If you are ever wondering how to slow down in life, simply go on a walk with a toddler.
Today, I let Mara lead. Rather than my usual, “come on, let’s go, time to roll”….
I followed her home from dropping her big sisters off at school. And seven minutes slowly became thirty.
Her inherent curiosity in every nuance was both maddening and extraordinary. Sucked in like a tiny human pollinator, she stopped and smelled every single flower. She waltzed backwards, in circles and sat on the curb to rest. Wandered along every corner and crooked edge. Squatted down low to watch a rolly-polly cross the sidewalk.
Mara is this way, in other ways too. Like many toddlers, she is not just a passerby to the world, she is “of” her surroundings. At the beach, she rolls in the sand like she’s rolling down a hill, smothers her face in it. On a hike, she lays her belly down on the warm trail and watches the dirt slip through her hands. At home, she sticks her finger in the mud and licks it like chocolate frosting.
I often catch her gazing up peacefully at the sky.
Every moment of her life is a miniature love affair. Every smile feels like her biggest yet. Every ice cream (“eye-eye”) cone, the best ever.
Her love feels like light pouring through a colorful stained glass window.
I pulled a honey bee stinger out of a little girl’s palm at a birthday party. She was already crying from missing her mom, but this infraction really took the cake.
Five of us mothers huddled around, reassuring and loving on her — someone grabbed a bag of frozen corn.
Her mom was called and I heard, “I’ll be right there”, on the other side of the line. She sailed in gracefully, scooped her daughter onto her lap and swayed back and forth, speaking their native language of love.
There was no one else in the world better than the comfort of her mother’s arms, the scent of her body, the warmth of her words penetrating sad tears.
I mother everyday. I comfort my daughters. I heal them with my love. But seeing who I am to them, through the near distance of another mother-daughter, was strikingly beautiful, almost unbelievable.
Our love is an archetype.
Our tongue is a language of endless variety, but in the end, we are all mother.
Our road trip from California to Minnesota on the fringe of winter kneaded me like dough into an expanded version of myself. Travel has a way with transformation.
California has always been the promised land in my mind. I have traveled many places, but never taken a road trip across this many state lines before. Every day we moved with intention from one geographic landmark to the next; dry desert to striated red rocks to black hills to prairie lands and finally to 10,000 lakes.
What I came to experience, is that there is so much land out here in America. There is so much beauty and so many incredible ways to live, one not better than the other. Just different. My compassion and awareness broke through border lines and into the vast wide open spaces of states I never dreamed of loving.
San Diego, CA – St George, UT
While there’s something unsettling about a long trip ahead with no “home base”, the forward motion helped to keep the anxious part of me at bay. I was forced to find anchors outside of my window and within the canyons of my internal world.
Jaws dropped in the backseat as we drove through our first pit stop: the Las Vegas strip. Coura wanted to eat the big M&M while Maisley yelled out “I want to live here!!”
We quickly upgraded from city lights to constellations in the desert sky as we finished our first, surprisingly simple drive from San Diego to St. George.
St. George – Park City, UT
James Taylor serenaded us up and over the majestic hills of Utah while we belted out: “In my mind, I’m going to Minnesota…”. Every time we hit a pot hole or felt our tummies drop down a hill, Mara squealed out, “Weeeeeeee!” from the backseat.
Rusted sandstone mountains with deep creviced shadows lined our pathway to Park City, UT. We swam at Homestead Crater hot springs when we arrived and stayed at a farm just outside of the city where we fed apples to horses in the brisk 15 degree air.
Park City, UT – Custer, SD
Maisley sat me down before our longest day – 9 hours of driving – and said that she was done with all this driving and not doing it anymore.
So, we learned a lesson that day about being able to handle more than we thought was possible.
When we crossed into Wyoming, a part of me sighed in relief. Have you ever watched a frozen river get lost in the prairie lands? Looked in every direction to find nothing but land and a few passer-by?
The road continued to rise up and meet us at every turn as we cruised through never ending solitude. Thankfully our “no flat tire” prayers held us through to the next morning.
Over-shadowing the anxious thoughts of aloneness was the sun setting over Wyoming’s endless rolling hills. A sequential cascade of pinks, purples and blues before true darkness settled in for the night.
Custer, SD – Sioux Falls, SD
Waking up the next morning in a tree house in Custer, SD restored my energy tank and excitement. Custer exceeded all expectations; the craggy mountains and pine trees, the buffalo on the ridge and big horned sheep on the road-side. Fresh mountain air.
As we set off for Sioux Falls, SD we found a nail had punctured the outer wall of our tire. After a few phone calls and grim outlook from the auto keepers of this tiny town, we finally found Anderson Auto to fix and patch the tire. Three generations of Andersons sat idle in the tiny office with us while we humored them with our questions and tales.
Our final long drive lay just ahead.
As we drove past a lookout in the Badlands National Park, I abruptly asked Ryan to pull over. The kids yammered on and screens played tired stories in the backseat while I ran toward the opposite. I laid my body onto the earth and melted into the utter stillness below me. I felt like I had traveled through time, if only for a few moments.
Sioux Falls, SD – Eden Prairie, MN
One of the main factors for road tripping rather than flying to Minnesota for Thanksgiving with my husband’s family, was to stop in Sioux Falls, the birth place of dad’s mom, Grandma Joan. As I get older, I crave to know more of who I am and where I come from. Particularly with the absence of my dad here on earth.
We walked past her old home site in the quaint historic district of this now trendy downtown. I loved being on the sidewalk where she ran to school and the city where she came of age.
While much of this road trip was actually fairly smooth, it is of utmost importance to note that the last hour of every drive was pure misery – we were almost, but not quite there. Everyone needed a snack and had to pee. I had my head on a swivel, throwing food and entertainment around like a ring master. But we did it, we survived, and I guess that’s what I will remember the most.
We pulled into the driveway of my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Eden Prairie and were met with a welcome sign and the most beautiful smiling faces.
(Our time with them is for another story, but we enjoyed 6 magical days of fun, playing, exploring and extraordinary hosting.)
Eden Prairie, MN – San Diego, CA
On the way back, we were smart, and flew home.
**My mind’s memory bank bridges the gap between these words and the photos we took, never quite enough to paint an entire story. **
One moment I am devouring my kids, dumbfounded by their brilliance and my insatiable need to snuggle them into oblivion.
The next, motherhood devours me whole — then spits me out, bitter to the taste.
When we had our third daughter, Mara, we were living in a tiny Airbnb. The railroad tracks ran just to our east and the Pacific Ocean was a stone’s throw to the west. Every night around 10pm the old bones from our 50’s cottage would tremble as the train raced by.
I would close my eyes and imagine I was living in New York City; specifically the vibrant neighborhood of Harlem. Probably near something called the L train (don’t quote me). An entire life outside, vibrant and awake, a city humming in perfect chaos and continuity. Every cuisine from around the world is right at my doorstep. I am both never alone and perfectly anonymous. I am an artist living in a tiny loft (it’s all I can afford) in a state of uninterrupted creativity. I mosey about like a local and come home to my cat (I don’t even like cats).
A world apart from mine, but a part of me. Or maybe in some version of this life, it was me.
However, if I’m living in a parallel universe somewhere, I know that I’m always longing for the tethers and love of this one.
Having a garden is good for someone who is both wild and also likes a little control. I dream of owning an orchard one day, a jungle of vines growing and dying; something I can tend to that matches my inner chapters. I am always looking for ways to be seen and belong (aren’t we all?).
There’s a phase at the end of labor called “transition”. This marks the peak of intensity right before the relief of a baby being born. This is the moment where many women report wanting to give up and echoes of “I CAN’T DO IT ANYMORE!!” have been heard across hospitals, homes and generations.
However, the idea of “transition” extends past the finite hours of labor.
I’m always on about birth and death as my greatest teachers in this life so far. Every sequence and pattern in those near opposites I find almost daily as I work my way through life.
The blips of rage-inducing tantrums that I think will never end. And yet, like the waves of birth and grief: it will pass, it will pass, it will pass.
The mental anguish of judging and fear every time a hard emotion comes.
It will pass, it will pass, it will pass.
Starting a new project and feeling wracked with doubt and overwhelm.
It will pass, it will pass, it will pass.
There is really no birth and death as singular events, but rather rhythms and themes that continuously unfold. We are born and we are constantly being born. We experience death and are forever revisited by grief.
In the washing machine of hard moments, I remember: relief is near.
I wonder what it feels like to cozy up with my arm and entwine with my hands. How does my warm body wrapped around the entirety of you feel? What is it like to be comforted by the sight and the scent of me; to watch me leave?
Tell me, does the ocean wonder how her waves feel to the shore?
I am not responsible for every bad mood Every freckle that appears (Should have put on more sunscreen) Every failure and every success. I am responsible for me For who I am and the choices I make. We are separate Me and her Different people with different childhoods. Though sometimes it’s hard to see the lines between us when She came from me, through me. She never walks, only skips. While other children pop about like dandelions, she’s an orchid – miraculously beautiful yet meticulous to care for. I cry because of how hard it is to parent a highly sensitive child, especially when you’re a highly sensitive parent. If only I can remember again why I am here; to be the earth below the river of her life, guiding her to the ocean of herself. To be the earth below the river of my life, guiding me to the ocean of myself.
The summer of ‘22 — A clearly punctuated gift of time. A chance to remember life more vividly; Come September, different from June. Hopefully more refreshed or experienced, at least saltier.
Endless magic at the Zoo at night. Diving boards at the local pool, Sandlot style. Bonnie Raitt and flies in the kitchen. Rising Appalachia in the redwoods. “Live your life time” at home. Dog days coalescing with covid fevers. A treasure hunt birthday to start and an ice cream truck one to end.
Despite lots of activity — the summer activity list still hangs in dismay. Feeling like the days were up eaten by — breakfast after breakfast snack regular snack lunch whining afternoon “we’re sooo hungry” snack “gross” dinner Bedtime pb&j and bravery water
I wonder if all summer dreams are meant to be fulfilled or rather, to float wistfully around as unreachable promises; seeding hope for next year or even the one after.
As we drove our final travel stretch from Anchorage to Girdwood, a local mountain town, all five of us were ready to “be there yet”. Years of longing, an astrocartographer’s nudging, months of planning, two long flights and the snack hero (me) all brought us safely to this moment.
Birch pollen filled the air like summer snow and covered the corners of streets and side-walks in fluffy white. Our first greetings from Alaska.
We dropped ourselves off at the Airbnb and I wondered to myself, what have we done? Was this a terrible idea bringing three young kids to Alaska? My weary mind and wasted nervous system collapsed into bed.
Thank God for new days.
We walked along Winner Creek Trail, across logs and through ice cold streams. We panned for gold at Crow Creek Mine (scam) and dunked our feet and heads like ice cream cones into the glacier water (worth it). We ate at Jack Sprat twice. We took a boat tour of the spectacular Portage Glacier and later backed the truck up to a nearby river for the girls to splash around, while Ryan and I laid back in the bed, lost in reverie. Three days flew by.
Just before our drive from Girdwood down the Kenai Peninsula to the seaside town of Homer, we stopped for breakfast at a local cafe. We met a kind woman named Mary whose story was like many others. “I came here on vacation and that was 53 years ago!” she laughed.
Mary hand-drew us a map of our upcoming road trip and shared her favorite recommendations along the way. I kept the note safely in my bag, reminding me of all the times my dad would draw us maps back in the day when giving directions. We would roll our eyes, Thomas Guide in tote, and ask him to just tell us where to go!
The scenery on the so-called Sterling Highway is something to be felt rather than read about. A gentle mix of rugged terrain and delicate wildlife – Sound of Music meets The Hatchet. Greenery grows straight from the edge of the road to the top of the trees, no dirt seen in between. Purple lupine flowers line the highway, while bright blue rivers and waterfalls fall from every crevice in the mountains.
The epic sights followed us all the way to Homer, ending with a panoramic view of the cerulean Kachemak Bay. Homer is known for its peonies, halibut, artistry and sea otters – I don’t think that’s official, but at least that’s what I gathered.
We spent much of our time on Homer Spit (a 4.5 mile piece of land jutting out into Kachemak Bay), looking under the harbor docks for sea stars and anemones. The food scene in Homer was surprisingly delicious and noteworthy – we ate at the casual Swell Taco, had delicious fish at Fresh Catch and our favorite, Finn’s Pizza, a little sunroom serving maybe the best pie ever.
We went on a seasick wildlife tour with puffins, otters and seals. We hiked down Diamond Creek Trail – with our bear spray – and ended up on a beach full of tide pools. I held my first sea star in the palm of my hand and it felt like a hug from the ocean. Maisley and Coura took cucumbers from our snack-bag and made a “relaxation” center near a creek. (Not a single complaint from kids during this intense two-mile hike, but ask them to walk down the street and hell hath no fury!).
Outside of exploring, relaxing in the Adirondack chairs at the Airbnb was enough to keep us occupied. We saw eagles soaring overhead at all times and two nesting cranes flew in for a rambunctious visit every evening. The trees rustled gently in the wind and a particularly beautiful bird-song lulled us to sleep at night and brought us to life every morning. The natural world still knew their daily rhythms, even when a hazy midnight sun never quite let the darkness in.
Smokey skies stole our views for a day. Cranky kids, our sanity.
In honor of making the most of our time in Alaska, we laughed more easily than usual at the “bad” moments we knew would become funny memories – our misfortunate stop in a town called Soldotna and how Ryan sprayed cheap wine all over the kitchen one night trying to open the bottle in haste without an opener. Also on the list; Mara screaming all the way from Seattle to Anchorage and all of the almost spiritual moments we had.
And now, an anti-climatic wildlife update. Our eyes were peeled every second of every day for moose and bears. The girls were promised a muffin if we saw a moose. We imagined them on every corner.
We went to moose meadow. We drove down the Kenai peninsula where you can’t not see a moose (didn’t see a moose). No moose when the signs said “look out for moose” in Anchorage. Little did we know, the only moose we would see was the stuffed one at the airport on the way home. I wonder, maybe a moose saw us. Scared off by the pitch in Mara’s voice or the prance in Maisley’s fancy feet. We will never know!
Just as the birch pollen had greeted us, the fragrant scent of wild roses on our last walk in Anchorage was our souvenir for the way home.
Make me like you, Alaska. Draw out my wild. Strengthen my shoulders to be immovable like your mountains, unruffled by the impermanence of nature. Remind me of your freshest breaths of air and depths of wisdom. Fill me with the confidence of your teeming rivers. Please brush me with the abundant aliveness that radiates from your roots to your wings.
I am so thankful and in awe of the native people for tending to and protecting this land. I am so thankful that this much primitive nature exists in the world, too vast for the human touch.
As for the girls, the best part of Alaska was, of course, the ice cream.
R.I.P. to Bubba a.k.a Bubbs, Coura’s favorite baby doll, who is now on his own permanent vacation in Alaska.
Nothing, other than grief, has taken me further from and also brought me closer to myself and the depth of human love than motherhood. I think that’s what they mean when they say, “Yeah, but it’s worth it!”.
I am someone who relates to the world in a deep, larger-than-life way. My process is to feel and surround an experience from all sides; only then do I understand and move forward. I am learning to let that be, without the internal judgment that I feel too much or that I am too sensitive. I am learning to find beauty in the way I interact with the world around me, even when it’s inconvenient.
I wrote a letter to each of my girls at 10:45pm the night before we left for a spontaneous trip to Big Sur. I was an anxious, sad mess thinking of something bad happening to Ryan and I. Nothing makes me consider my mortality more than getting on an airplane with nothing but freedom and impending joy on the horizon.
I went there. I mean I really went there. How Coura and Mara would pretty much have no memories of me if I died. How all of this life we have lived together so far would only be an essence of who they are. No one to recall the exact intimate details, connection and love we shared. The tiny details like the way Mara’s hair curls after the bath, the shit grin on Coura’s face when she’s been up to no good or the brave, determined look when she’s trying something new. The way Maisley laughs and all of her gums show when Ryan uses his Forrest Gump voice. The way she cuddles in when we do special time at night and asks me to draw with her.
**Of course, I know they would have stories and photos and videos, they would have my sisters who know them like their own kids, their loving grandparents and my amazing friends.**
I would hate for them to read my words or my blog and only see the hard parts of early motherhood. The truth is, they are the good parts.
The first day of a trip is always disorienting to me. My rigidity and fear don’t match the loose seams of wanderlust-ing. Once my body catches up, I recalibrate and can see myself where I am again. When I open my eyes, there I am, in a bright new world with so much to see and experience.
I hope my girls visit Big Sur when they’re older and come to the Henry Memorial Library for a concert. I hope they remember when their mom and dad went there on a whim. I hope they feel us there, our memories, the magic. Our awe and wonder deep in the forest floor. I hope they call me and Ryan so we can reminisce on the way we cried at the opening ballad of Rising Appalachia, their serene voices traveling through the redwood trees.
I hope they know this trip was magical because of them. Because I have them to come home to. Both the luxury of a beautiful, full, family and the richness of a diverse inner life of freedom.
The adventurous part of me was in pure bliss, driving down the California coast, listening to live music, experiencing novelty at every turn. Meanwhile the more fearful part who craves comfort and safety played a little song and dance. When my parts get loud, when they conflict, or mix and match it makes me feel disoriented. Why can’t I just feel joy without fear tethered so close behind? Who do I believe? Which part is true?
I guess what’s true is that I am neither part. I am something deeper than all of it.
I am the one who witnesses it all, who disappears into the earth and comes up only to deliver branches of love, truth and wisdom.