Fly fishing


It’s a odd sport if you think about it.

Throw a line into the water. Hit just the right spot, if you can. That one over there – where the rocks make the water ripple and bubbles are forming. It looks like fish would want to spend their morning there, don’t you think? 

Maybe I’m wrong.

Try again. And again, lazily thinking about nothing other than the rhythm of the flick, of ten and two, of Norman MacClean and the exact shape that the water takes while flowing over that rock.

You could think about the rock and the water for the next hour, even though you have no words to describe it.

Swish, flick. Try that spot again, the one that fish probably like.

Be a little surprised when the line actually tugs. 

Take the fish out of the water. Consider the length, the color. 

That’s all. Throw it back.

We all know what lies beneath the rivers that flow around us. Rocks, moss, broken beer bottles, and brook trout. And yet curiosity compels us to look, to dip behind the silver veil trickling down and spy on another life.

I am pregnant with our third child, and the anxiety that is as much a pregnancy symptom as nausea and swollen ankles has begun to creep in.

How will we balance three children, when two seems like more than enough? Will the baby be okay, healthy, happy?  How will this work? How will we manage? The time, the money, the love.

When the first two were born, we didn’t take them fly fishing. We hiked for miles past rivers, but left the rods at home. I know several families who hoisted baby into carrier, and lulled them to sleep with the swish and flick of the ten and two. My husband has a hook firmly lodged into the back of his fishing vest. No amount of tugging and pulling has freed it over the past several years. I forbade him from fishing with children near by.

Now, they are old enough to hold their own poles. They stand along the banks, one with a toy fishing pole, the other with his child sized pole sporting a bobber and real hook. Their fun is not diminished by their lack of fish.

I haven’t laid my hands on a fishing rod since my oldest was born. I miss the silence, the thinking about nothing other than the way the water curves over a rock. But I never truly learned how to fish. My husband tied my lures and untangled my lines and freed my fish for me. I only contributed the swish and flick. He told my I was good at it. 

I think he just wanted to go fishing more.

Now, with a third on the way, I assume it will be years more until I go fishing again. 

But still, the urge is there. To take a peek at what is under the water. To see a different life. 

I suppose it is that same illogical, irrepressible urge that compelled a third child into our lives. A desire to see what another life would be like, a life with one more person to love.

Knee deep in water. Staring at that one rock, and the way the water flows over it. It’s riveting, though you can’t say why.

No words to describe it.

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A Mother’s Day


I didn’t accomplish anything today. 

I didn’t do the dishes. You can tell, because the sink is full of dirty plates. 

I didn’t make any muffins to feed little hungry bellies. I know this, because the muffin pan sits empty in that pile of dishes and my kids are still asking me for food. 

I didn’t do any laundry. Just look at the baskets still sitting beside the washer. 

Noses haven’t been wiped. They are just as runny as they were this morning, but now with dirt and Cheerios caked on top. 

We must not have gone outside to run around in the backyard, or had friends over for a play date. Judging by the way they are simultaneously claiming boredom and running around with energy to spare, we have not done anything today. 

I didn’t read stories, log miles in the rocking chair, or tuck toes under blankets. They are awake now, as you can see. 

I didn’t make it to the grocery store. I know this, because each member of my family keeps informing me we have nothing good to eat. 

I haven’t wiped away any tears. They keep falling every time one brother hits the other, or a knee lands on a sharp rock. 

I didn’t explain why the sky is blue, why dinosaurs died, or why it rains some days and not others. At least not to a preschooler’s satisfaction. 

I must have forgotten to pack snacks  for our trip to the park. Why else would the bag be empty now and everyone crying?

I haven’t bought any clothes for the kids either. This is why nothing they own fits. 

I didn’t get any work done today. My draft folder is still full, to-do list long and my inbox teeming with emails unanswered. 

Of course I didn’t manage any yard work today. The only flowers I haven’t  killed are the dandelions proliferating on the front lawn. 

I haven’t swept, or vacuumed, or mopped. That crunching sound under your feet is evidence. 

I haven’t written any articles or stories that resonated with people today. They are all still scrolling, looking for something good to read. And I haven’t made any money, either. That’s why my bank account hovers stubbornly at the same number. 

I must not have cooked dinner. Why else would the table is full of empty plates and little boys are begging me for something – anything else – to eat? Preferably cookies. 

That dirty dish pile, however, somehow expanded.

I’m not sure what I did manage today. I know I did each of these things, but none of them are done. I am living in a fairy tale – one where the clock strikes midnight and anything I have built over the course of the day crumbles back to how it was before. 

This is a mother’s day. The work we do is dismantled each sunrise, taunting us with another chance to beat the clock. A day, a week, a year from now – my list of accomplishments won’t be any longer. 

And yet, at the end of the day, my children sit on my knee and holler, “Again! Again! Again!”

Nothing I do is permanent. Nothing I build will last. 

It is, perhaps, only the attempt that matters. 

The best bad dreams


They don’t tell you that nightmares are one of the sweetest parts of parenting.

My son ran into our bedroom the other day, just as he does every morning. But this time, instead of jumping on our bed, or cuddling up silently, he stood at the doorway. His three foot frame shook, and when I asked him what was the matter, he let out a full body sob.

Head hanging back, arms hanging despondently at his side, he shuffled over. I pulled him into bed with me. 

“What’s wrong, honey? Did you have a bad dream?”

He nodded. It was a few minutes later before he managed to get his troubles out.

“I dreamed I was carrying my rock collection,” he gasped, his voice still shaking. “And then I dropped it, and the rocks fell!” His voice crescendoed into another sob and he lay his head back down.

I bit back a smile. “Oh no, baby, that sounds terrible.” My husband retrieved his bucket of rocks from under his bed to show him they were all still there.

Other bad dreams have been as devastating to him as they were darling to me. We have yet to hit the days of monster-chasing-you-and-you-can’t-run dreams, or the showed-up-to-school-with-no-pants-on dreams. No, I’m still trying to convince him he actually has to wear pants to school.

His first nightmare was about the wind. It blew his pacifier away, he told be between heaving sobs.

The next several centered around Hot Wheels going the drain. “All of my Hot Wheel cars were in the bathtub, Mama,” he cried. “And they went down the drain! And it was NOT A DREAM!” he insisted, head still on his pillow. He knew what my first words of comfort would be.

I would never wish a nightmare on my child, but part of me can’t help but smile at how innocent his biggest fears in life are. But another part of me is glad that his night terrors have largely been replaced by these mere nightmares.

For about two years, my oldest son would regularly wake up in an utter panic. The kind that causes parents to bang their shins on the coffee table rushing to get to the bedroom. We would limp in, ignoring the throbbing pain in our legs, prepared for whatever we might find – an intruder, a spider the size of a dinner plate, a poltergeist. What else could be making him cry so hard?

Nothing. Other than a night terror.

Any attempt to reach him would fail. The books advise you to just “sit there beside them, gently reminding them of your presence, until the episode passes.”

Like most things I’ve read in parenting books, this did not work for our child.

He screamed if we tried to sit quietly beside him, and louder if we interacted, and then again louder still if we did not. Eventually, we figured out that juice was key. Once the sweetness hit his lips, he would snap out of it, content to cuddle and watch late night basketball on the couch with us until his breathing slowed back down.

Midnight juice and TV. We’re good parents.

Occasionally – especially as he got older – this method began to fail.

When hour four of blood curdling screams melted into hour five, we called the pediatrician. Her advice was simple – drive him around in the car and if he doesn’t stop screaming, drive him over to the E.R. My husband somehow wrestled him into a seat while I nursed the other child who was now awake. They drove around for hours, until the sun peaked up over the hills to see if there was anything she could do to help.

Eventually he fell asleep. My husband got dressed for work.

We’ve entered a brief hiatus in parenting. One where I can actually solve the problems they present me with. Gone are the newborn days of tears for which I do not know are the impetus. The days of breakups, rejection, and loss are still on the horizon.

The morning after a nightmare, my son can tell me what he dreamed about. After a night terror, however, he cannot remember what happened. 

I hope this is what he remembers. The times he needed me, the times I could help him, and the times I did. I hope that is enough to carry him through the times I cannot.

I need to go. My youngest son just woke up.

Heartburn


Heartburn.

If I have to pick one pregnancy ailment that vexes me above anything, it would be the heartburn.

Pregnancy heartburn is not run of the mill “Oh I shouldn’t have ate that burrito, better pop some Tums” heartburn. It is a vicious, predatory attack. It rears its ugly head as soon as I eat in the morning, and lasts until the middle of the night when I wake up coughing and gagging on my on reflux.

The causes are two-fold: a growing belly which rearranges every organ in your torso until your food literally has no where to go but up, and a hormone called “relaxin.” Relaxin is meant to relax your muscles and joints to make giving birth easier, but it unfortunately also relaxes the muscles that typically keep stomach acid from burning holes in your esophagus.

The mild blessing of heartburn is that it is a good distraction from the fact that my other, more metaphorical heart, is also constantly in distress. 

Pregnancy is nine long months of not only physical, but also mental torture. “Is the baby okay? I can’t feel it yet. Should I be able to feel it? Am I big enough? Am I too big? Should I be working out more or resting more? What is every single ingredient in that cracker I just ate, and are they pregnancy safe? What? You aren’t supposed to eat flax seed now? Should I have been eating flax seed so often that I am now distressed to know this?”

Having someone so close to you, so intertwined with your body and soul, and yet being unable to guarantee their safety is the part of pregnancy I hate the most. I can’t guarantee if they are okay – I can’t even see if they are. But I can feel the weight of the responsibility all over me.

I often think it must have far easier to be an expectant mom in the 1950s. The list of things you weren’t supposed to do was far shorter – don’t lift your hands above your head and don’t wear a corset. None of this fretting about exactly how much kale you should eat if you want to guarantee your child is accepted at an Ivy League university. 

That is, if I could eat anything without inciting a heartburn riot.

In an attempt to control the uncontrollable, I read everything I can find about having a healthy pregnancy. According to science, I should exercise regularly, eat six dates a day, eat fish but not too much fish and only the right types of fish but definitely more fish than I eat now just try not to think about the mercury levels if you eat the wrong fish. I can’t sleep on my back, must spend time in green spaces, and shouldn’t stress because that is also bad for the baby. 

My husband likes to tell me I shouldn’t worry, because everything will turn out fine.

But there’s no guarantee of that. Things can go wrong. Horribly wrong. Ultrasound tech avoiding your eyes wrong. Doctor wringing his hands in the waiting room wrong. Hushed whispers whenever you enter a room wrong. There is no guarantee that they won’t, no matter how much I try to use every scientific study I’ve read to my advantage. 

So my heart burns.

I try to placate it with cold glasses of almond milk, Zantac, and the knowledge I’m not in control. But for pregnancy related ailments, there are only temporary remedies.

The only known cure is birth.

Person

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There is this person.

I don’t know much about them, other than they exist. And I love them.

That seems ripe for a metaphor. Like I should start talking about how it shouldn’t take much more than knowledge of existence for us to illicit compassion.  How we shouldn’t make a refugee on wartorn shores prove their worth, or ask a child to demonstrate the economic profitability of providing them with clean air.

But I’m too tired for all that right now.

Besides, love at this point is only theoretical. Don’t get me wrong, it’s real. I know it’s real, or at least will be real. But think back to how you look at your wedding day. Doesn’t part of you wonder how you even got married to someone you knew so little? Somebody whom you hadn’t yet walked through the trials and blessings you’ve been through since?

Or your baby’s first smile. It was wonderful, sure. But it has since been eclipsed by grins, guffaws, and kisses. How little you knew then.

Love is difficult, is it not? It is raw, involuntary, and demanding. It is an action we must choose, time and again, often before ourselves. It breaks us and leaves us more whole than we have ever been before.

So, sure. I know I’m in love. And I know the first days, weeks of love pale into comparison to the gritty work of what comes later. Life often gets harder and better on equal measure.

So here’s to the next love of our life, whom you are welcome to join us in loving sometime this October.

To believe in life

 

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They’re still sleeping. Those little ones who are waiting for the Easter Bunny to wriggle his whiskers and hop to their front steps, bringing sweet candy. They won’t sleep much longer, but will wake and soon indulge, donning pastel colored smiles as we drive to church.

They believe so easily, these little ones. I suppose it’s easy to believe in stories about triumph and new life when you spend your days conquering an outsized world. Everything is new to them – the crocuses popping through the ground, the green buds as tiny as they once were, the broken eggshell laying underneath a tree. They saw these treasures last year, but again they are new. You see the world with fresh eyes each day when you are three.

And so it must seem easy to believe a story your mom tells you as she tucks you into bed. About a man who preached love, about a time when hope conquered fear and new life was given. This is their rose and robin egg blue colored world – one where each day finishes with the promise of tomorrow, each night ends with a fresh sunrise. The world is safe, the world is good. The world is new always.

It must get harder to believe as we grow older. We grow used to the rhythms of the earth, and worse – accustomed to the its pain. We are no longer surprised when death and grief color the headlines of the day. At a certain point, we attend more funerals than birthday parties and the promise of new life, or life at all, must begin to seem like a wistful dream of childhood.

This weekend, as flowers push through frozen ground, I remember a cold and windy day ten Aprils ago. A rumor from my friend, a phone call from my mom, a headline on the news. My sleepy Virginia home became the focus of the nation. Dozens of lives taken by gunfire, and a school that would never be the same.

I could have gone to school there, I thought. It could have been my French class a crazed gun man walked in to that morning.

But it wasn’t. And my life goes on, to watch little hands snack on jelly beans, and little feet chase after eggs.

I wish I could believe as easily as a child. I get mired in logic and logistics, until my head aches from questions. One day, the stories I read ring deep and true, the next I find more doubt than peace.

But I will never ceased to be in awe of a world that can hold so much pain and so much hope concurrently. My faith might be, at times, illogical and contradictory. But so are our very lives. It is one mystery of the world we understand less as we grow older.

The little ones might live in awe, for a time, as they unravel the innerworkings of the world. Gravity, clouds, butterflies await discovery. The newness will eventually wear off for them, and a story of new life might seem more like a child’s memory.

But, each spring, I never fail to still be surprised at the first bud I see. Hope is inherent in the birth of the world. Pain, we will always have with us, as well as an infinite capacity for bringing good into the world.

This, I believe.

Stuffed Monkey

Semmens Family (16 of 27)

My son fell asleep without his stuffed monkey a few weeks ago.

This is not a particularly important milestone of childhood – I’m certainly not going to write it down in his baby book. To be honest, a part of me felt slightly relieved. If we were ever to have another “left-the-monkey-at-the-grandparents-house” incident, we would not have to have it overnighted immediately.

This wasn’t the first time, either. Last week, he slept without her for a few nights.

I only noticed because she was under our kitchen table, where he drags her most every morning to sit beside him while he eats his breakfast, in the exact same spot for a couple of days in a row. I hadn’t realized that it had been a few nights without a frantic 8 p.m. search across the house for her, or a 3 a.m. wake up call to retrieve her from under his bed. She laid there on the floor, looking forlorn and forgotten even with her smile sewn permanently on.

Last night, I tucked my son’s blankets around him before I went to sleep. I pulled her out from under the covers and laid her in the crook of his arm. For years, I have done this every night to avoid that 3 a.m. wake up call, but last night I think I did it not to make sure she stays in the arms of a little boy, but to make sure it was a little boy still holding her.

I slept with my own stuffed bear for 18 years, before deciding it would be embarrassing to bring to college. The bear had little to do with comfort, and more to do with the fact it was the perfect shape to wrap my arm around as I slept at night. In college I laid on my side, trying to fall asleep while my arm slumped down awkwardly.

I still have that bear. It’s in a box of my son’s stuffed animals, and my boys toss it around and twirl the frayed cords that hang where its smile once was. It makes me happy to see it, but not as much as my own children’s favorite stuffed animals make them.

My mom used to make me promise to stay little always. She ultimately failed in that endeavor. In the moments when my kids are being irresistibly adorable, I too find the same request on the tip of my tongue.

But I don’t want them to stay little forever. I look forward to the day when we can ride our bikes together, when I can read them Pippi Longstocking, and when they can turn on the Saturday morning cartoons by themselves and I can sleep in for just a little longer.

In the middle of the night, though, when a stuffed monkey snuggles next to a face that looks more like a baby’s than a child’s, I find myself wishing for just one more night like this.