Sunday, December 24, 2017

2017: A New Way to be Home for Christmas

I wrote this first part (in purple) in October, but never published: 
Coming back from Fall Break:  We  returned from an amazing Fall break vacation on Caribbean cruise. Since we didn't get much of a summer break, we splurged on a cruise, and had a wonderful time.  BJ and I went on a cruise for our honeymoon, and it was quite special to be together with Anna Cate and Molly, so many years later.

We also noted that we left on the anniversary of his first brain surgery and returned on the anniversary of his chest surgery to place the pace maker.  We both agreed that the decadence we enjoyed was a great way to close out the chapter of our life has been the last year. The last morning, I sat on the ship looking at the water, thinking of how this was it and it was time to go home and start the next chapter in our life, but in truth, I don't feel like I have a home yet.  I mean, this is my childhood home, and I know I live here, the girls are in school, I have a job, etc, but it still feels a little bit like a visit.  On the cruise, I kept saying to the family, "Ya'll, I just can't get it through my head that we LIVE in Centerville."  I wonder if it's because I've visited here for weeks at a time for 15 years, and only lived here for 2 years in the past 23.  For whatever reason, I just don't quite feel it yet.

Also, I've been thinking and feeling a lot about last year, and I just can't help it so writing about it seems a healthy way to process it. I am just still sort of stunned at how bad it was, and the truth is I wasn't exactly feeling it then. Now, I'm more conscious of how shaky our of life became. Obviously, Anna Cate being sick was horrible, and then we had no idea that BJ wouldn't be returning to work.  Then the stress of that was so hard on him that we thought the surgery was unsuccessful. So we knew we had to move, that I had to find a job, and. . . .we thought the surgery didn't even work because his tremor was so strong because of the stress of all the circumstances surrounding the work situation. It was awful, looking back on it. I mean it was tough in the moment but it wasn't as dreadful then as it is now in the hollow of my soul when I'm on this side of it. The surgery did work, but we certainly were in a certain kind of hell then.  I was pretty stable then...I just kept walking. In the mean time to deal, BJ spent hours on the internet trying to dream of a new life here, and a main goal was goats.

And as another symbol of the new chapter of our life, the day after we got back from the cruise, BJ and girls picked up the newest addition: Betsy and Bud.

This past weekend, we enjoyed the festivities of Halloween. Last year, throughout the month of October, my family and I debated on what was best for Anna Cate, and when she should come home. My Dad felt so strongly that she needed to stay in Centerville thru Halloween.  They had gotten thru some very dark days planning the fun of Halloween together, and so she stayed. When she came home to us in Virginia she brought with her the memories of how loved she felt in Centerville, a stack load of cards from her new friends, the memories of fun here, and I believe the strong sense that this was her home. This year it is, even though I guess it was last year too.

When I was a little girl and our family would play Monopoly, I always would loose because I wanted Park Place.  This past year in March, after we had already bought this house, and I had not seen it, we were in New York and in a cab, we were talking about the value of homes across from Central Park. . .and BJ said, "that's like our house -- across from the Park."

Thursday, October 5, 2017

On the irony of life

It is Fall break and I'm taking the time to write the musings of my heart and mind on our life here, reflecting with gratitude and to be honest, a sense of melancholy. More than anything, I am embracing contentment, and that is because BJ and the girls are so happy, and I'm happy to be content.

We are loving our home, and the functionality and beauty is thanks to Naida who shared her time and talents with us to help design it from layout to colors.

 We invited them over as our first dinner  guests, and Molly Mae helped me decorate with flowers from Nana's garden. Watching her make beautiful designs from God's natural beauty was nothing short of spiritual.
Before dinner, we finally drank a special bottle of wine gifted to us by our friends Susan and Dan, who gave it to us as a a special memento in the spring of 2016 since we were going to Paris. Susan told us to enjoy it together either before or after we went, and we meant to drink this after we came back, but our life fell apart then, and it just never felt like the right time. I found it fitting to share with  Naida who helped bring beauty back into our lives in our home. 

We are slowly working on the contribution is buying mums and BJ is putting his agriculture experience to use with some landscaping.


BJ is loving our life in Centerville. He has chickens and we are getting goats after we return from Fall break. He is being a great stay-at-home Dad and our life is actually much better than I ever remember it before his diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease. 

The reduced stress is good for his health,  and I imagine for mine too. 

He fishes most days and on Sundays he takes the girls. I definitely think that fishing has contributed to his health. He says, and my Dad corroborates, that when BJ creek fishes, it is a work out, but the girls and I like the pond for the beautiful setting and easy catches. 

Molly seems to love school and I love getting some stories about her from friends who work at her school. She is so proud that she is reading chapter books. Molly and her cousin Kitty, although in different classes, have figured out a way to sit near each other in lunchroom and play together at recess, and get to see each other twice a week for enrichment.  They play on the same soccer team, and want to be together all the time, even though they fight like sisters.  (This is at our friend's, Charlie and Naida's home.)

Anna Cate loves 6th grade, mostly the social aspect of it; we are thankful she has met some really sweet girls and having some great "middle school" experiences.  She is entering the academic time where I can be of use to her education since I know the curriculum. I'm not so sure how she feels about that. Anna Cate is not driven for personal success, and as BJ and I were discussing the other night, he said, "she is wired like my mom; she is motivated to do things for others." It is a gift, but I would like to see her work hard for herself. Interesting times ahead I'm sure. So far she still seems to want to be with us and I'm so grateful for her kind heart. It is never very far away from my mind where we were this time last year in such a state of desperation over her health. 

She ran cross country, because I made her, and even though she doesn't enjoy the competitive aspect of it, she sure loves the relationships. My Dad made me run starting at age 9, and  I'd like to think I'm less autocratic about it. . . I'd also like to think she will develop a life-long love of the practice I find so good for the body and soul. 

We are enjoying life in a small town. One Sunday when Kitty stayed over, we all walked to church. 
 And then enjoyed celebrating my brother's birthday.
It is so nice to be around for family celebrations, both little and big. We were here for Tallulah's first birthday and she was absolutely precious and knew the get-together was about her. She is such a sweet, affectionate, personable baby and I'm so thankful we get to be around. 

We have Vanderbilt season tickets, and Molly thinks that tailgating is the best part.

Anna Cate is up for anything fun, and has enjoys going to cheer the team on as they come into the stadium at home games. She high fives the coach and Mr. Commodore. 
We had planned to spend the weekend with our friends Jim and Laurie after the Alabama game, but Molly got strep, so I stayed home with her.  Laurie and Jim drove to Centerville and it was so special to be together, even if it made me miss her more. 
Molly told me when she was sick, "It is not fun being sick, but it has been nice to have the day together."  Lately, this exact sentiment mirrors the introspection. 

My musing on the joy and melancholy:

I am working in Dickson, a town 40 minutes away, and am so fulfilled, challenged and thankful to be teaching the subject I'm so passionate about to an age I love -- World History to 7th graders. I feel appreciated and am thinking working in one small town and living in another is a good idea for a middle school teacher and mom who sometimes struggles to keep my mouth shut about the ways schools do things.  Teaching in Dickson has given me the chance to renew myself in an unfamiliar setting in the midst of our family moving back to the comfort of home. I took an interim position and really hope to be there again next year. BUT, I do miss being around for the family happenings during the week, and to be honest, my ego is a little bruised that I'm not serving in my home town. This is the example of the absurdity that is either life or my mind -- the very thing that makes me so happy, teaching in Dickson, also makes me sad.  I just notice my feelings and am trying not to attach. I rejoice in my fulfillment in my job satisfaction, and tell the girls I am sorry to not be around as much as I would like.  Last week, when exhaustion left me on the couch, I took in this scene: Anna Cate, reading a history novel to me and Molly, meditating and practicing yoga. A gift from the universe that my influence might not be diminished because my physical presence is. 

"You can have it all in life. . . just not at the same time." --Allahna Brathwaite

I think about all we experienced in the past year, and I know I could not have gotten through it without the support of family and friends on the outside, and the slow steady practice of running and yoga for work on my inside.  Being in a state to reflect gives me peace, and while we don't have easy "Target runs"  I am so thankful to be surrounded by such beauty for my actual runs.  I don't take that for granted as I reflect on our life, BJ's health, the girls school, happiness, my job, our situation. 

I think about how stunning and sad it is that BJ has Parkinson's. I wonder what our girls will remember when they think about our move here. Will it pierce their heart like it does mine, when I say why we moved, "my husband has Parkinson's and we wanted a slower, cheaper pace of life." Because I may say that but in the abyss of my subconscious, I'm also thinking: we don't know what life has in store for his health, and I want him to be happy and healthy.  We want to spend as much time together as a family as we can. And last year, I saw that we need my family. Parkinson's is a progressive disease and I am scared so I'm willing to be exhausted and sad a little so that he can be happy. Actually only sometimes, that's true. . I'm quite a selfish person, and even though he is the one that is sick, it is me that gets taken care of. I still make sure I am fulfilled, which is why I feel so selfish by being so happy teaching in Dickson. I probably am a slacker of a mother, actually. But the crazy thing in this whole weird thing when my young husband gets this horrible disease and has brain surgery that we thought that would make our life go back to normal, but instead meant he couldn't work and rocked our world is that we are happy now! We are having a better life than when he worked 65 hours a week and we fought over who takes off when a kid get sick, and we sat in traffic trying to keep our kids in activities.  Could it be this is a blessing? The very thing, a Parkinson's Disease diagnosis at 36, that is heart breaking to happen to such a good person has been an invocation of presence, love and light for our family.  Because my goodness, I miss my friends and my church, and my yoga studio, but I love getting to see my family almost daily, and we are having a good life. My kids are growing up in walking distance of their grandparents and cousins. And BJ is good, and the girls are happy. 

Of course, I don't say all those things, but with a drive to and from work and the chance to run on country roads, I'm reflecting with awareness of the good and rough  times. 

“If your mind carries a heavy burden of past, you will experience more of the same. The past perpetuates itself through lack of presence. The quality of your consciousness at this moment is what shapes the future.” ― Eckhart TolleThe Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

I know  it will sustain me when they commence again. Truth is -- struggles can be ahead for everyone; we just have an inkling what ours will be.  I can't say "God does things for a reason" because I think that is a shallow, broken theology, but I can embraces the words from Paul my grandmother used to quote. 

Now I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have revived your concern for me. . . . I am not saying this out of need, for I have learned to be content regardless of my  circumstances. I know how to live humbly, and I know how to abound. I am accustomed to any and every situation—to being filled and being hungry, to having plenty and having need. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

It reflects this notion that missing part of my life in Fredericksburg doesn't mean I'm sad to be here, that being happy in Dickson does have its cost, and that maybe a devastating diagnosis has helped us create a better life.    

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Starting a Life Anew and Coming Home to Make a Home

About six weeks ago,  we drove off from our dear friends' home, and headed home, to our new home town. I looked in my rear view mirror and I couldn't help but notice the imagery of leaving Virginia behind, so I also snapped a photo welcoming us to Tennessee.  Since we come here every summer and Christmas, I've made this drive several times, but this time it felt different. Saying goodbye to our life in Fredericksburg was hard for me, but toward the end, I said, "I'm ready to just rip the band aid off." Molly Mae, in her infinite wit said "Mommy we are ripping the band aid off. . . very slowly since this is a long drive."

 About two hours away from Centerville, I just got this uneasy feeling and then BJ called me (we drove separate cars) and told me about the conversation he and Anna Cate were having because we saw a sign you might see in the Bible belt. It made me realize the richness of diversity in places we least expect it. For the first several days, I needed a few days to just hole up with my family and it felt like summer vacation until our home was being finished, so we made the most of the quick summer vacation we had, knowing that this was our soon-to-be home life.

We spent time at creeks, enjoyed the town pool, a lot of play dates with our cousin Kitty and made some new friends at a Vacation Bible School.

Mom let the girls play in the mud puddles after a rain, and I was so annoyed until I saw this picture of pure glee! 

And in between the kids having fun, I got in some hot runs,

BJ staked out where he could go fish....

and we made decisions on our home we were remodeling. 

There are lots of shades of grey!

We went with lots of greys, with blues, greens some purple and one area with a pop of yellow!

Mom's dear friend Naida helped us with design and paint choices and we feel so thankful to have experienced her expertise.  I wanted to move here and have it all done yesterday, but she talked me back from the haste by saying, "If you try to rush everything, you will miss finding those treasures." So I did feel myself stepping back with some confidence that I knew it would work out. . . and it did!

The big project was we doubled the size of an upstairs loft for the girls to have a bedroom, closet, bathroom and play area.  When asking them if they would be ok with a room together, we said it would be like an apartment. . and it does feel that way.

We also added a half bath downstairs, taking out two small closets.

 And we painted all other rooms. This is the parlor/my room for reading, writing, visiting, and thinking about world travel.

There were two small bedrooms and a small bathroom BJ and I turned into "our area" and I love the barn door that hides it. We made one of the small rooms into a boudair/bohemian themed closet and the other small room for our bedrooom where we put some purple!
 And the tv/family room makes BJ happy that he can hang his deer.

So it did all work out, and we did get settled before the school year started for the girls and me, which is really what I wanted.

A couple vignettes about the first day.  Because I took a 1-year position for a teacher who was having a baby, I had a different start date than Anna Cate and Molly did. It was so nice to get be around them for the pomp and circumstance of excitement and pictures. It is extra special that this year, Molly gets to start 2nd grade with her cousin Kitty.  So exciting for Molly that she said, "I want Aunt Becki to take me to school the first day so she can do drop off the right way, and I'll tell you how it is done."  I'm thankful Molly has other adults in her life she trusts, and that Becki knows how to do things the right way! Thankfully, a couple days later I did get to do drop off. 

Molly has had a great start, and I'm particularly excited that she has my friend Shelda for her teacher. Shelda and I had many classes together in school, including 3rd grade in this very room she will teach Molly. Her daughter was a flower girl in our wedding. 
Dropping off Anna Cate was like nothing I've ever experienced with sending my child off somewhere. I've let her fly by herself (as an un-accompanied minor) and sent her Miss Diana's at 2, to Kindergarten on a school bus, but this was hard because I know first hand the rite of passage that is  Middle School.  We teachers at Middle School are a different brand of caretakers than Elementary school. I distinctly remember thinking how wonderful the atmosphere was at Courthouse Road Elementary the first year I visited Anna Cate, and thought, "wow, no wonder middle school is so hard on some kids."

Thankfully, Anna Cate has already made some friends and had her locker set up, so while she was nervous, there were some comforts. She had a great first day, and is going out for the Cross country team even though she is built like her mama and had such a rough year health-wise and is struggling to get back into shape. I'm so proud of her!  We are running together once a week, and it is interesting to listen to the mind of a new runner, and I'm reminded of one of the reasons I love running so much -- it gives you practice to silence that voice in your head saying you can't do it. 

After a few days of quiet time with BJ and some lunch dates, my school year began as well.  

I took a job in a town 45 minutes away, and while I'm sure the drive will become a chore some days, I am so happy with the school and the admin team.   And I have a lot of time to listen to lectures from The Great Courses (If you commute, check these out; I'm open to podcast suggestions). This spring, BJ actually found the job posted, and I knew it was a 1 year position, but a later start was very attractive to me, as well as the fact that it is World History. I hope I'll remember these days with gratitude when I'm looking for a job next year!

So we are settled into our house and our school year, we have chickens in our back yard and BJ says we will have goats soon.  I have had the time to think about how we were in Paris last year. 
In fact, this Sunday of last year, I worshipped at Notre Dame.
I can't help but think about the beauty of our trip . . .

And the way our life fell apart after we returned.
We faced health and financial crises as a family, and all roads led here to Centerville.  BJ knew the day after his second surgery, when he said, "we are moving to Centerville."

 It has been a year of transition  of turmoil,  but in the midst of it all, I knew it the was the right thing to do, but I struggled with the in between steps. And, now in this space on the other side of the struggles, I feel like I'm having a glimpse of God's pure light on our journey. This is where we should be. The family is happy, and we have a beautiful, functional home and a job that fulfills me. I think about how beautiful Paris is and how my life will always now be a journey back to that beauty. 
BJ snapped this picture of me, and I distinctly remember looking in the lense, telling my future self, I could handle what came next. I thought BJs' surgery was the worst in front of me . . I had no idea what the next 12 months had in store. 

But I'm proud to be standing on this side of this year. I think I will spend the rest of my life trying to create and exist in the space I enjoyed while  in Paris.

But in the mean time, I'm happy to be home. Maybe I should be reminiscing on those memories from Paris. . and plan our next trip.