In my journal last week, I copied down a sentence from Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly. I’d read the book before, and I had picked it back up to read the chapter on leadership. Leadership led to parenting and then this:
“Who we are and how we engage with the world are much stronger predictors of how our children will do than what we know about parenting.”
Brené Brown’s book is about vulnerability—how essential it is for a full life—and how being perfect is not the goal. So, no pressure, mamas and papas! But, is it my imagination, or has Amabel become even more keenly aware of who I am and how I engage with the world since she started school? Or maybe since she turned nine? Whatever the reason, I’m sure she is taking in the essence of her mother to a greater degree that ever before. No pressure, mama.
On Tuesday I had a difficult conversation at work. Amabel wasn’t there—she was three blocks away, probably taking a math test—but as I looked out into the swirling snow and confronted whether or not to stand up and speak my truth, I thought about my daughter.
The blizzard had subsided by the time I left the office to pick up the girls from school. The sky was clear. Distracted by my thoughts, I did not stop to notice the fresh comforter of snow, but I remember the drive home and the chattering voices—so confident, so sure. Yes, I spoke my truth. It may have fallen on deaf ears in the moment, but it was not lost on oblivious children.
On Saturday we sorted through piles of seed packets from last year, taking stock of what we have left, trying to remember what grew well. Which variety of tomato was our favorite? Why didn’t we get many cucumbers? Did they get munched by insects or were the plants just too crowded by neighboring flowers, melons, and beans? I have a tendency to sow seeds a little too close together — squeezing in as much as possible. Sometimes I overdo it.
Jeffrey and I sat at the table together for nearly four hours: pouring over seed catalogs, making lists, dreaming. This year, like every year, I resolved to take better garden notes. Last spring I was diligent about writing down planting details. Then summer came, the vegetables grew wild, and I stopped taking notes. We do have photos, fortunately. And when I look back over photos from last summer, I see clear evidence of my favorite plants: those wily volunteers that sprout after an entire winter (or two) under the snow. The calendulas, the borage, the sunflowers, the odd pepper plant, sturdy kale, and scallions . . . I cherish these determined souls.
I love ordering seeds in winter. I love the promise of another season and the allure of a catalogue filled with potential for color, texture, and flavor. But I’m particularly intrigued by the mysterious seeds that sit outside my window right now, dormant under a frozen white blanket. What will come up, unbidden, in the spring?
When we drop into stillness with reverence and curiosity, we may be surprised at what we find. Yes, there may be wells of grief and tears that need to be shed. There may be loneliness and uncertainty, vulnerability and the fear of the unknown. But there’s also something glimmering underneath the winter snows, a seed of creativity, a moment of possibility that, when given attention, can be nurtured into something new: a poem, a story, a project, a recipe, a dance, a song, a painting. It’s not ready to blossom into the fullness of its manifestation, but the tiny beginning is here, and you can only hear it if you slow down enough to listen. — February: Listen for the Seed
Ellen — five years ago you were our little one-year-old knee walker. Today you are six.
I remember you rocking back and forth on your knees while Amabel literally ran circles around you. I remember you babbling your first words while Amabel litterally talked circles around you. You watched and listened to her for so long — and then finally stood up and started to walk and talk yourself. And now, if I dare say, your sister watches and listens to you with a measure of attention equal to what you’ve always given her.
This is a gift of mothering: to watch the give and take between my girls. It is as if you were made for each other. To challenge one another. To support one another. To act as a steady counterbalance as you both grow and learn. Or maybe you are so close because of the sheer volume of time you’ve spent together from the very beginning? You’ve grown like two sister trees, side-by-side.
I was afraid that going to school last fall would change the dynamic between you and Amabel. But it hasn’t. Not really. Not any more than the constant shifts you both experience — the ebbs and flows of moods and needs. Actually, I see how school has brought you closer in many ways. One of my favorite parts of the school day is listening to you exchange stories in the back of the car on our way home. I learn so much about your experience at school when I hear you and Amabel compare notes. You have new friends, new teachers, new questions, new stories. But at the end of each school day, you have each other. You share a frame of reference, a home, and a family. And school makes us all even more grateful for our time together.
Reading to Amabel and Ellen at bedtime is my favorite part of the day. Snuggled up between my girls, warm and wiggly, lost in the adventures of our imaginations . . . this is bliss. But last night, I took our bedtime ritual a step further and read three chapters from a book I’m writing. A book I’m writing for them. I’ve been working on a chapter book, on and off, for over a year — ebbing and flowing with the seasons of mothering and work. I started in a yellow composition book two summers ago, but it was only this fall that I began (reluctantly) to transcribe the chapters into digital files. I love to write by hand; I’m very old-school that way. But my story was becoming unruly and I couldn’t hold all the threads together in a paper notebook anymore. I needed to type them up in an organized fashion to get my head around the plot. So I’ve been spending (roughly) one afternoon a week in my parents’ guest house, where I set up my little iPad alongside this reassuringly solid, powder-blue typewriter. Writing in this peaceful space, with nothing else calling for my attention, is another sort of bliss. Reading and writing . . . perhaps my two favorite things?
As much as I love the writing part, I was nervous to start reading the story — still so young and raw — aloud to my daughters. What if it didn’t hold their attention? What if it was too serious? What if speaking the voices of the characters out loud didn’t match the life I’d imagined into them on the pages?
I needn’t have worried. I couldn’t have asked for a better pair of listeners. Amabel and Ellen piped up with simple, honest reactions and curious questions. And after they fell asleep, each girl breathing in her own rhythm beside me, I snuck out of the bed and took notes. I have an idea now for the next scene; maybe the aunt could be a bit funnier — if I can exaggerate the dialogue without going overboard? Ellen said she liked the part in the woods best. And Amabel tactfully pointed out that I used the word “lips” too many times. My budding editor!
After we finished reading, Amabel asked, “Do you ever get writer’s block?” Her question caught me so off guard that I didn’t answer directly. Writers block? Where did that question come from? Well, to tell you the truth Amabel, it’s not so much that I have trouble with the writing part — it’s more that I have trouble with the sharing part. But reading and writing go together! How could I forget? Thank you and Ellen, for reminding me why I started to write this story in the first place. This project is a lot more exciting now that I’m sharing it with you.