slightest amount of dribble.
Me: Got my hair caught in the fan of the hairdryer. Twice.
Jimmie: Has served as the intended target of the boys’ nerf gun attacks, but remains a good sport, always.
Honored to have the folks over at Let the Kids reach out to me about featuring this series. You can check it out by clicking here.
We’ve talked for years about making the time and saving the money to get up to Montana to visit Willy’s Aunt Kathie, who has lived there for the past couple decades. It’s haunted my to-do lists for longer than I care to admit. And if you’re wondering if I include bucket list type stuff on my to-do list, I do. Otherwise they’d stay in the bucket and in the end, I’d kick – probably haphazardly – a full bucket.
I managed to find a great deal on Allegiant air, an airline we won’t ever be flying again. What started as a couple hundred bucks grew literally exponentially after choosing seats (yes, you pay for your seat choice) and paying for luggage (you pay one price for checked bags and another for carry-ons). Even the water they offered during the in-flight service came at a price. Let me repeat that, they charged for water.
That said, we’ve gotten quite lucky on seats the last few flights we’ve been on and this trip proved no exception; with an entire empty row behind us we had plenty of room, which makes having kids on a plane much more enjoyable.
Kathie lives about an hour and a half from the airport and the love affair with Montana was born on the drive to her house. Following the two lane highway around the bends, the sun set just behind the mountains in the distance only to reappear around the next curve in the road. We must have watched the sunset and reset at least five times as the golden rays lit up hay fields, made silhouettes out of the cattle that grazed the acres of fields, and reflected off the Yellowstone river that more or less seemed to follow us all the way to our destination.
Despite our late arrival, Kathie was awake when we got there and quickly showed us around her home. We walked over wood floors that creaked with vintage kilim rugs, inherited from Willy’s great-grandma’s collection, throughout. With her son off at college, the boys made his old room their own and quickly ransacked the closets to find knick-knacks they’d treasure for the entire week we were there; a plastic sword, a handheld windmill, a soccer ball, and a bug jar, to name a few.
The house sits at the end of a long dirt road, on 50 acres, so when the sun rose in the morning, we had the most brilliant view of all we drove past the night prior but had not seen. Deers in the distance, with snow-capped mountains as their backdrop. A view so beautiful, at all hours of the day, that not even the whining and incessant fighting that comes with having two young children in an otherwise peaceful home, could ruin.
The boys spent much of their time outside, pushing the wheel barrel about, unstacking neatly stacked piles of wood, chasing the cats, killing spiders despite our instructions not to, catching bugs, peeing in bushes, pretending to drive the old mice infested Chevy truck (that still runs like a champ, mice n’ all) and making make-shift forts in the garage.
We spent a day in Yellowstone, a few afternoons in Livingston, a day in Bozeman, and many afternoons at the house shooting guns, listening to music, drinking, talking about life, and collecting rocks and driftwood down by the river (with Neil Young playing perpetually in my head).
I packed for the wide range in forecasted weather and used everything I brought, which might go down as the first occurrence of such in our family record book. Shorts and tank tops to sweaters and beanies. And with each change in weather pattern came with it a change in light; all equally parts impressive. From storm clouds, complete with thunder and lightening, to rays of light impeding their way through breaks in the clouds, to full on uninhibited glorious bursts of light that, when juxtaposed next to snow capped ‘crazies’ mountain range seemed to come from none other than heaven itself.
When you marry into a family, you tend to see one another often at the typical family events but you never really get the chance to know one another. It was such a nice opportunity to get to know Kathie, to get to know people that are – or have been – important in her life, and to hear the stories that make up parts of her life’s tale (and there’s a lot of great ones). I’ve actually asked her to participate in an interview, as I think she has a lot of valuable things to share.
Our flight was delayed several hours on the way back (have I said that Allegiant sucks?), but we managed to make it on-board with seven unpaid carry-ons that housed thrifted and found Montana treasures, so – ya know – it is what it is. We also inhabited the still-empty row behind us… actually, Willy sat in front with the boys while I inhabited the empty row all my lonesome. The little things really are the big things.
And with that, Montana doesn’t really get crossed off the to-do list, just added back to the bottom.
Studio City, California
Interested in booking a session? Email me: ashleyjennett @ gmail.com. Also a reminder that I’ll be in the PNW August 5-10 and have just a couple slots left if anyone is interested in booking in that area. Thanks.
If you’ve been a long-ish reader of my blog, it’s no news to you that I’d like to have another child. I wrote about it here. It has nothing to do with how I view my ability to handle having three kids because I know better than anyone else that most days consist of varying levels of stress and self-sacrifice and that our home, the place we rest our heads most nights, is wickedly unforgiving. Just ask the dust balls on the stairs. There is no rational rhyme or reason to my madness, just the simple fact that I feel called to mother another child.
Willy looks at me from across the kitchen table perplexed as to why I’m not in a padded room; chaos surrounding us… toys everywhere, dishes piled up, a four-going-on-five-year-old who still requires to be spoon fed from time to time should you want anything to actually make it’s way into his stomach, and a two-going-on-stubborn-year-old that will slap you if he doesn’t get his way. Willy can’t help but question why I would want to add to our current situation when our current situation sometimes feels abusive (parental abuse should be a thing), overwhelming, and trying. We’re like underpaid, unappreciated workers.
I nod my head in agreeance each time because I can’t argue with things I agree with. But the pull to have another remains strong, regardless. And it wasn’t until recently that I was able to hit the nail on the head.
My sister sent me this blog post, which sums it up perfectly.
The author writes, “The first time a kind stranger peeked at my newborn baby and gushed, “Oh honey, treasure every second!” I almost burst into tears. Not because I was so touched, but because I was so tired. We were standing at the entrance to the mall–me, my baby, and my Shamu-sized postpartum belly–all three of us staring at this sweet lady with her abounding supply of freedom. I wanted to say, “I’ll try! I’ll try to treasure every second, and you try to treasure every second of the eight hours of uninterrupted sleep you’re going to get tonight. And treasure every second you’re going to roam this mall in total freedom, buying clothes that will fit your skinny waist, and shirts that aren’t breastfeeding accessible. And while you’re at it, treasure all the discretionary time you’ll have in the next decade while I watch Dora, and take temperatures, and settle fights, and pretend to be a human jungle gym, and birth more babies, and clean puke off my clothes.”’
I can recall feeling the same way. Being told to treasure every second was my first experience of mom guilt. When I’d here those words, “treasure every second”, I’d feel this impending feeling of doom — I was not only expected to wake every two hours to feed my newborn, but I was also expected to enjoy it. Hell, forget enjoying it, we’re told to treasure it. Can you imagine being dead asleep following a sleep derived night before only to awoken by that ever-so-subtle newborn whine that not-so-slowly grows into an all out adult scream and think to yourself, “lucky me, it’s that time to nurse that baby again“. Those people that insist on such ridiculous notions clearly have had a better nights sleep. They’re clearly speaking from hindsight. They clearly have something all new parents in their delirious, over-worked, under-appreciated state have; they have perspective.
The author of the aforementioned post went on to have three children, all girls, and had to this to say following the birth of the third: “This time, if a kindly stranger tells me to treasure every second, I think I will burst into tears. Not because of my lost figure or freedom, but because I so ardently understand that the seconds truly are numbered. They are grains of sand slipping through the hourglass, never to be returned. That’s the funny thing about motherhood. You start off with so little on your plate, and it feels like you’re absolutely drowning. And yet the more you add, the more joyful it becomes. Because somewhere in between adding more babies, and more diapers, and more laundry, you also add more perspective. You realize there are worse things than a long night, and challenges really do pass, and tiny toes don’t stay tiny forever. You know cribs turn into beds, and strollers turn into bikes, and the chubby cheeks making fish faces today will be wearing your makeup tomorrow.”
And so when Willy looks at me from across the table I remind him it won’t be like this forever and hell, when it’s not like this, we’ll miss it. Parts of it anyway.
Willy’s mom turned 60 in May so we surprised her with a weekend family getaway to Encinitas, which is north of San Diego. We stayed at a house right on the beach, with long, steep wooden stairs that made even the bravest of us hold the handrails a little tighter. Jimmie, lacking brain cells, decided to make the 25 ft. jump off the cliff and onto the sand where he stood waiting for us with his back right leg held up like a flamingo. Fortunately he seemed to be okay, but it was scary to watch and seeing an animal in pain hurts my heart… and pocket, when you consider all the vet bills with had with Sarah.
We opted to eat in the first night, compliments of Willy who thankfully takes the lead in the kitchen otherwise we’d be eating out or eating boxed macaroni every night. The next morning we celebrated National Donut day and enjoyed donuts for breakfast, followed by a lunch out with just the girls in Ocean Beach. While in Ocean beach, we hit up several of the antique stores and I came home with a beautiful tapestry for the wall, a woven basket, and a box full of vintage candles that were just the size I needed for some old candle holders my mom gave me; complete with the .99 cent sticker from pic-n-save. Remember pic-n-save? We had dinner at a tiny Italian restaurant that accommodated our large group perfectly and got us home just in time to catch the sunset.
The boys had a great time hanging with their cousin, Zoe, who is just about old enough to be entertained by their shenanigans (she’s a year younger than Van). The way she watched them zip down the side yard on the toddler ride-on toy that was meant to be used for anything but, laughing at whatever they laughed at, and gracefully agreeing to be my photo subject when my crazy kids were, well, crazy.
I asked my mother-in-law to share some words on turning 60 because I think with every new decade comes new perspectives and truths you never anticipated knowing. Here’s what she had to say:
“Suddenly Sixty.” That title penned by the multi-talented Judith Viorst pretty much characterizes my arrival at this milepost. It might be trite, but it’s true: I’m really not certain how I got here! And, no, for me, 60 is NOT the new 40. Oddly enough, reaching other decades didn’t impact me the way 60 does. Not wanting to be maudlin, I’ve got to face the fact that on any graphic depicting life expectancy, it’s downhill from here. Very humbling! That said, age does bring a wisdom that’s comforting, a family that’s fulfilling (grandkids ARE the best) and friends who are true. For those blessings, I am more grateful than I can express. Looking back, I’m not sure I would really change much. Maybe worry less. It’s wasted energy. Maybe write more. I love words. And being married to my best friend for 39 of those 60 years is pretty darn cool. Where did those years go? Wish I had an answer, but the older I get the more I realize how little I know. In the end, though, if I died tomorrow I would die a happy woman knowing I did my best to leave the world a better place, mainly because of the two wonderful men who are my sons.