I used to sit here each morning scratching out thoughts on a page. Not looking for acceptance, but seeking to hear my own soul more clearly. I haven’t come to this place in quite some time, not that I don’t still have questions to wonder aloud over. Rather, the being simply still was too much amidst the global pandemic and fear mongering. I had thought that the writing was good for me, enabled me to get my thoughts out of my head, work through them bit by bit, and I would say that I don’t doubt that process even now.

My routine had to change though.

Much like yours did I am sure. And so I began, in the early morning hours before my children awoke I would read all of the news articles I could, trying to understand as much as I could. Looking for reassurance in the numbers or potential outcomes. As I was forced home at the end of winter with no friends to visit, no homeschool meetups, not even grocery shopping was “allowed”. My only link to friends and family was social media, something I will admit is not good for my mental health. It pulled me in with cute baby pictures, but then led me down ever-spiraling rabbit holes of conspiracy theories. I could not pick up my phone or sit down at my laptop without feeling my heart rate increase at the fear that was surely waiting on the other side of my device.

Fortunately, anxiety and I are old friends.

I recognized it and what was causing it pretty quickly. I was able to insist I leave my phone on the charger most mornings, that I not open my laptop until the children had spilled their raucous energy into our family space. I’ll admit how hard it was to not know what was going on. I wanted the information; how many people had died, how quickly the virus was spreading, I needed to know how afraid I should be. Except I really, really didn’t.

There were a few days where I had to ask my sweet husband to take my phone from me. A realization early on told me that this routine would not be sustainable. My days could not continue in this overwhelm of information and input outside of my control.

Everything was outside of my control. When I focused on those words I knew that “control” could not be where I swung the pendulum from, yet “out of control” seemed to add only more fear. “Outside” though…that was a word I could start with, and so I did.

Most of my days since mid-March have been spent outdoors. I have dug into the earth while the ground was still cold and heavy and wet and I have felt the weight the soil held deep in my own soul. I divided raspberry beds on a damp, cool, misty morning. Far too early or not nearly late enough in the year to do such a thing. As the brambles scraped my skin and the fog lay around me I knew the quiet sharpness and dense peace of the world was still here, just as it has always been. I hauled mulch and moved plants, I ensured the greenhouse stayed warm and the seedlings grew strong. I built, and rebuilt, a coldframe, and have a better plan for it for next spring.

I stayed busy.

You see, writing keeps my mind hyper-focused on my problem or my concern. That was not what I needed. I could do nothing about Covid-19. There was no real way for me to solve this problem, even for my own family. I needed to physically wade through it. So many friends tried to help, wanting me to Zoom chat or Facetime or come to other online dates. I’ll admit the thought of those interactions still fills me with dread. If that becomes the norm I will have to fail yet again at being normal, because I despise the online interactions. What helped (helps) me most was staying busy. Not as a coping mechanism, please understand. I needed to put all of the anxiety, fear, worry…more into action. I could not sit with it, write it away, it needed to be handled, dug into, moved around. Gardening was the way I have dealt with these feelings. It is, yet again, how I made it through a hard season.

There were also early Spring wanders through state parks with my littles. This walking with small people wakes me back up to what is needed. I’ve read somewhere a poem about how you can not take just anyone into the woods with you, they won’t feel it the same way and spoil it for you somehow. I believe this to be true, but taking my littles into the woods with me is a gift to my heart. They don’t often go my pace, they are sometimes rough-and-tumble when I’d prefer smooth and calm, they occasionally would rather make epic slow motion videos of themselves jumping off a half-fallen log while I could endlessly sit and watch the sun shine through fern leaves. However, the rhythm we have together is made perfect when we go wandering. I have clung to those rambles on some of my hardest days.

I share this today as a reminder to myself, I was not in a good mental place this past spring. I worked through it in a fairly healthy way though. The digging in the earth has sustained me through some of my darkest days. The wandering in the woods has carried me through some of the darkest thoughts. Knowing how I did it “then” helps me know that I will be able to do it again, and I will need to do it again.

Again, I am sharing this because, yes, the days get hard dear ones, but you are still loved, and I am still here for you. We are going to make it to the other side, to see what is out there beyond this muck, together.

Late Digging

I dug in the dirt on November 28th, 2020. That makes this a good year in my book. Yep, that’s really all it takes for me to see the good. Warm days late in November where the soil is not yet a block if ice, where I can peek under the fallen leaves and still find green herbs. I moved some raspberry plants and dug some peony roots in anticipation, took down some chicken wire fence to be used again elsewhere.

This was a good day.

At one point I sat, near the compost pile, in the sunshine, wrapping twine to save for another use, another day. The dog came and lay in the fresh earth beside me for awhile. It felt all too perfect for this world we live in, like I was just a little too blessed or fortunate to live this life. I want to remember that feeling on the days where my trust is lacking, my faith is faltering, my hope for the good dwindling.

There is good. And, for me at least, it is usually found in the dirt.

Second in the Series of Feelings

Climbing days are simply better than book-school days. We kinda forgot this close to us place was here, but now have been back and forth to enjoy it several times in the last couple weeks of hanging on fall. I’ve trusted in the benefits of risky play for my kids for a lot of years now, but sometimes my breath still catches as they climb, the shout to be cautious falling silent just as it is about to be shouted out.

Not that book school isn’t important, but my kids sure do learn a lot on these rocks, as well as in open fields and along riverbanks and up in tall pine trees on the back corner of our in town lot. I need my kids to have literacy and numeracy and I mostly use books and games to teach them those things, but most of the truly important stuff is taught while climbing something.

Trusting yourself is harder to learn from a book. Listening to the cues in your body and from the world around you is more difficult when staring at a screen. Building confidence in your own abilities is just not the same when you weigh math facts against knowing where to put your foot so you don’t slip down a rock wall.

So often I hear people state how learning can only happen in a classroom or can only come from a teacher. Others say that learning can happen in structured activities outdoors, but the child will need to be led or the activity facilitated. I want to just stop with this; Learning happens. It does not depend on me, or you, or us. It simply happens. There is no more needed in that sentence.

I write this down as a reflection for the days when kids need naps more than fractions or snowball fights more than sign language. The days when I doubt what I’m doing here, I will look back and remember that my kids are learning. That they are learning exactly what they need for their lives at this moment and for who they will grow into.

Look at me trusting myself a teensy bit. I must’ve learned that up on that rock pile with my babies.

A Series of Feelings

This may be the last mudpie…and not only for this season. A second Summer in November and an injured ankle gave me the pause and grace to notice this moment for what it is. My baby is six, there may be more mudpies, but this is one of the last for her. I’m thankful that I was able stand on the deck quietly, letting her be little for a little while longer. I wish for her a long life of muddy knees and dirt under her fingernails. Tangled hair and lack of care over it. Mostly, that the joy remains all the days of her life.

Mushrooms by AJ

Go outside dear friends, it is better out here.

Mushrooms and other fungi are always interesting to me, recently my AJ picked up this curiosity of mine. He will now grab my phone and snap pictures of all the mushrooms on all of our walks. He is fascinated with both the taking of pictures and the way mushrooms hide in all of the best places. I leave this note here as a reminder that the curiosity of childhood will follow a child far, if we will just let it, not spoil it, or force it, or lock it into a room.

Go outside dear friends, it is better out here.

Easy Joy

It’s simple to make my heart smile. I’ve realized this so clearly over the weeks spent at home.

Let me drive away.

Let me walk aimlessly through nature for hours on end with the people I love (or even alone).

Stop by my front yard with your kids and their smiles and talk for twenty minutes from a relatively safe distance.

Let me do some small, kind thing for you.

A full day spent working hard in my garden…

My sweet husband came home one day after two friends had made short visits and he said that he could see it in my smile. He knew that I’d seen friends and was happier because of it. It was true that I couldn’t stop grinning.

Yesterday my littles and I drove away, took the advice of a good friend and made the trek to a new-to-us state park. We wandered for four hours and could’ve stayed much longer, but the teeny was spent and the oldest had blisters from a bad shoe choice. We loaded back up and took the long drive home. My joy felt bubbly and full in my soul.

What are the things that are bringing you happiness during this messed up time? Have you stopped for a minute to think about it? I know there are more, many more, small things that I find goodness in everyday, but these are the big things. The things that make an obvious difference in my behavior.

I write them here as a simple reminder that there is still goodness and happiness and joy. And so I remember that I have the power to make these things happen. Joyfulness is not dependent on some outside force, I can actively seek out the joy that I am looking for.

Winter or The Knowledge of Cold

After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season.

Okay, okay, okay…I know what you’re all going to say about this post before I even write it. I know it hasn’t been “that” cold this season and I know that I have been here hating the misery of winter for eternity so my sudden decision to mostly embrace the misery seems almost comical. Please, let me type it all out though. February can be relentlessly long and bitterly cold, I need to have proof that I can make it. Here it is; my winter joy (thanks for that one Brooke) in 2020.

This week I initiated an outdoor activity with my children three times.

Please, do you know how amazing that is for me? First let’s remember that it is January and while the highs had been in the 20’s, I am a firm 30 degree “low” kind of girl. We have a foot or more of snow on the ground too, which is lovely to look at, but toes freeze even in boots when you’re standing around in it. One day we went out it was only 18 degrees…eighteen…who even am I?

A couple of times this winter I have asked a friend if her kids wanted to come skate at the rink near our house before open gym. The days have been mild if grey, and I was pretty confident that I’d be able to deal with the cold for the good of the children, and I did. It was only an hour and it was actually fun. Then another friend invited us to skate, we stayed out longer and I may have later whispered to my husband how much I enjoyed skating.

Cut to this week.

This past week was a hard one for me. My babygirl turns twelve in four days and that feels bigger than I am ready for. She gets to go on a great trip, one that I am firmly not ready for her to go on, which takes her away at a time of year when I need sameness. It’s been dark, cloud-covered, frigid. The littles have been bickering endlessly. The teensy has been trying to sleep better, but it’s up and down. My seasonal dip toward depression has been nearing it’s low point…plus we are closing in on a mental season that is hard for me. Six weeks from now marks a tragic anniversary that brings an almost physical weight to my body. This next month will be marked in a countdown of memory.

As you read that I want you to feel it, like really, really. This past Wednesday I was done. I had gone to my room, shut the door and lay down to cry. The endless fighting, the back talk, the rudeness in my house was too much on top of the mental load I carry around this time of year. I couldn’t do it and I knew it. I knew that I could not stay in this house with my people and make it to the end of another winter. I was angry with myself for choosing to stay here when I could have made the choice to go somewhere, anywhere, else.

And then I did it.

I wiped my eyes, mostly. I went back out to my children, told them that there were things that needed doing whether we wanted to do them or not. Then I told them to put their snow pants on. I took them to the sledding hill in town. It was the middle of the day and we had the hill to ourselves. It was gray and cold, but we slid down the hill fast and trudged back up together slowly for nearly two hours. I looked down at the teensy once and said; “who knew your momma left her smile out here in the snow?” and I almost cried again right there.

I came home that day and I knew. It all added up. There was joy out there on that hill in the snow. Joy in how we played together and laughed together. There was just as much fun in the snow as there had been hiking last Autumn. Just as many smiles as swimming in the lake last Summer. Just as much squealing as splashing in Spring rain at the end of the driveway….we were having fun. In winter. I posted to my Facebook about how odd it was, if you follow along over there you’ll know how little I post and you’ll recognize some of these photos, but I needed to get it out of my head quickly and down on paper that I really, really, had fun!

We skated again with friends on Thursday and on Friday we went back to the hill with more friends. In just three days I spent close to six hours outside. That may be more time than I have spent outdoors voluntarily in January ever. And I loved it…weird.

There was no big change. No sudden realization. It seemed like an acceptance more than anything else. This is where I choose to live. These are the people I choose to do life with every day. This (being stuck inside or feeling forced to go outside) is no way to live. It is simple survival and I do not want to model survival for my children, I want to show them how to thrive. More than that though, I actually want to thrive, not just for them, but because this is my only life, my only chance.

So I went outside.

Yes, in January and yes in the snow and yes at 18 degrees. And despite literal years of protestations; I didn’t die. I had actual fun. At the end of each of these three days I felt like the girl that I am in Summer when we are snuggled into our camper bed after a full day on a state park trail. I felt infused with joy. The fresh, cold air had filled each particle of my being. There is a great deal of grace here. Do you know? After my entire life spent hating the winter, in one short week winter gave me gladness, willingly. Winter just proved the most forgiving season. This is quite unexpected.

I know this is only a small window into my days and a minute peek into my vast wintertime experience. I know that next week there are highs forecast in the teens and my own preteen will be far away and I may feel that tug toward darkness and sadness. The desire to hide under blankets may overwhelm me once more. That’s why I had to write this down, I need to be able to see that I felt good with afternoons spent outside. Not just a little better. I didn’t just make it through the day without yelling. I wasn’t only able to survive because I got some fresh air. I was able to thrive, to lighten, to breathe…

That seems a smidge dramatic.

As a sort of closing to this ramble I am placing a challenge here. Not for you, though you could choose it for yourself as well, but a challenge for me. To continue out in all weather, regardless of it’s perceived goodness. I may be cold. I may get wet. I may not love every minute of it, but I can see now how I need it. Like really, really. Just as much as I need my toes in the dirt and the sun on my back I need the icy air in my lungs. I am not merely a child of sunshine, but of outside, I can see how being indoors wrecks me. I will give in to this knowledge and not remain stuck in the lie that inside is safe and warm and somehow better. I will force myself and my people out the door into the wider world because I am better when I am out here. There is no longer any doubt.

If you need a push to get out, may this be a gentle encouragement to you. I have honestly hated winter since childhood, if I can go out and find some sense of self, some bit of internal sunshine, then I know it can come to any of us. The winter is long dear friends, maybe we needn’t be sucked into misery for it’s duration…maybe.