Me When I’m Walking My Dog

I wish I could be the person I am when I’m walking my dog.

The me when I am walking my dog is unhurried. I don’t look at my watch. I stop to let the dog sniff and I don’t tap my foot with impatience. I wave to the neighbors and would gladly stop for a chat if they had a few minutes to spare.

The me when I am walking my dog is still. I somehow find my way back to myself and reach those places where I know what is real and true. I walk and I think and I walk and I think, and I can always find the next right thing when I’m troubled. I trust myself when I am walking my dog.

The me when I am walking my dog is honest. I tell myself – or the dog – or God – the truth. I let my truth be and it doesn’t matter what the dog thinks because the truth isn’t dependent on the receiver. The truth is mine and you don’t have to believe it for it to be. (The dog believes me anyway.)

I wish I could be the person I am when I’m walking my dog.

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Messy Stories

What if I kept writing?

What if I didn’t wait for a weekly prompt or an invitation?

What if I have more stories to tell?

Would you read them?

I only know one way to write. My writing isn’t filtered like my Instagram page. I don’t know how to tell my stories with sunny images and happy endings. Truthfully, my life isn’t that sunny.

This morning I was nicer to my dog than I was to my children. I didn’t say good morning to my boyfriend. I hate the way every piece of clothing I own feels on my body, and I wish my sister wasn’t stopping by tonight. I spent zero minutes in prayer because I chose sleep over Jesus. The kid on the bus stop who loves our dog is on my last nerve, and I was pissed off at the wind this morning for messing up my already messy bun.

But I’m gonna keep writing because I have stories inside me and I wonder if my ugly truth is similar to yours. I have messy stories about divorce and unforgiveness and hard parenting and complicated families. I also have stories about finding love again and choosing peace and learning which burdens are mine to carry. I think there are a few stories about the dog in there too.

I’m gonna keep writing. I have stories to tell.

To Start Again

I don’t know why I stopped writing. 

Maybe it’s because writing feels selfish in this busy season of parenting. Or maybe it’s because as my girls get older the stories don’t feel like mine anymore. Or maybe I just don’t want to write a truth you might not believe. 

I recently sat in a hustling Italian restaurant enjoying a burger and some wine with the man I love. I was describing my quest to find a photographer who could take family pictures of the girls and I. It may seem like a simple thing, but I was just fraught with anxiety about the whole affair. For one thing, it feels strange to be getting a family photo without their dad, yet the three of us are a family, yet it feels like he is somehow missing, yet I know that he is not. So that’s complicated. Also, I was looking for a photographer who ‘gets’ us. We’re not the frolicking-in-a-field-at-sunset sort of family. I mean, I don’t own any long neutral-colored dresses (I’m more of a pants girl), and I haven’t yet mastered that beachy-wave look women always seem to have in those pictures. You know those pictures, right? Happy family of 4+ walking hand in hand through a field at sunset? Although Katie is just dying to get in front of the camera and has already color-coordinated our nonexistent outfits, chances are I can’t get Maddie to wear anything other than a large hoodie. Although my pre-teen Maddie is full of humor and laughter and joy, she doesn’t really express it so much with a smile nowadays. It comes out more in a sarcastic comment delivered in a deadpan tone. A smirk, maybe… but a shiny smile is unlikely.

So anyway, I want to find a photographer who can capture the truth of us and deliver it to me in an image so I can hang our truth on our living room wall.

As I poured more wine and described my plight, I started crying. Right there in the hustling Italian restaurant in the middle of our date night. Tears plopped onto my burger as I sniffled, “It’s just all so fleeting and I feel like this time is slipping away and I just really need to find a photographer. I’m so sorry. I don’t know why I’m so emotional about this. I don’t know why I need so badly to capture this…”

And then it hit me. 

I looked up from my burger into those eyes I love and said so matter of factly, “Oh. It’s because I’m not writing.” We stared at each other. 

I don’t know why I stopped writing. But I know I must start again. I’m the only one who gets us. I’m the only one who can capture this part of our story before it’s gone.

My Finest Moment

The girls and I were laughing about an incident from the past when I had lost my patience and my composure. The silly incident was behind us now, but the girls like to bring it up every now and again to remind me of my faults. As I drove, they recounted the incident from the backseat, bleeping out the cuss words I had uttered.

“Yeah, that wasn’t my finest moment,” I said casually to end the conversation.

“What was?” Maddie asked from the backseat.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“If that wasn’t your finest moment, then what was?”

“Ummmmm…. oh. Well…..” I stalled.

Maddie and Katie bantered in the backseat, trading moments to see which one fit. Maddie talked about getting into the gifted program at school and performing a skit at the Talent Show last year. Katie talked about gymnastics milestones and getting her most favorite stuffie. I was glad for the distraction because my mind was racing.

I’ve had plenty of fine moments, don’t get me wrong. I’ve had countless moments of pride and pure joy. (Far more than I deserve really.) But what I was thinking as I drove the car towards home was this: what if my finest moment hurt somebody else?

What if there was a moment in my life when I made a decision that freed me? What if that one moment allowed me to speak truth into my life, but then affected the lives of everyone I love? What if my finest moment tore apart a family?

“I think it was probably when I got my teaching degree or my first apartment,” I eventually lied when the girls insisted on an answer.

“Mine was when I was a duck in the Talent Show,” Maddie declared. I laughed and smiled at the memory, hiding my finest moment in my heart for now.


P.S. Want to join this community of writers with me? Consider this your invitation.

Bath Time

Katie still takes a bath most nights. She is perfectly capable of showering herself, but she prefers baths. Half the time I’m annoyed because there’s much to do around the house and I have to sit on the edge of the tub and help her wash her hair and time is precious.

Maddie just stopped taking baths one day and started showering all by herself. She didn’t give me any notice. She didn’t warn me that the last bath I gave her was the last bath I would give her. Surely if she would have warned me, I would have taken my time, treasured the moment, let my hands linger in her wet hair. I would remember our last bath time conversation and I would have memorized the smell of the soap on her body. I would have, right? I like to think so because time is precious.

So, I sit on the edge of the tub (even though I’m annoyed half the time) and I wash Katie’s hair and I watch her play and I listen to her endless jabber and I giggle at her giggle. Sometimes I am tempted to sneak away for a moment to throw the laundry in the dryer or load the dishes in the sink or sit on the toilet in silence. But I don’t. I sit on the edge of the tub because time is precious.

The Messy Middle

I only know one way to write. Real and raw. I write about my daughters and our beautiful life that isn’t always beautiful. I write about my aging mother and her gray hair and how sometimes I can’t recognize the person she used to be. I write about a classroom that doesn’t always feel like home and teaching that doesn’t always shine. That’s me, real and raw on the page. 

So I guess when your truth becomes hard and your stories are so raw they hurt, you might stop writing them down. You might stop writing and doing other things you love. You might try to pause your own story.

It is the eve of Easter as I sit typing this. It is Holy Saturday, the day of in-between. The middle of the story.

I sit with my feet propped up in the recliner listening as the girls play in the background. This is a typical evening for the three of us. Them, happy and playful. Me, weary but grateful. I know we’re in the middle of our story. I didn’t want to write about the middle. I was waiting to write the happy ending.

I take my eyes off the screen to look at Maddie and Katie. They’re oblivious to me typing but I’m acutely aware of their presence because they are my beginning, my middle, my everything.

I haven’t written in a long time; we’ve just been living in the middle. But I think this part of our story needs to be told too…the part on the way to the happy ending.

Maternal Instinct

We had our 3rd Annual Neighborhood Campout this weekend. We stayed up until after midnight and by the time the girls and I arranged our sleeping bags, stuffed animals, and pillows right where we wanted them, we were Tired with a capital T. It didn’t matter that I was on an air mattress in a tent in my neighbor’s backyard, I drifted right into a deep sleep. I slept so well, in fact, that I didn’t hear all the ruckus.

I didn’t hear my neighbor snoring loudly in his tent next to us. It was reported the next morning that the snoring was so loud it sounded like an approaching grizzly bear, but I didn’t hear it.

I didn’t hear Maddie’s friend complaining of mosquito bites, and I didn’t hear her and her mother exit their tent to find itch relief cream in the wee hours of the morning.

I didn’t hear the teenagers creep out of their tents at 2:00 am to sit on the patio and tell ghost stories. They were hot, they said. They needed some air, they said.

I didn’t hear another neighbor come home from his shift as a State Trooper at 2:00 am and come by to check on us. Apparently he came at the exact time the teenagers had decided to venture up to the patio which scared the daylights out of all of them.

And I didn’t hear Tinley, the faithful pup, who also spotted the visiting State Trooper and barked in alarm, running around our makeshift campground like only a good watchdog would.

I didn’t hear any of it. Like I said, I was in a deep sleep.

What I did hear though was the faint sound of our tent zipper opening at 3:00 a.m and the shuffling of Maddie pajamas pants. She was sleepwalking, as she has a tendency to do. When I bolted upright, she was halfway out of the tent, heading who-knows-where.

“Maddie!” I whispered in alarm. “Get back in here!” Maddie turned around and looked at me in a sleepy haze.

“Okay, Momma,” she whispered as came back in the tent and snuggled up against me once more.

I breathed a sigh of relief. That, I heard. Thank God.

Camping

3rd Annual Neighborhood Campout

 

As If

I walked down the driveway towards my car and gave my neighbors a friendly wave. Their kids were running through their lawn sprinkler, shrieking with delight at the spray of cold water. I felt that ache I am growing accustomed to every other weekend, that ache of missing my own kids.

“Miss Dana! I getting wet!” yelled two-year-old Anthony.

“Yes you are!” I giggled in reply.

“Miss Dana?” asked Emilio from his front porch. “Where are Maddie and Katie? Are they with their dad?”

Their dad.

It stops me in my tracks every time.

Their dad. As if he is some removed person, unconnected and unrelated to me. As if he is theirs and not mine at all. As if he doesn’t really exist in this world we’ve created – in this neighborhood, on this block, in this new house. As if he is a foreigner, a stranger.

As if him and I are strangers.

I blinked and caught my breath.

“Yes, they’re with their dad. They’ll be home Sunday,” I answered with a smile.

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Take It to the Trail

There is a 2 1/2 mile limestone gravel trail across the street from our new house. I’ve spent a lot of time on that trail this summer. You see, when we first moved in, I was hurting. There were personal and professional wounds to heal. Many days I took it to the trail.

Sometimes I ran the whole way without stopping, music blaring in my ears, leaving all my anger and hurt behind me with each step.

Sometimes I tried to run the whole way but couldn’t. I would walk for a bit, catch my breath, and give myself a little grace.

Sometimes I jogged, but stopped at the crest of the hill to wipe my tears. Like I said, there were wounds to heal.

Sometimes I walked and talked to my mom. Sometimes I walked and talked to God. One time He answered.

Sunset

Sunset on the trail

Anyway, I spent a lot of time on that trail this summer. That trail holds all my secrets.

Last night, on the eve of starting a new school year as a classroom teacher after nine years in another role, I took it to the trail one last time. I ran the whole thing, no music, just the sound of my feet hitting the gravel.  I thought and I prayed and I ran.

And I felt happy.

The Summer of Yes

This was meant to be the summer of no.

No to cheerleading camp and dance class. No to daycare and camps. No to conferences and workshops and classes. Just no. The girls and I, we needed a minute. It’s been a hell of a year for us, and we needed to catch our breath. We needed to settle in to our new house, our new neighbors, our new life. So I decided to say no.

Instead we spent our time doing things that really matter with people we really love. There were pizza nights and sleepovers and playdates. There was ice cream and after dinner walks and jumping on the trampoline. There were lazy mornings and fun afternoons. It turns out that saying no gives you the space in your life to say yes.

All parties must come to an end though. The summer of yes is ending and yesterday brought dentist appointments, grocery shopping, a pick up at the library, a stop at the bank, and loads of laundry to do.

We were enjoying a late a breakfast and getting ready for our day of errands when my phone binged.

Do you and the girls want to meet us at the pool at 11:00?

I set down the phone and looked at my grocery list. I mentally skimmed the day’s To Do list and considered whether the library and bank would be open tomorrow. I couldn’t.

But then I looked at Maddie and Katie, sun-kissed and smiling from our long summer of yes.

Sure! I texted back.

“Girls, go grab your swim suits.”

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