We have several hundred loyal blog readers. I think of them often. They read every post. From all around the world. And even though I don’t do give-aways, or advertisements, or do provocative things to pump up the readership, our readers have been reading for years. They make me feel like blogging is worth it. You know who you are.
This post’s for you.
* * *
Our past couple of weeks have been pretty tough. The holidays are wonderful (literally, wonder filled), but they are so disruptive. We are a family who thrives on routine and ritual — both in the yearly rhythms of our life, and in the rhythms of our day to day. While Christmas is an anchoring annual tradition that we cling to and adore, it also seriously breaks up our daily flow. It always — no matter what, regardless of how much we will it not to — it always shoves us out of our groove.
We get home after Christmas and New Year’s, the kids’ school starts back up, and we seem unglued. It happens every year. We are so accustomed to this, that we see it coming. We proactively try to keep it at bay; we are mindful of it; we strategize to beat it. But still, it comes.
We are off kilter. We can’t find our balance. We fight and fuss and feel sorry for ourselves. We wallow in the self-pity of the seemingly insurmountable challenges of our dual-career, 3-young-children, always-something, overwhelming life that we’ve created (and continue to choose) for ourselves. Kids are sick. Parents are sick. The backpacks come home filled with forms and homework and memos and things to add to the ever-growing-never-ending To Do List. It is cold outside. The humidifier can’t seem to make a dent in the boys’ ashy skin and too-dry hair. Meera’s ear infections crop back up. The basketball schedule is relentless. Work is hanging over us like a million burdens. Time moves too fast. Time moves too slow. Another year is upon us. It gets dark at 4:30pm. The alarm goes off and nobody gets up. We’re cranky. We’re short-tempered. We do stuff just to piss each other off.
It is January. It is February. We dream of escaping to white beaches and red-hot sun and lime daiquiris. But there are no plans for that on the horizon.
We sink into a pity party of pathetic self-indulgence. All of us. It seems as gray as the sky is gray. And the sky is very, very gray, much of the time.
* * *
After a bad day yesterday (read between the lines: it was a bad day), Braydon and I slumped down together on the couch immediately upon finally getting the kids to bed. The moment couldn’t come soon enough — it was one of those days where we were counting the hours ‘till bedtime since noon, and beating ourselves up for doing it. It was Saturday. An “S Day” — no school, no work — it is supposed to be fun. Instead it was the crescendo of a long string of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.
We sat there discussing in great detail just how horrible we are at being parents. Just how much we’d love to simply throw in the towel and call it quits on the whole thing and escape forever to some far-off place as ex-pats on a mission to permanently get away from it all. We went through the blow-by-blow of all the things we’d done wrong that day, that week, that month; the nasty things our kids had said and done to each other and to us; the tears; the bad decisions; the hours we’d spent yelling and disciplining and saying “no” instead of “yes”; the things we wished we’d done differently; the worries we have for the future.
And then we talked about how this felt so familiar. So very familiar. What is this? This familiar rut of being out of our groove and so pathetically down in the dumps?
Braydon poured some wine and we sat there with our iPads, researching ourselves, scrutinizing our blog. And there it was— January 2011, January 2010, February 2009, February 2008, January 2007… Oh wow. So, there it is. A pattern so clear it stings with its smack in the face. The January-February-Funk. Laid out before our very eyes we saw the proof of our own routine: a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad deep-in-the-dark-of-winter annual J-M Family Funk.
So, there it was. And there we were.
* * *
We’re nothing if not determined, ambitious, and willful in spite of ourselves.
We determined right then and there that we’d try to beat this thing. At least get the upper hand on it.
So by the time we went to bed we had a plan in place for Sunday — another coveted “S Day” — no school, no work — it was going to be fun. Or, at least, not horrible.
* * *
Something reliable. Yes, that’s right. It has to be something we know works.
Within just minutes of our arrival Kyle and Owen were skipping rocks on the water.
How many times have I watched this scene unfold? Countless are the times I’ve seen the cathartic impact of throwing-of-rocks-into-water for my boys. All three of them.
There was dense fog everywhere. It was in the low 40s and wet. Everything was gray. It was the middle of January. Right in the depths of our funk. But there was a determination about us, and Peace Valley didn’t need much convincing to shift our centers. Little by little we started to raise our chins up a bit and put a little spark in our step. There was beauty — pure gray beauty — all around us. Everywhere we looked we could see that right there, in the dense fog, was — mysteriously — the familiar beauty that we know so well, but that is also an endless open exploration.
When the time was right we found the perfect picnic spot. We laid our blanket out on the dock and spread out our treats. Our Tabora take-out menu for the day was: hot tomato soup, fresh-baked bread and butter, fried chicken, roasted vegetable panini, Haitian Chicken Salad (yes, this is one of the many reasons we love this place; they have “Haitian Chicken Salad” on the menu), and Tabora’s famous from-scratch cookies. A picnic, on a dock, in the raw damp gray of mid-Janaury, this is the kind of thing that can turn the J-Ms around.
And turn around we did. It wasn’t long before the souls were stirred and the chins were up and the spark was abundantly right there at the surface.
After lunch we packed the little red wagon back up, complete with Meera and her bunnies. The boys scootered ‘till their hearts’ content. And Braydon and I walked and talked about plans for summer and beaches and sun-kissed kids and grilling outside with rum punch in hand as the ice melts and the cup gets covered in big droplets of condensation.
Soon enough we were not talking about summer, but instead about the thickness of the fog, the dampness of the air, the birds in the sky, the beauty of January in Pennsylvania.
We stopped for hot chocolate. We had packed it from home in our trusty thermos— my Popop’s old thermos. It was a good moment for our family.
And we had risen above it. By then it was crystal clear.
There was time on the swings before we left.
And then we went home. Our souls soothed.
On the drive home we let the kids watch Curious George on the DVD player (something we usually only reserve for long car trips, but since this was just over an hour, we figured we could give ourselves a break and it could qualify). I handed them a big bag of Cheetos— a rare treat. And as we drove I told Braydon about how moments like this — our bambinos in the back seat, chattering with-and-to-and-about George, fistfuls of neon-orange-Cheetos in hand and mouth as they devoured the whole bag — moments like this make my heart sing. When it is behind us, this is what I’ll miss most about this life we’ve created — our precious three kids, squeezed into the back seat, damp and muddy and covered in Cheetos crumbs, cheeks glowing and hearts full at the end of an absolutely stunningly wonderful day, us in the front seat, driving home, souls re-connected, life glued back together, a sense that yes— we can do this!— yes!— we’ve got this! — yes, we can totally rock this dual-career young-family crazy thing of ours that we’ve got going. Sort of. But sort of is good enough.
* * *
Tonight, after the kids were in bed, our home peaceful and content from a truly great day, we marveled in the miracle of just what a difference 24 hours can make.
And I finally felt like I had it in me to blog.
We’ve got a few weeks ahead of us that surely won’t be easy. And the road ahead is completely unknown (we fear our blessings being snatched away from us at any moment). But for now, here we are. And we are so, so thankful.
So, tomorrow the kids will go to school. Papi will go to work. Mommy’s spring semester will officially begin (and oh my gosh, looking at my calendar right now, I am guaranteed of nothing except of just how very full it will be). It is continually overwhelming. But we’ve always got our tried-and-true soul-soothers (Peace Valley as just one of them) tucked away for the grayest, dampest, darkest of days in the depths of our January-February Funk.
May we always be so lucky to have such a simple thing make such a difference.
I hope this post brings lightness and reassurance to you all out there who can relate.
Thanks for reading y’all! ~Heather