Deciding to Keep Writing

It tuned out that it wasn’t just a crappy week when last I wrote, but that April was an entire month of just garbage.  I was quite glad to see it in my rear view mirror. 

Lots of stuff just went wrong.  None of those things was major, but all the little bits added up to me feeling frustrated and anxious and overwhelmed.  All those negative emotions combined and by the end of the month, I had to stop writing.  I just couldn’t process how I was feeling.

The nail in the coffin came when I wrote a guest post on Design Mom about the experience we’ve had with the school my kids attend here in England.  Many of the responses on that post were so negative and it took me by surprise — commenters virtually rolled their eyes at our enormous “privilege” and dismissed the content of the article because the school isn’t a typical British school.  I really struggled with that feedback; it felt personal and it hurt my feelings.  It made me not want to write even more.

Writing here for the last six months has also felt a bit disingenuous.  It’s hard to write about our happy family trip to Ireland, which was major and awesome and worth discussing, but to skip over anything more substantive, like what’s actually happening in the world.  I love sharing our family experiences, but in truth I’m walking around the house most days muttering about reinstating lifetime limits on health insurance and dismantling a free press and inhaling political news like it’s a bowl of brownies with ice cream.

Back in the day, before I was a wife and before I was a mother, I worked in politics.  And I LOVED it.  I did an internship on Capitol Hill when I was 21, which parlayed into an actual job on the Hill.  Then I worked in the district office of a different Congressman when I went back to Boston for my senior year of college.  Marriage and children and life steered me away from that path, even though it was something I really cared about and loved.  The last presidential campaign brought me screeching back into the fold of political news, and I remembered how much this used to matter to me.  It felt really weird not discussing things like that here, like I was deleting a huge part of my personality.

After weeks and weeks of going back and forth in my head about whether I should just throw in the towel, I realized that I simply don’t need to let other people’s negative reactions control my life.  I want to write.  I don’t need to care if other people like it.  The other truth is that I’ve been writing scared; I have been trying not to be too opinionated and I’ve avoided writing about things I feel strongly about in case they turn off a certain demographic of readers.  In trying to appeal to everyone, I lost my voice.  I wrote vanilla and my heart wasn’t in it.

If I’m going to invest my precious time here, I’m going to come away from it feeling happy with the result — to do anything else would be a waste.  I have strong opinions.  Get ready to hear them, cozied right up next to stories about our trips, my crazy children, our amazing school here in England, the best ways to get your kids to do their chores, and the all-important birthday letters (we have one coming up this week, in fact).  This blog is about the many layers of motherhood and that means ALL of it — the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

The Week From Hell

You know that saying that when it rains, it pours?  Well, we got caught in a monsoon last week.

None of the things that happened were, by themselves, THAT bad.  They were major-ish issues, but nothing you can’t deal with.  We just had them one after the other in a string of events that left me wondering what I’d done to piss karma off so badly.

It started right after Quinn’s birthday — we dropped Matt’s car off at the mechanic to be inspected so we could renew the registration.  It failed the inspection, and it was going to cost more to fix the car than the car is realistically worth.  So we sold it for parts and we’re down to one car while we look for a replacement.  And we’re only in England for another 15 months, so we’re trying to decide what to do.  Plus, my parents are here, so we’re limited on where we can go, because we can’t REALLY fit eight people in my car. And we have to leave early for school every day because I have to drop Matt at work on the way to drop the kids at school, so mornings have been a bit more chaotic than usual while we adjust to the new schedule (which is hopefully temporary).

We’ve had construction going on in our rental house for two months now; there was a leak from the master bathroom into our kitchen that turned out to be a pretty major problem.  When the bathroom was initially installed years before we lived here, the tiles weren’t set quite right and water was able to pool in places in the shower.  Eventually that broke down the waterproof layer between the tiles and the sub-floor. So the whole bathroom had to gutted, the sub-floor replaced, and all new tiles put in.  It’s still a work in progress and we’ve had construction in our master bathroom for over eight weeks now and all of us are using one shower.  Annoying, but not THE worst. 

Until…the ceiling in the kitchen under the HALLWAY bath started dripping last week.  We called the plumber and he made an emergency visit and had to re-seal the tiles in a few places where grout had cracked.  Nothing major again, but a full day with NO shower.  And eight people in the house.  Thank goodness my parents are good sports.

Then…we discovered that we had bed bugs in our master bedroom.  This one WAS a bad one, even alone.  It was not a major problem, it was only in my bedroom, but UGH.  So, so gross.  Most likely it is because of all the traveling we’ve done — rental homes and hotels are common places to pick that up.  We called in a pest control person to treat the room, and just to be safe, we decided to treat ALL the bedrooms.  In order to do that, though, we had to take ALL the clothing for ALL the people out of the closets and dressers and launder them.  ALL.  We have a lot of people, and each of us has a lot of clothes.  Plus all the towels and sheets and blankets.  Thankfully there is a huge laundromat nearby, so we were able to get ALL of it done in a single exhausting day.  But now we have ALL the clothes for ALL the people sorted, folded, and stacked in my dining room while we wait to be sure that the treatment worked and the problem is resolved and we can safely move it all back upstairs.  My dining room is PACKED, we’re eating dinner standing at the kitchen counter, and I can. not. wait to get everything put away where it all belongs.

And then, while we were in the process of figuring out that nightmare, we got a call from our accountant that we owe taxes this year.  For the first time EVER actually.  It’s not a major bill, but it was like a kick in the gut.  And just another crap item to add to the list of our crap items last week.

And THEN, my car had a problem — nothing major, but an annoying slow leak in a rear tire that resulted in a surprise flat.  It will be easy enough to fix but seems like a big deal since that is currently our ONLY car.

None of these issues is the end of the world.  We’ll deal with all of them and move on.  Worse things have happened and we’re all gonna live.  But MAN, the last ten days have sucked.

Seven

Seven years ago today, this baby made his way into my arms and completed our family.  He has been, every day of his life, full of joy and happiness and candor and love.  He is a melter of hearts, a holder of hands, a snuggler extraordinaire with an openness and friendliness the likes of which I have never witnessed.  He is the worst at being mean or mad or angry.  It’s simply not in his nature. 

For seven years, he’s made all of us kinder people.  Because it’s really, really hard to be nasty or angry or grumpy when you’ve got this guy around. 

I’m so grateful for you, Quinn.

When I first sat down to write this letter, I initially thought that nothing had really changed from last year when I wrote about how happy and loving and kind you are.  But then I realized that is ridiculous — we’ve adventured across Europe this past year!  We spent your 6th birthday in Italy, then visited Paris, Stuttgart, Chamonix, and Ireland.  And we took a two-week trip back to America last summer.  You are officially a pro-traveler, needing no assistance whatsoever in airports, train stations, or planes.  You know the drill, you carry your own bags, you’re basically like traveling with another adult.  You love the adventures and SO MUCH has changed.  The thing that hasn’t changed is your response to all of it.  No matter what we do or where we go, you love everything.  You’re happy to be there and see new things and learn new words and try new foods and meet new people.

You are confident in your joy, too, and you think nothing of talking to friends and strangers alike.  It never occurs to you to be embarrassed by your own enthusiasm or to hold back your feelings.  It is so fun to see you doing the things you love because you love them with your whole heart and voice and body.  Whatever it is you’re doing, you are DOING it.  With everything you’ve got.  Like playing the part of the fire in your school play about the Great Fire of London.  You were IN it.  It was awesome.

Even as you’ve grown up in so many other ways, your persistent happiness and enthusiasm for everything has not wavered even a little bit.  I hope so much that holds fast for, basically, ever.  Your genuine belief that life is good makes life good, not just for you but for everyone around you.  You make your dad and I and your brothers and your sister happy.  While writing this letter, I asked your siblings what their favorite thing about you is, and that’s what Bridget said right away — Quinn spreads happiness wherever he goes.  Let me right now just thank you for that.  Most of us need it more than we realize, and you always bring the happy.   

You love animals even more than you love people.  And you love people A LOT.  But man, put you near a dog or a cat or a horse or…a lamb…and you light right up.  It’s hard to say what’s cuter — the animal you love or your glee over having an animal around to love on.

I have to also address the elephant in the room, though, and say you also bring some toxic fumes wherever you go.  This is proof that I’ve been parenting boys for a while now, because I’m about to talk about farts, but MAN, you stink.   (This was the first thing Owen said when I asked him about you, but don’t worry, I made him think of a nice thing too!)  In a house with plenty of sources of  weird smelliness, you have earned a well-deserved reputation for delivering room-clearing whizzpoppers.  And you think that is hysterical.  I think we need to examine your diet.  Cause if you’re this stinky now, I shudder to think about your teenage years.

This past year you’ve come along at school remarkably well.  Your handwriting is better than both your brothers’.  You love math and you read beautifully.  And your teacher said you’re always helpful, volunteering to assist her in any way you can.  That makes me prouder of you than any other part of your school report; I love that you’re a helper.  In fact, that is the exact thing that Gabe immediately said he loves most about you: Quinn is always the first one to help if you need it.  That is a pretty amazing thing to be known for. 

This year you have also physically grown up so much.  You’re tall and skinny, no more baby chubbiness hanging on to let me pretend you’re still little.  Even when I try to pretend you still need me to help you out, you prove me wrong.  Like when we ran a 5K last fall and I told your dad I’d hang back and run with you since you’d be slow.  And then I spent 3.2 miles trying to keep up and finally realizing I would not be able to, and then watching from 200 yards back as you sprinted across the finish line having completed the 5K in under 30 minutes. 

Or when we went skiing in January and after two days of lessons, I watched as you whizzed past me on your way down the mountain, turns and stops under control and pure joy on your face.

Or when we go to the barn for riding and you muck out stalls, snuggle and hug and kiss these huge animals without a fear in your body, then you climb up joyfully and with full confidence and canter away across the school. 

This was the thing Owen said about you — that even though you’re the youngest and the smallest person in our family, you never let that hold you back from doing whatever it is we’re all doing.  Even when something is hard, you keep trying and you don’t give up.  Coming from your brother Owen, the actual KING of persistence and determination, that is high praise indeed.

As for your Dad and I, well there is no way we could narrow down what we love about you to one single thing.  We love that you announce “Group Hug” at least once every day and make us all get in it, and that no one in this house would dare refuse.  We love that you occasionally ask everyone at the dinner table to “talk about how they’re feeling” and then everyone does and doesn’t complain about it.

We love that you bring a smile to every situation.  We love that you are full of love.  We love that you made our family complete.  We just love you, top to bottom and every bit in between. 

Happy 7th birthday!  Never, ever change, my baby boy.  

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New Veg

photo via Abel and Cole

We get two farm delivery boxes every week here, one from Abel & Cole and one from Riverford Farms.  I almost never go to the grocery store anymore, and we get fresh organic food on our doorstep every week.  I love it.

We’ve tried several new vegetables and fruits because they’ve come in our deliveries.  Some we’ve not loved, but others have become new favorites.

This week we got a bunch of purple sprouting broccoli in our delivery, which I’d never even heard of before moving here.  I was totally unsure how to cook it.  I checked my Riverford Cookbook though, and gave it a go.

I blanched it first, then sauteed it in a wok with garlic, olive oil, lemon juice & zest, and salt.  It’s al dente — still a little crunch but easy to bite.

Guys, Matt and I were arguing over who got the last helping.  The kids INHALED it.  It was SO good.

There’s a super short window when this veg is available, but it is going on my list as a new favorite.

*****

If you’re interested in trying out one of these farm delivery services, shoot me an email and I can refer you as a friend, then we both get money back on a fruit or veg box delivery!

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