Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Measuring A Year...

I'm pulling out fabrics and thread, yarn and patterns. I'm tearing images for collage, and ordering new art materials. I'm starting to slow down a little from the routine that has guided my days for the last 9 months. I'm watering my garden in my night attire at 10pm just to show myself that, despite the trials and stresses of the past year, I am still the boss of me.

Summer has almost officially began.

I don't measure summer from the start of a set date. For me, as a teacher, summer - and all the promise it holds - is measured from the last day I work in May until the day I return in August. And I don't measure years by days on a calendar.

I measured this past year by Friday afternoon cups of coffee at an uptown cafe, and by the times I turned the pages in my son's school journal and watched how the August scrawls turned into legible words by December. I measured this past year by paint strokes on canvas, and by knits and purls and laughter with the group of friends that gathered in my home every other Saturday night. I measured it in moments spent coming to term with things I could not change. I measured it in books I read, in emails I sent, in letters I recieved. I measured it in hours spent waiting on to catch a plane, and in the memory of the moment I stepped off the plane to a destination I'd dreamed about for years. I measured it in days spent at the pool watching my son learn to swim, and then to dive, and then to dive deeper. I measured it in moments I forced myself to dive deeper, even when I didn't want to know what lay beneath the surface.

I measured this year in choices I had to make, difficult ones. I measured it in articles and blogs I wrote, in animals I rehabiliated and rescued, in the bursting forth of life from seedlings I planted. I measured it in hugs from students, in bills I managed to finally pay off, in goals I accomplished. I measured it in moments I realized that out of all the attributes a man can possess, courage is the one I value most, and it's okay for me not to accept someone who is less than bold. I measured it in moments I took risks, and in moments I realized that there are some people who live within fences that they'll never have the courage to leap.

I measured it in moments I held my son close, and realized that he is the best thing I have ever created. I measured it in moments I knew, without doubt, that raising a child is the noblest of goals, and, modern woman or not, I am a mother, and it is the job most worthy of all my effort and energy. There will be plenty of time for writing, for painting, for waxing poetic over coffee in cafes with friends...but there is only one period of time that my son will be a child, and it is now. I measured this year in skinned knees and fairy houses, in lego castles and in times my son got back up on the bike after falling....and in long evenings spent watching him ride after he finally learned how.

So I let this year draw to a close. Summer, with all of it's promise, is about to begin. For me, it's only 3 days away! I close with one of my favorite songs from RENT, a favorite musical.

Painting: 3o Minute Peonies, Amy L. Alley, completed in college for a class assignment, dug back out of the closet for a Feng Shui experiment! :-)))

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Butterfly Magic

Today is my son's bridging ceremony.

It's a Montessori celebration of transitioning from one year of learning to the next, similar to a kindergarten graduation.

The year has flown by. As a matter of fact, the past six and half years have flown by. I don't think about it often. I don't have time. As my child's sole parent, the days fly by at speed of light, or speed of childhood, I should say. I used to be able to have my son asleep by seven o'clock each evening. Now I'm lucky if we're able to slow down the day enough by seven so that he can be asleep by nine.

There is just so much to do, and so little time to do it. The magic of childhood is flying past just like the butterflies that seem to always be attracted to my son, landing on him while we're playing in the yard or while he's riding his bike. He used to be amazed by this occurence, now it's so normal he'll usually just call out, "Mama, there's another butterfly on me!"

I smile, because I want so much for this boy, and I carry on my shoulders every day the weight of being the only person who can provide it. But I did not provide the magic of having butterflies land on him, so much that he's used to it. That's something that came to him from somewhere else. Perhaps it's a magic all children possess, I don't know. My only experience is with this child.

I bought him a small turtle sculpture for his bridging gift. It's carved from wood, and it's an adult turtle with a smaller turtle on it's back. I didn't even think about it when I picked it out. My son was with me, as always, when I was in the shop, and I was trying to purchase it without him seeing. It was only later, when I was wrapping it up, that I noticed the symbolism of a larger turtle carrying a smaller one. I practiced attachment parenting, which means I carried my son for quite some time, in a large sling on my hip, and I loved every minute of it.

He's much to big for that now, of course. He's almost too big to even sit on my lap. I'll blink my eyes one day soon, and like the butterflies that love him, he'll simply fly away.

But I hope that, where ever he lands in life, it will be some wonderful place that my love helped carry him to.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Finding your niche....

The older I get, the more I realize that if something is mainstream, (i.e. what everyone else is doing) it is probably not going to be for me.

I don't know why. I just know that I spent a few early years trying to find out what was so fascinating about things other people seemed to love, like sitting in bars or pubs for hours on end sipping overpriced drinks and talking to other people who were just sitting there sipping overpriced drinks; watching cable shows that, while entertaining, were ultimately just a waste of mental energy; or wearing the same style of shoe as everyone else even if I didn't actually like them. I did all of these things as a young adult only to find out that I could never get into the collective 'group think' that seemed to make certain styles or activities so fascinating to others.

And that's okay, just as it's okay if other people enjoy those things. I no longer watch cable; set foot in bars or pubs if I can help it; or buy what's in fashion just because it's in fashion. To decide not to be in the collective mainstream, however, will set you apart from most everyone else around you. It can be a little bit lonely not to blend in with 90% of the population...but the good news is, the more you embrace your authentic self and engage in activities that you truly enjoy, the happier you will be. And what I have found to be true is that the more you live in a way that honors your own spirit, the more you will draw to you people who share your same interests and passions, and with whom you will blend just perfectly.

Living a truly authentic life, embracing who you are and NOT trying to be someone you aren't just to please a majority population that you don't even relate to is a huge catalyst for the unhappiness and depression that seems to plague society today. I've rarely met a person who is living fully that is unhappy. But I meet many people who are hiding a major part of themselves from the world, and for this reason, are secretly miserable. And I've had dissapointing experiences with people who could not take a leap of faith, believe in something that wasn't mainstream, or give chance to an opportunity that would change thier lives just because it was different than what thier friends were doing.

I can image these people years from now, still sitting in pubs or bars, sipping on a tall glass of regret, the most expensive drink there is. Because life rarely looks back, never waits, and blessings rejected usually turn into curses as the years pass by.

My last Boldness Initiative post was about swimming lessons, diving in, and buying a pink dress. http://boldnessinitiative.blogspot.com/ But a big part of the Boldness Initiative series was on finding the strength to be your authentic self, because in finding - and being - who you were meant to be, you will find your niche, your tribe, and ultimately, your happiness.

Painting: Mixed Blood by Amy L. Alley

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Cicada Blessings

Hanging off the edge of the pond, rain pelting my back, I was trying to scoop up a nice cup of algae water without falling into the algae water. My heels were sinking in the mud, and I was acutely aware of the spectacle I must have been, clad in a white top and silk skirt, braving the elements and a particulary cross pair of nesting geese.

It was a perfectly insane moment of life...however, my son is raising tadpoles, and they needed a fresh food supply. Even if it was raining.

It never ceases to amaze me the things we do for our children. It just amazes me how we do these things so often, and so willingly, without even thinking about the effort we're putting forth.

But what amazes me most is the joy that my child brings into my life. He was an unplanned blessing, a delightful surprise to someone who had spent years focused on work and career. I was driven to accomplish so many goals, but what I never expected was that motherhood would fulfill me in a way that nothing else ever has. Even on the most exhausting days, when I've got glue and glitter on my arms from helping with yet another collage, leaves in my hair from the afternoon's nature walk, and a cicada loose somewhere in the house, (because I relented and allowed him to bring it inside, where it naturally escaped), I know that there is nothing I could ever give my time and attention to that would be more worth it than the child sleeping down the hall.

There are fairy houses in our yard and a butterfly habitat full of cocoons in our den. The jar of tadpoles rests on a counter, and a row of stuffed animals who serve as 'gaurdians' line the back of our couch. Because there is a child in my house, there is magic. I want to put this magic in a jar and keep it on the counter as well.

Somewhere downstairs the lone cicada announces it's presence with a shrill chirp. My son has reveled in these insects, fearless of them from the start. We've researched them together and learned alot about thier lifespan and 13-year cycle. For weeks they've been abundant, but thier time is winding away. A photograph freezes a moment, but I can't freeze childhood. It's winding away too. The next time I see these cicadas, my son will be a grown man, almost twenty.

I leave the lone chirper downstairs.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Dreams, Boldness, and Patience (and also locking down and walking away)

Dreams are amazing things.

I don't mean what happens when we are sleeping, I mean the dreams that possess us and drive our lives. The dreams that give us extraordinary destinies and make our lives magical. The dreams that come on us when we least expect them, and are often far from what we thought it was that we wanted to do with our lives.

Sometimes, a dream seems impossible. But when you share the dream with someone else, it's a combined force of energy and desire that can make anything possible. It creates a sense of working together towards a common goal. Pursuit of the dream bonds you at heart and spirit. You are fiercly loyal, standing back to back to face the world together in a way that few people understand. And the universe opens up, giving you signs and signals that your dream is the right one, and that yes, it can come to be.

But what happens when the one you needed to complete the dream suddenly freezes up, locks down, then disappears? And nothing you do or say seems to convince them that the dream is, at heart, still worth it? And you begin to feel frozen and locked as well, because no new dream you can think of comes close to what that one was?

There is only one thing you can do: Wait. Even though in the end, waiting is so much harder than forgetting, you know that patience is the mother of all wisdom. You know something will come from this, it has to, because everything in life has a purpose, even this extreme test of your own love, loyalty, and patience.

I'm reminded of a beautiful poem by my friend, distinguished poet Cassie Premo Steele, Ph.D.

Cave Lesson

You ask me to join you in your cave, and I do.

I sit down on the damp floor and we watch the dark walls
dripping with yellow light from the candle.

You are like that light,
I tell you.

See how you affect everything around you.

You do not believe me.

It takes time.

I breathe out. I let go of my impatience,
even though I know candles do eventually burn out.

I must let you take your time.

I'm also reminded of another one of Cassie's poems, from her recent book of poetry entitled This is how honey runs.


Athena was not always bold.
We want to think that she was.
We want to remember the owl,
the victories, the wisdom.
Nothing comes like this.
The owl was an egg first.
That sound you're hearing.
The one your heart is making.
That is your egg cracking.

There is a lesson always, even when you are left standing alone, holding in your hands the broken pieces of a dream that you can not accomplish on your own. Patience reveals the lesson. Patience tests our ability to love, to be loyal, and to be bold enough to continue believing in something that suddenly seems as unattainable as a feather drifting on the wind.

Waiting is hard, yes. Forgetting is easier, always. Anyone can give up. Regardless of the defense one might mount to the contrary, it takes no strength of spirit, no sense of courage, loyalty or boldness to just give in to fear and take the easy way out. It takes nothing, absolutely nothing, to simply walk away.

But even when our hearts are cracking, we must remember that patience is the mother of all wisdom, and no one was ever bold without first being wise. And the wise know that in the end, it is only boldness that determines what dreams are possible.

Art: During The Time That He Was Away, by Amy L. Alley. To view more of my art, visit www.panpanstudios.com

Cave Lesson was first published SC POETRY INITIATIVES ON-LINE CHAPBOOK POETRY ANTHOLOGY 2008-9 http://www.sc.edu/poetry/chapbook_09web.shtml#steele

For more information on Cassie Premo Steele, or to order a copy of This is how honey runs, visit www.cassiepremosteele.com. Cassie will be reading poetry at the SC Book Festival in Columbia Sunday, May 15th, at the Garden Terrace Pavilion from 12:45-1:00 and copies of This is how honey runs will be available for sale and signing.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Luna Lessons

We were rushing into school on a typical day when I saw a spot of green on the asphalt.

Closer inspection revealed the spot of green to be an adult luna moth. She was lying directly in the path where schoolbuses would soon be passing by. I scooped her up into my hands gently. She didn't resist at all.

I have always loved Luna Moths. I even used an image of one on the cover of my book, The Absence of Anyone Else. But I'd never, ever, held one in my hands.

My son was enthralled. The Luna was still alive, but barely, and I explained to my son that it would most likely die. It had been bitterly cold the night before, which could have affected her, but also most large moths, like Lunas, have relatively short life spans and females will die soon after laying eggs.

The Luna was so weak. She barely moved when I transferred her from my hand to my son's in order that he could hold her. Her wings had suffered some damage, and the only sign of life she issued at all was an occasional wriggling of a leg or two. She was safe with us, however, and she seemed to know this.

My son is enrolled in a Montessori program, and his class is currently studying insects. We put the Luna into a container for butterflies and my son took it to his classroom, where it would be placed in an appropriate viewing area for the children. As an artist, however, I wanted to keep the Luna's remains as a visual reference for a painting. I've painted Luna moths before, but always from a photograph, never from a life study. I told my son's teacher I'd pick the moth up at the end of the day.

When I arrived, the teacher informed me our Luna had not moved at all during the day, but the children had enjoyed watching it and the class had talked about Luna moths and thier life cycles. So imagine my surprise when, back in my classroom, the moth suddenly seemed to undergo a complete transformation! I was packing up my supplies when my son cried, "Mama, look! She's flying!"

And she was. Or trying to, at least, as she was still confined by the container she was in. I was amazed. And excited. We brought her home right away, and carried her out into the nearby woods. I gently let her rest on my son's hand, hoping she'd take flight from there, knowing it would bring him great joy.

After a few minutes, however, it was clear this wasn't to be. Worried that perhaps I'd misinterpreted the suddenly burst of life the Luna had demonstated, I placed my hand on his. As if on cue, she walked slowly across my fingers and rested in the center of my palm. I held my hand up, high, and she slowly fanned her wings. Then she lifted up, taking flight. She dipped and dived a moment or two, hovering about us, and then dissappeared off beyond the trees. Her wings, though damaged, were strong. She flew high, and away. She would live another day, she would lay her eggs, all would be as it was meant to be.

There's a very old adage that states 'when the student is ready, the teacher will appear'. It just doesn't say what form or shape that teacher will take. When I found the Luna that morning, I was convinced she was dying. I never imagined she would fly from the palm of my hand later in the afternoon. But I know now that she flew from my hand, not my son's, because although I wanted him to have the experience, it was me that needed the lesson she offered.

It is easy, sometimes, to assume a thing is at an end, when the reality is, it simply needs time, as the Luna needed time, so that it can grow stronger, take flight, and become all it is meant to be. I didn't realize it before, but I needed to see this happen in order to believe that it could.

Life is an amazing series of adventures. We are always learning. A teacher appeared that morning in the form of a gentle winged insect, an insect I loved, one that I had painted many times and even used an image of on the cover of my book.

She had a lesson to teach me...and yes, I was ready.

Visit my Boldness Inititiave blog, a month long series of posts on how to live in a more intentional, dynamic way, at http://boldnessinitiative.blogspot.com/