A Fresh Start

“Life is like a pencil without an eraser.” – Lila Breston

I subscribe to Lila’s Pencil Theory of Life. Once the line is on the paper there’s no going back. That’s why I love a fresh start.  A fresh start is different than a second chance. A second chance implies fixing the drawn line or finding a new pencil under the couch cushion.

A fresh start is a new piece of paper, same eraser-less pencil. For me, New Year’s Eve is the ultimate fresh start. I love the promise of a blank slate. Introspection and penance can be left behind with the last days of December. January first is a time of optimism and forward momentum.

I welcome the next 365 days neatly packaged in twelve canvases yet to be filled. I’m eraser-less and ready.  Whether 2014 offers a fresh start or a second chance, may you cultivate the stamina and grace that it takes to be human.

End Note:  Another of Lila’s Theories – How Life is Like a Grape

“First you start out small and sour, like a whiny 3 year old, then you get bigger and bigger and juicier and juicier. When you are juicy enough, you start growing into the raisin stage. The raisin stage isn’t so bad. You are wrinkly but sweet and then you are made into an oatmeal cookie and it’s all over.”

I took the photo in the morning on Lady Bird Lake, Austin, TX.

Off Duty

The girls are visiting a friend’s ranch. If there’s such a thing as Karma, parents who take other people’s kids on a three day overnight get triple bonus points and a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card.  It’s winter break so Leo is home from college. It’s just me, Matthew, Leo and Eli for a couple of days. As the only female in the house I have noticed three major changes.

1.  There is no singing.

My girls sing all the time – real songs, made up songs and original remixes. The car is their recording studio – if we are in the car they are singing. It sounds Hallmark sweet, doesn’t it? How can I put this delicately. My husband Matthew is just about the kindest person I know and he in all earnestness suggested buying the girls a Groupon for singing lessons. The offer did not resonate for the twins and he immediately went back into his office. These are the same girls who in between fights had an acapella contest using the same song for the entire drive from Austin to Florida and back. By the end of the trip I drove mostly late at night so they would be asleep. It didn’t matter that I can’t see well in the dark because of my middle age depth perception issues. I would get behind an eighteen wheeler and just follow the lights.

2.  It’s calmer.

My girls’ emotions color our house as if someone left the spin art machine on overnight with too much paint. I know this sounds like a stereotype but it’s our reality and they are twelve. I’m the emotional SWAT team commander at our house and the first responder to all things combative. You know it’s bad when I have to call in Matthew, aka the Lila Whisperer.  At that point Lila has shot back so many rounds of button-pushing artillery and I am woman down. She is the most like me which gives her an unfair advantage. With just the boys home I’m not on alert for the next ambush or random grenade.

3.  I have more personal space.

I was an only child for ten years and then I had a brother. I like to be alone. I’m not a team joiner and have always participated in individual sports. I did not join a sorority and although I have planned an inpromptu wedding for a friend, I have never been a bridesmaid. Don’t get me wrong, I think women are fantastic, most likely the superior gender, and my friendships are what I value most after my family. However, my temperament is such that I don’t travel in packs. It’s a strange turn of events that my daughters were born as a pack and they have made me their leader. We go everywhere together. They text me, call me if I’m gone too long, talk to me about EVERYTHING, and look to me as the master of the activity schedule. It’s a big job for an introvert.

This morning I woke up missing Georgia and Lila. We share an energy and need for motion that enlivens our house. They want to be busy and are up for anything. When the girls were born, their pediatrician joked that the wrong babies were placed in the Breston Bassinet. I might have believed it too had I not seen them after they were born. Georgia with her red hair, blue eyes and fair skin and Lila with her dark hair, brown eyes and tan skin. They don’t look like sisters much less twins. Their personalities are as different as their physical selves. Georgia is what would be considered more traditionally feminine and Lila is more like me, a bit feral. We have come together by the happy accident of genetics, cosmic chance and my over-achieving ovary.

I won’t lie, I have basked in the glorious stillness of this rare off duty parenting time but I would not trade the silence and the space for being their pack leader.

The Campfire

As part of our no-presents-communal-experience based Christmas theme this year we made the collective intention of having more campfires. We have a heavy cast iron fire-pit, a purchase from a previous fire intention, that we’ve dragged from one house to another and use too infrequently.

For me, campfires are emblematic of my youth and adventure. As a kid I went to bonfires at YMCA camps in upstate New York and on the beach in Maine. Oddly it’s my friend Holly’s brother’s tree fort, deep in the woods of Princeton Massachusetts, that I think of every time I smell a campfire. I have no control over the association, it’s rather Pavlovian. Here’s the deal about the tree fort – there was a functioning wood burning stove IN the fort, complete with a stove pipe that vented out the back wall. This was an old school tree fort, the kind that requires climbing and squeezing through a trap door in the floor.

My freshman year of high school Holly, Maria and I would sleep out in the fort on winter weekends. Each of us told our parents that we were at the other’s house. We never did anything exciting or raucous. We talked, smoked cigarettes and tended to the fire but I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I loved it for all the reasons why other teenagers would think it was dull. We weren’t partying or chasing boys. It was my job to keep the fire going. In my mind we were surviving alone in the woods – my first taste of independence. It was sooty, smoky and damn cold even with the wood stove. Our secret lasted for only one winter as our friendships faded and we went in different directions.

Last week Georgia and I made our first seasonal fire attempt. We dragged the fire-pit over to the granite gravel by our back porch. We crafted an excellent tinder starter pile but all the wood was wet from the rain the previous week. Not wanting to dampen her enthusiasm, we pushed forward but ended up with the smoky mess I expected.

Last night the girls left on a two day trip with friends. Leo and I decided we would try again at the fire.

Leo:  “Hey mom, where did you store my blow torch?”

Me:   “I think it’s in the shed, why?”

Leo:  “I’m going to get the fire started but the wood is still wet.”

Me:   “Isn’t that kind of overkill?”

Leo:  “Not really, anything a match can do a blow torch can do faster and better.”

Matthew and Leo, in a rare display of outdoorsmanship, decided that they would split the wood I collected from a friend’s downed pecan tree. Yes our axe is dull but their chopping antics involved getting the axe stuck in a log and banging it on a rock and other logs. Their greatest success came by using their newly invented log-axe to split the other logs. Eventually they both chopped enough wood to feel worthy of a primal scream. As I watched them I was thankful they are both good in math.

We then did what humans have been doing for 1.5 million years, when Homo Erectus built the first intentional fire. We sat around our makeshift camp and stared into the hypnotic red and orange flames and were glad to be together.

We woke up this morning to Big Otis standing in the fire pit.

Why I Write

I write for our children. You will never find a political post or a ranting opinion piece on my blog.  Our kids know my politics. Instead, I want to capture our routines and quirks. Most of life is made up of the space between the big events. Writing is my way to tend to the quieter moments, the ones not captured in shiny smiling pictures. Our story lines may be unique to our family but the emotions are universal.

My blog is a reflection of my more adult parenting self. I recently destroyed the remaining journals from my twenties. When we moved I found the box with my young self’s painful scribble. I knew it was inevitable that at some point my kids would find the collection of notebooks. I decided it was not appropriate for them to ever read through that emotional sloppiness. It’s not that I want to sanitized my past  – it’s more that I’m certain my history can offer them more coming from my present vantage point.

It doesn’t matter how old we get, we all want our parents to hold a space that is safe. Those journals were not safe.  I kept them all these years to occasionally revisit and shed when I was ready. I have let go. It was good parenting to do so. The words that I write in this blog will wrap around my children like the strong fifty-year-old mother that I am now.  A safe place to return that will be familiar to them in the future in a manner they can not truly understand today.

Memory is a trickster, a concoction of experience, emotion and exquisite brain chemistry that can wash over the same event to create as varied interpretations as found from any Rorschach Test.  My earliest memory is of brilliant pulsating sunshine coming through the windows as I lay in a crib.  It’s my only pre-verbal memory and there is a physicality to it that is different.  It is our job as parents to be the keepers of our kids’ early memories. Those memories are a part of our identity as parents but more distant and murky for kids, like grabbing at laughter, a taste of sweetness or the warmth of the sun.  Our recollections can fill in the blanks of their early lives.  As they enter their teens and adulthood they move in more differentiated spheres and the roles reverse. They fill in the blanks for us, if they choose.

I do not pretend to represent my kids’ feelings but I can steward our stories through my filter. My rendition may be exactly as they remember or terribly skewed, but nonetheless, it will help to anchor them to their own version. They will also understand me better in the process. Our stories hold how we have learned to accept, adapt and evolve. My hope is that within these quiet essays they find reason both to celebrate and forgive as they move through their own understanding of how to create their lives.  We are in a constant balance act of trying to understanding where we came from and deciding where to go.

I write now because I am almost fifty and life is uncertain.  When I was ten, I used to lie in bed and do the math on how much time I had to live.  It calmed my newly-developed fear of death. Today I play the same game. If I am lucky enough to live into my eighties or nineties my children will be in their forties or fifties – my age now.

I’m finding the passage into my fifties to be remarkably opaque. I want to be around to guide my kids through their transition into their fifth decade but there are no guarantees and the fact of the matter is that I will be very old.  I blog to help preserve our story while it is still fresh in my mind and held together with functioning brain chemistry and decent recall. Most of all I want them to read how much I love them, as flawed as it may be at times.  In the end it’s all that matters.


I took the photo at the Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC.


Day Fifty – Sleep

I resent my need for sleep.  I came from underachieving sleepers.  Although not an official rule at my house growing up, there was no sleeping-in or napping.  It wasn’t an issue because no one wanted to do either, not even when we were sick.  We were awake and busy.  I didn’t realize that people enjoyed sleep until I went to college.

My husband and kids like to sleep – which is unfortunate for all of us because the only thing that bothers me more than my own indentured status to sleep is the sleeping needs of those around me.  I know it’s wrong, but I view sleep as a vice. There is an exception for children under the age of thirteen and pets of any kind.  I encourage these two groups to sleep as much as they want so I can get more done. When a person turns thirteen, it’s time to take wakefulness seriously.

Eli and Leo have teenage boy sleeping habits.  On school breaks and weekends, Leo is the master of the noon to three-in-the-morning schedule.  Eli is his apprentice. By ten in the morning I want to hit them both in the head with a frying pan as a reminder to GET UP!  My husband Matthew likes to nap.  He can sleep anywhere and at anytime.  This is a man who napped while I was in labor.  For over 22 years he has been immune to my snarky nap remarks.  His stubbornness has earned him a nap pass.  The twins are twelve and safe in sleep Switzerland until they turn thirteen.

For me, sleep is like anti-matter.  My wakefulness is surrounded by it like a black hole around light.  I’m truly bothered by how much more life I could live if I didn’t have to give up to the void those seven pesky hours a day.  By my calculations that is 2,555 hours or 106.45 days a year wasted on sleep!

My sleep habits have not changed much over my life span. I sleep on average about 4-5 hours a day.  I’ve tried to cut down my need.  I’m more or less functional on three hours for about a week but it catches up with me. Sleep wins. Leo tells me I need to try polyphasic sleep but that sounds too weird and it involves so many micro naps that I think I would end up annoying myself.

I’ve read that we need less sleep as we age.  Perhaps getting older may have one bonus coming to me after all, even if most sleep experts say the gain is just a little over thirty minutes.  It doesn’t make up for the reading glasses, the wrinkles and the grey roots, but I’ll take it.