Monday, September 28, 2015

the seven (or eight) year itch

According to wikipedia, the "seven-year itch" is a term that suggests that the happiness in a relationship declines after around year seven... The phrase originated as a name for irritating and contagious skin complaints of a long duration.

This summer, my husband and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary and so I thought we had dodged the dreaded seven-year itch. Well, in the midst of being utterly irritated with my husband recently, I started to itch... on my wedding ring finger! Oh, the irony.

I removed my ring to find my finger chapped, red and, like my mental state, completely irritated! Was my finger suddenly rejecting my wedding ring? Was this a sign?? Could this seven-year itch be true???

Apparently, wedding ring dermatitis is a common condition that is caused by soap build up under the ring or the allergic reaction to nickel found in white gold. 

I love my husband. I do. I am one of those rare gals who married her high school sweetheart. We made it through a long distance relationship in college, a major diagnosis and illness, the deaths of our fathers, many, many stupid arguments, and big, "That's it! It's over!" blow outs. We went from living together and thinking our quirks were cute to being married and getting on each other's nerves on a regular.

I know I make our relationship sound oh so {not} wonderful, but I do believe that all of the tough stuff has strengthened our bond even more than the good stuff (of which we have plenty as well... really!).

But, after seven to eight years, I have found that marriage can be really, really difficult. Things that used to be easy between us have become major work. We are so busy and crazed that we have to remember things like speaking to each other in a kinder tone (i.e. "Could you please put your dish in the sink, sweetie?" versus "Would you put your damn dish in the sink for once!"), kissing good bye, saying "I love you." We seem to do all of this very well with Lila. We simultaneously shower her with hugs and kisses and "I love you's" but sadly we don't always treat each other with the same amount of affection.

I could argue that we don't need to do these things because the love between us is a given. Perhaps it is displayed in more practical ways. For instance, my husband will anticipate me rushing back into the house in the morning because I have forgotten something (again) and he will be ready to pass this item into my hand (cell phone, water bottle, travel mug... car keys) like a baton, making my morning a little smoother. And, despite the fact that I am a vegetarian, I will clean, trim, and prepare my husband's chicken, gagging at the raw gross-ness, so that he has something to eat after working late. We will do these things for each other even when, at a given moment, we can't stand each other. Isn't that love? Couldn't that be considered affection?

But, when looking at my irritated finger, I realize that I can't just wear the ring and ignore what's going on underneath. Relationships need care and attention. This is something we can't ignore or take for granted because what starts as a minor irritation can quickly spread and become unbearable. 

As my finger heals, I am emailing my husband date night ideas. He is arranging the child care. In time, all will become healthy once again... and we will take good care to keep it that way.  -Tara

Friday, September 25, 2015

Finding joy in the everyday in unexpected places

I admit I am not the most playful person, more prone to barreling through my to-do list, accomplishing what I feel I "should" do before leaving room for fun. However, this summer, I found myself prioritizing joy and fun and play. I didn't want to lose all that momentum when the humdrum of school-homework-dinner left very little time for fun.

On the drive home from school, I wondered if Clara and I could find a way to have fun despite the fact that the only time remaining to play in the day was dinner time. We decided to think of something fun to do while eating dinner. My suggestions included a picnic on the living room floor or eating while pretending to be other people and talking with accents. 

Clara had a much longer list which she wrote down as soon as we got home so that we could vote:

1. Watch while eating
2. Play board game.
3. Teach Mama how to play lemonade (a sing-song hand game she learned from friends)
4. Make a tent and eat in it.
5. Watch the sunset (maybe at the beach).
6. Play outside

We don't watch videos while eating as much as Clara would love to, so that was crossed off the list. I have been working with Clara to understand the concept of compromise. I was surprised she didn't really know what it meant when I mentioned the idea a few weeks ago. While discussing how to eat our fun dinner, she suggested we compromise. I was proud of her for remembering the word and being gracious enough to agree to it.

Since her idea of eating in a tent and my idea of having a picnic on the living room floor were somewhat similar, we combined ideas and compromised with a delightful dinner in a makeshift tent on the living room floor. 

This was not the first time we modified our dinner plans to make it a bit more special. When Clara was younger she liked to create her own restaurant at home with handmade menus and meals. We hosted the girls for an American Girl doll tea party (with questionable success) once before in our living room.

Clara dragged chairs into the living room and precariously rested a blanket over them creating a tent-like feel. She insisted we turn out all the lights to make it special. I found a camping lantern that helped to create a more authentic ambience.

Such a simple shift... just moving a few feet away from sitting on the dining room chairs to our living room floor, and yet it made all the difference in making this a special meal.

Clara said, "This is so nice." And then about five minutes later, "This is really nice." And then realizing her repetitions, she clarified, "You know when something is so fun that you just have to keep saying it...this is one of those times. I just can't stop saying how nice this is!"

A small victory. A bit of joy in a hectic day. A reminder that I can keep finding ways to make room for fun, even in every day life.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Back to school and on to the 2nd grade!

Summer vacation was a blast but the girls were so excited to go back to school. Big kids now, they have settled nicely into second grade. The year ahead will surely be filled with new lessons, friends, activities, and adventures. Wishing the "core four" a fabulous year!

-Tara, Ellyn, Annabelle, & Lisa

Lila is excited for science class. She is currently experimenting with the idea of becoming a chemist.

Clara can't wait to devour lots of books this year. Her love for reading has inspired Clara to consider a future career as a librarian (in addition to being a mommy).

Elisa is a whiz in math class. No wonder why she plans to become a mathematician. 

Clearly an animal-lover (note the stylish cat ear head band), Sarah is already looking forward to a wonderful career as a veterinarian.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Letting Go of Summer

Yesterday morning, while waiting at a stop light on my way to work, I saw four mothers huddled together, their arms fiercely embracing their children, in a unified protective mama-bear stance. I wondered what harm they feared would befall their daughters and sons who seemed to be safely standing on the sidewalk.

The mothers' eyes darted expectantly, nervously, even defiantly to the north. I looked around to see if there was an accident I had not noticed. Just as the light turned green, I finally figured out what they were looking for: the yellow school bus that would take their children to their first day of school.

My daughter does not go to the local public school, and so I forgot that this was the first day of school for others in the community. I immediately identified with these women holding on to their children. These women were reluctant to release summer, to let go of their children. They were fearful of releasing their little ones to a world where there may be bullies and difficult tests and missed buses.

I often think of something my mother used to repeat around the start of a school year. She said she always hated when summer vacation came to an end because it meant less time with her children. Conversely, my aunt counted down the days until summer vacation when she would finally have the house to herself and some peace and quiet.

As a child, my mother's story made me feel loved and valued. As an adult, I see both points of view. One of the best benefits of being a teacher is the gift of time off during the summer. For me, it is a chance to have a taste of being a stay-at-home mom. However, I also value the structure and activities of the school year. I always wish that I could bring a little bit of the freedom and lazy-day feeling of summer to the frenetic pace of the school year.

Although summer can be a time of relaxation, it also comes with expectation for joy, for adventure, for increased community, for fulfilling dreams. Despite the seeming brightness of sunny days, summer can come with disappointments.

As a filmmaker who became a teacher, I always said to myself that I would use my summers to create films, and yet fourteen summers of being a teacher have come and gone. Yes, I have produced some short films (mostly about Clara). However, I have yet to maximize this time to create the grander documentaries I imagined. With more than two months of free time, summer reveals for me that time is not the obstacle preventing me from traveling or creating my dream documentary. Sure, there are practical obstacles, but perhaps there is also inner resistance or other fears that interfere.

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Tim Kreider wrote about learning to accept that his summer did not go as planned. He was hoping to go to Iceland, but life's logistics got in the way. Kreider writes:

"I didn’t go to Iceland, but I watched “Zapped!” and ate Taco Bell in a hospital bed, ...I saw a Perseid meteor streak across the night sky and vanish so fast it was hard to tell whether its incandescent trail was in the atmosphere, on my retina, or only in memory.

I suspect that the way I feel now, at summer’s end, is about how I’ll feel at the end of my life, assuming I have time and mind enough to reflect: bewildered by how unexpectedly everything turned out, regretful about all the things I didn’t get around to, clutching the handful of friends and funny stories I’ve amassed, and wondering where it all went."

I find myself overwhelmed with nostalgia at this time of year. Since I have been either a student or a teacher for more than thirty years, September feels like the truest beginning of a new year. A time of possibility and hope. A time of letting go of summer and what might have been. Like Kreider, I find myself taking tabs at the end of a summer, and even though another summer went by without producing an Oscar-winning documentary, and I, too, didn't travel as much as I planned to, I think there is value in acknowledging what was accomplished this summer even if it was something different than what I had intended.

This summer, after a year of writing a book, hunched over a laptop, I deliberately spent very little time on my computer. Instead I discovered local hiking spots, starting each morning with a walk in the woods. I began each day by lacing up my sneakers, telling myself I was ready to move before doing anything else. Just as Clara went outside of her comfort zone going to new sports camps, I ventured into a cardio boxing class, both of us challenging our physical limits in different ways.

This summer, I learned how to grow a vegetable garden, each morning looking expectantly for signs of flowers and growth, jumping up and down when I found my first fully grown cucumber that had been there for a while, but hiding under the leaves.

This summer, I learned how some water balloons and swings can bring neighbors together in play and community.

This summer, I had to ask someone I love for forgiveness, and she gave it to me even when I did not deserve it. 

This summer, I spent time in the kitchen with Clara, teaching her how to cook. Even when she was not wearing much else, she always insisted on wearing her red, plaid children's apron every time we cooked. I loved seeing her joy in creating meals and her careful attention to presentation.

This summer, I kayaked to an island that in previous years felt too far and too scary to reach.

I am grateful for a simple summer, spent in the garden, in the woods, in the kitchen, and with friends. 

Like those moms I saw yesterday at the bus stop, part of me wants to hold on to Clara and hold on to summer. Yet, school life is a busy life. It's time to create new syllabi and plan for another school year. Although the sun is setting earlier each night, I hope to carry with me a little bit of the promise and possibility of summer into my school year. And I will hug Clara a little tighter each night knowing that our once seemingly endless days of summer are coming to an end.