A certain slant of light

slant of light via kimberlyanncoyle.com

We’ve been back in the US for a year now. Last summer, we sent the kids off to summer camp from our temporary home (a hotel room), and they came back to a new house with mostly empty cupboards and a few blank rooms . This summer, we sent them from a house stuffed to overflowing, from rooms filled with photos and fingerprints and ticket stubs taped to the walls. We sent them with the knowledge they have friends and a church to return to, and a year full of memories gathered up, trailing behind them. It feels good to send them with a sense of permanence, knowing they will return to a life that is much the same. In previous summers, we anticipated returning to Zurich from our time in the US, knowing that many of our ex-pat friends wouldn’t return there with us.

Almost all of my friends from our life in Zurich have returned to their home countries by now. If I were to return there, it would be to a different life, an entirely new set of people with a different agenda and no common memories between us. As I see friends from our years in Switzerland posting on Facebook about returning to their home countries, it feels as if I am saying goodbye to my life there all over again. That season of our lives is well and truly gone, and I can only capture it by returning there in my mind now and again. The only constant in the international ex-pat life is change. Well, a lack of decent peanut butter seems to be an ongoing problem too, but change is ever-present. Every year you circle the sun and you catch a different slant of light.

I feel like I’m grieving all over again–saying goodbye to a life that I loved, to friends and school-mates and flight paths that will never catch that same slant of light. It’s similar to the feeling you get when you close the cover on the best book you’ve ever read. You mourn the loss because you know those pages will never speak to you in precisely the same way. You can’t recapture the magic of the first time or the feelings it stirred in you as you read it. Life today feels a bit like reading the same pages over and over in a book I don’t particularly enjoy. It makes me realize how much I like change; I like the sense that something undiscovered is around the corner. This is harder to cultivate in a life tethered to a typical suburban town. Change is incremental here. For the most part, I know what’s sitting around the corner, and its the same thing that sat there last year and the year before–mostly it’s the weekly runs to Target and Costco and if I’m feeling really kicky, a visit to Old Navy too. I’m trying to love this returning day after day to the same thing, but it doesn’t come naturally to me.

Does it come naturally to you? If not, if like me, you’re possessed by a spirit of wanderlust, what do you do to cultivate a life that satisfies you without picking up and moving every few years? How do you develop a sense of permanence and make peace with the story you’re living?

 

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Rubies: on parenting older kids

setting sun via kimberlyanncoyle.com

My little one went to the Farmer’s market with the neighbors and a few bucks in her pocket. She picked cherries the color of rubies from a bin and she filled half a brown paper bag with them. She brought them home and pulled them from her backpack with pleasure written all over her face.  “I bought them for you, Mom,” she said. “I know how much you love them.”

She pulled one out of the bag by the stem and  held it out to me like a jewel, an offering. I washed it and ate around the pit. I don’t like cherries, but I told her it was the best cherry I ever tasted while she shoved one after another in her mouth. They left a ruby ring around her lips when she smiled, so proud to give me this gift. She then asked me to reimburse her for the cost of said gift, and I smiled to myself as I watched her spit out pits. Then I gave her a few dollars.

I often read the late night scratchings of mothers in the thick of raising very little ones, or those who have recently stepped out of the fog of raising little ones. It makes me feel incredibly sad that I didn’t write my way through those years. I filed those stories for another day, and now they are shadows cast by the evening sun. Those words never made it to paper or computer screen. The stories aren’t lost to me, but they’re difficult to capture now that my children are older and we’re living new stories.

Reading these mamas words and their baby stories often makes me wish I’d done things differently. Cuddled more, absorbed more, written more, reveled more. And then I remember the exhaustion and the moving overseas and the frequent travel, and I realize that I lived more than most mamas in those early years. The living more was important for me and for us as a family, and if the stories never made it to print, at least I know they are tattooed somewhere deep in the lining of mine and my children’s souls.

Now that we live in the stage of teens and tweens, I find myself desperate not to wish away the hard years or the stories we are writing today. I don’t know a lot of mamas who write about these years because the kids aren’t so cute when they’re calling you names under their breath and the cuddles are harder to come by. They don’t call spaghetti “bizgetti” anymore. They want privacy, and they deserve it too. But they still bring us paper bags of cherries and they still crawl into bed for a quick cuddle before leaving for sleep-away camp and they help us mamas pick out the most flattering pair of wedge heels for the wardrobe they regularly raid. God, these years are so good. The stories are so rich, and I want to read more of them. I want to tell you more too. I want you to know that these years are the rubies dangling from the stem, the true gift after all the sleepless nights of their toddlerhood.

The sleepless nights begin again at this age, for different reasons, but there is clarity in the midnight hours that you don’t have in the fog of babyhood. You are wide awake enough to pray, and to remember the stories tattooed across your soul, and to look forward to the new ones that will find their way into the inner lining. I want to write through these years, for me and for them. I want to write through these years for you too, so you forget to feel afraid or alone when you live through them. These years are the gems, and they will leave a ruby stain to remind you that the hard years can be the most beautiful ones too.

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Delightful discoveries

singular via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I discovered most of my friends’ hidden talents by accident. I walked into a café and found a dear friend’s photographs hanging proudly on the walls, a label in the right hand corner of each frame alerting me her work was for sale. One friend stood up to sing karaoke during a summer evening out, and we sat wide-eyed when she blew us away with her singular voice. Another wrote and published a novel before I even realized she was a writer. There are other surprises too—he ran four marathons, she holds the title CEO, he signed with an agent for book no one knew he was writing, and she has a degree in Dance.

When I look at some of my friends and their extraordinary gifts, I wonder if they don’t also wear super-hero capes in secret. One summer…

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To read the rest, join me today at Circles of Faith. While you’re there you might want to take a peek around the site and sign up for updates. You’ll find me writing there about once a month-ish with a host of other lovely women.

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Online and off

mags via kimberlyanncoyle.com

All over the internet, I’m reading about people taking a break from the online noise. Can I add a resounding YES? Let me be the one-millionth person to say that I need a break from the constant onslaught of new media. I need less Twitter and Facebook in my life, mostly because I need to take a deep breath and live my own in real time.

I need to be bored for a day. I need to read a new book, thumb through the old Country Living magazines gathering dust, and snuggle up to the dog snoozing on the sofa. I need a glass of iced tea on the back deck while staring at the mounds of dirt shifting from one end of the yard to the other. I need to catch up on my laundry and sort through every school paper my kids have brought home since 2003. I need to wash paint brushes for my husband and dead head the flowers. I need a plan of attack for the embarrassment that is my basement. I need to drive my kids to basketball camp and listen when they speak. I need to look them in the eyes.

I need to set a better example.

I need to think my own thoughts. I don’t know if I’ve had an original one since I started reading other people’s blogs. Aren’t we all starting to sound alike? I want to hear the sound of my own voice rattling around in my head. I love what people create online, but keeping up with the latest posts and comments and issue of the week is exhausting. I don’t think my world was meant to be so big. I want to grow smaller, deeper, more intimate with the life playing our right in front of me every day. And I just can’t do that if I’m trying to stay abreast of the latest twitter rants on issues I don’t care about.

Here’s what I want to do–I want to follow and read and engage in the online world, but in a way that stimulates creativity and understanding, rather than sucks the life right out of me. How will I do this? I don’t rightly know. I’m open to suggestions. What or who do you follow online that you find life-giving? I personally heart Instagram. No fuss, no rants, no crazy-making. Just photos and a few funny or thought-provoking words from people I like. Instagram helps me see my own life better, and I find it’s almost impossible to make mine look or sound like someone else’s over there. It’s my real life in real time. Paintbrushes, school papers, puppy dog, and all.

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What are you doing this summer to give yourself some head space from the online or in-real-life noise?

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Head space

quiet via kimberlyanncoyle.com

We returned home from a short “vacation” at the beach a few days ago. I say “vacation” because I didn’t vacate from anything except the dishes. I packed all of my concerns in the beach bag, along with too much sunscreen and a number of books I never had the chance to read. I realize more and more that the busyness of life isn’t always the biggest obstacle to enjoying a time of rest. The biggest obstacle is my complete inability to turn off my brain.

We stayed busy. We walked the boardwalk and visited friends and watched the kids ride tiny, Jersey-size waves in surf school. We bought two hermit crabs, and in a twist of epic sibling rivalry and undisguised nudginess, they both ended up with the name Dolphie. Or Dolphy, depending on who you ask. Hermie is apparently  passé in the Coyle household.

I attempted to read a book, but the time became so fractured with our comings and goings, that I resigned myself to the fact that this season is for living out loud, not escaping into the quiet of a few pages. I opened my computer once. I didn’t write, I avoided Facebook, and only posted photos to twitter. And even then, I couldn’t escape that nagging feeling that something hidden in the recesses needed my attention.

Every morning when I wake up, I take a quick assessment of my emotions. I complete a quick mental inventory in an attempt to understand why I woke up feeling angry, joyful, sad, rested, bored, worried, hurt, rushed, excited, etc. Do you do this too? If the kids acted crazy the night before, or my husband and I argued, I place my finger on it immediately. Otherwise, I dig a little deeper. Was it the phone call I received? The satisfying conversation? The new dress I bought? The deadline? The jam-packed day ahead? The book I read before bed?

On vacation, I try to put this part of my brain on hold. I wake up and allow myself to feel peace, an emotion I’m not super-familiar with on a daily basis. This summer, I’m grasping for it, trying to find a foothold where there seem to be none. I have no legitimate reason as to why, but peace and rest remain elusive. There is an internal nagging, a nudge, pushing me towards discontent and pulling me away from peace. No amount of sand and surf can compete with this internal tug of war.

Today, I woke up in my own bed. I assessed, I inventoried, I recognized I need a mental vacation, rather than a physical one. I need to lay a few things down to rest. I need to choose, rather than wait for peace.

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Where do you find rest? Is it a place? A person? An activity, or the lack thereof?

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