Surrendering to Spring

Shortly after a late winter storm blanketed our region with snow, someone tipped off Mother Nature about the arrival of spring.

In a matter of days our backyard went from a smooth expanse of crystalline white, to big messy swaths of slush, to sopping pools of mud and flattened grass. The thick slabs of ice I thought would never disappear drained back into the earth.

icy leaves

The night before the seasonal shift, after an entire winter virus-free, my daughter succumbed to the stomach bug. Within days the virus spread throughout our family, picking us off one by one.

While my son slept feverishly, I stayed in his room, fighting off my own growing nausea.  In the morning when I told my husband about how I literally willed myself not to throw up, a feat he unfortunately did not share, my daughter pointed out my hypocrisy.

“Mom, you always tell me it’s better to let it out.”

It’s true. I do say this. In fact, I just doled out this advice the day before when she was sick. She’s like me. We both fight it.

“You’re right, honey, but I needed to be okay to take care of your brother.”

But this wasn’t entirely true. I also needed to be okay because I hate getting sick. I’m terrified of surrendering to the will of my body, even if it knows best.

There was a moment in the night, at the peak of nausea, when I had to look away from my son’s lava lamp because the rising yellow bubbles made my stomach roil. I closed my eyes, breathing slowly, hyper aware of every internal rumbling, when a sentence popped into my mind.

We’re all just our bodies.

I felt a sudden nostalgia for all the nights I simply went to bed, without pain, without worry of being sick. Like many people, I take my health for granted until something goes wrong. We’ve all had this kind of realization. When we’re sick, or watching over a sick loved one, when we’re battling an illness, or facing a new diagnosis, we suddenly understand what’s at stake.

Without our bodies, we don’t exist. I suppose this is up for debate, but for me, that’s how it feels.

During my sick vigil with my son, his body was restless, and he moaned a little. I put an arm around him and my palm ended up against his chest. I could feel his heart beating quickly, every surge, every whoosh, almost as if there was no barrier between my hand and his most important organ. Under my hand was the sheer preciousness, and precariousness, of his life.

little guy

When my mother died, one of the strangest, and most painful things to come to term with was the fact that I no longer had access to her body. I couldn’t hug or sit beside her. One day her body was there, lying on a bed, struggling to breathe, and the next, gone. I didn’t just miss my mom. I missed her body. I had taken it for granted.

It’s been almost a full week since my daughter came home from a birthday party feeling nauseous and our family viral saga began. In that time, the snow has melted. While we’ve been recovering, winter has surrendered to spring. Uncurling its cold claw, making room for warmth, for new life.

The backyard is muddy, the trees remain bare, but there is new green grass sprouting, and one of the daffodil buds by our mailbox has a distinct yellow casing.

daffodil bud

I point it out to my son, warning him not to open it. He touches it gently with his finger as we marvel at what’s wrapped tightly inside.

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Spring of Life

flowering tree

Spring is here. The season I’ve been anticipating, the season closest to my heart, but one I’ve also been quietly dreading. Spring is like a mandatory party. Nobody gets out of spring.

Once the sun shines and flowers burst into bloom, it begins. Everyone emerges from their homes and holes, some of us sidling out more slowly than others. The time for hiding is over. Spring is about exposure, bare legs sticking out of shorts like pale stalks. Spring is for letting kids trash their sneakers in the mud when they can’t find their boots. Spring is for cracking open the chrysalis, sliding out of the cocoon, and letting the sun warm your skin.

I’ve always loved spring for its promise, its electricity. How everything is rife with possibilities. How young the world looks when leaves are pale green flowers sprouting from branches, and the grass is vibrant and wet.

buddy

But this year, I feel an unease that I don’t usually associate with spring, one that has been coming on the last few years.

I’m no longer in the spring of my life. Forty is barreling down fast and I’m trying to keep my footing in a place I believe is called… middle age.

Whoa.

How did this happen? Is this actually happening? Yes, I know these questions are cliche, and all the rage right now, it seems. I can’t get away from articles about turning forty and mid-life, like this one that made me nod my head like an out of control marionette doll. A few months ago, under the heavy cloak of winter, these articles weren’t there…or maybe they were and I just wasn’t paying attention.

But despite this twinge, spring is unfurling and I can’t help but get caught up in the energy of it, the beauty and exuberance. My nearly seven-year-old daughter is thrilled to wear shorts and t-shirts, even while I’m still wrapped up in a sweater.

Do you need a fleece, I ask as she teeters on the edge of the sliding glass door. She looks at me like I’m crazy and dashes away.

Her young strong legs are pale as the clouds and spotted with blue bruises. She dangles upside down from the bar on our jungle gym while my husband and I cringe with worry. But she is confident. This is a new skill and she is eager to practice.

My three year old son’s light up Thomas sneakers almost graze the dirt beneath his baby swing. He is itching for a “big kid” swing like his sister’s. It’s time. He’s no longer a baby.

My children are in the spring of their lives. The cusp, the beginning.

kids

But maybe, in a way, I am too. Maybe life isn’t doled out in precise segments. Maybe it’s more malleable than that.

Yes, I’m about to be forty, and there is PLENTY of baggage that goes along with it, from feeling “old” and out of touch when it comes to pretty much everything pop culture, to being horrified at finding a gray eyebrow (!) hair and knowing it won’t be the last.

But there is also a springtime brewing in my soul, in my mind. My kids are no longer babies, and I’m no longer so young, but, because of this bitter and sweet knowledge, I’m holding fast to what I have, and running toward what I want.

I’m not done, far from it. I have so much I want to accomplish, so much I want to write and do and say and shout. In one day I’ll be on stage reading aloud an essay about the labor of death and life at the Lehigh Valley Listen To Your Mother show. I’m not a performer, I’m a writer, and yet I’m stretching my wings, still sticky from the chrysalis.

I’m not done bursting into bloom. I’m not ready to fade.

My mother hit her artistic stride at the age of forty and then it was ripped out of her hands, literally. When we kids were at school she bloomed in her mid to late thirties, spending hours at the local pottery studio, sculpting beautiful and haunting creations.

masks

mask and stones

Then, at her peak, she was cut down by a disease. Multiple sclerosis numbed her hands and her legs in rapid succession, though it never got her heart, not until the very end.

So, it doesn’t surprise me that in the midst of all this burgeoning hope and excitement, there is a darkness encroaching. A cautious hand pressed upon my shoulder. It says, be careful, it could happen to you, too.

It could, of course. Maybe not that illness specifically, but something else. Some other horrible stroke of misfortune or tragedy. But I can’t live that way, under a shadow.

I have to live as if there is only the wide expanse of blue sky above me, the warmth of the spring sun, as I chase my children, and my dreams.

 

Winter: A Love Story

A strange thing happened.

I realized, just recently, that I like winter.

I might even love it.

winter field

This is a crazy revelation for me because for most of my life I’ve been a staunch spring and summer supporter. I have a summer birthday and my daughter and husband have spring ones, and there is nothing I love more than seeing the first pink flowers bloom on bare winter trees.

I was so happy that my first child was due at the end of April. Spring felt like the perfect time to give birth. Just as everything was awakening and blooming, there was my baby, in my arms, her sweet bow lips as rosy as those blossoms.

By the time my second child was born in early November, I had come to appreciate fall, a season I had formerly dismissed as simply a precursor to winter. My mother had always loved autumn and as a child this baffled me. Perhaps it was because I associated fall with the start of school and the end of summer’s freedom. I only began to enjoy it when I became a mother myself.

Maybe my new appreciation for winter is a natural shift.

In my old mindset, winter was the death of everything beautiful. Trees were bare, plants looked skeletal, and the cold was unbearable. I still don’t like the cold. That fact will probably never change. But what I realize now is that you can still love the winter.

This first dawned on me a few months ago when I watched the first snowfall of the season. I sat in my office as the flakes fell thick and wet, quickly covering the grass and frosting the tree branches. My heart thawed as I witnessed this transformation.

There is something to be said about winter’s stark beauty.

Photo Credit: DIDS' via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: DIDS’ via Compfight cc

The blacks and whites of tree branches and snow, the crystalline sparkling of ice, the glistening of icicles. One evening my daughter called me over to look outside. I ran to the window. Every surface of the backyard was sparkling as though dusted with glitter.

Maybe it’s the recent move from city to country that has opened my eyes. It was hard to appreciate winter in Brooklyn. The beauty of snow is quickly diminished by snowplows, boot tracks, and well, dogs.

There’s also the whole stroller problem. Have you ever tried to push a stroller through thick slushy snow, or slick patches of ice? Not fun. At all. Winter with small children in a city can be isolating and lonesome. You spend many hours holed up in small living quarters, and when you do venture out, it can be treacherous. I shouldn’t complain so much, we had a car, and that helped quite a bit, but I still struggled to get through the winter months. I ached for spring, counting the days until the first flowers pushed through the cold ground.

But here, in the country, surrounded by farmland, the snow is a thing of beauty. I no longer have to push my child in a stroller while the cold wind bites into my face. I can drive. The other day when I drove home after dropping my children off at school, I was struck by the loveliness of sleet.

Yes, sleet! It was not rain, not snow, but this strange amalgamation of the two. It looked like snow but melted the moment it hit the windshield. Another day I drove along the same road and watched snow blow in gusts across the street. It looked like sand or dust, flying over the fields. It was a little like magic.

In winter, things only appear dead. Beneath the snow packed ground there is life. There is energy in the branches of the apple tree, in the trunk, and in the roots. We just can’t see it. That energy, that life, is what will bear fruit in the spring. This season is about waiting. It’s about trusting. That can be hard to do.

As I look around the snowy landscapes on my many drives to and from school, to the museum, to play dates, to the café where I write some mornings, I realize that in some ways, this season represents my creative life after I had children. My writer self went into hibernation. But it was not dead, though I worried at times it might be.

I understand now that it was there all along, like the lifeblood of the trees in the orchard, waiting for the right moment to bloom again.

Photo Credit: roddh via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: roddh via Compfight cc

Now, finally, I can appreciate winter. The way it looks, the purpose of it. It makes so much sense for me, personally. I’m a homebody, a Cancer crab (in the astrological sense). I like hunkering down. I like warming up by the fire and drinking hot chocolate with my children, their red cheeks still cold from playing in the snow.

night snow

I like the forced solitude of the season, the inwardness of it.

I used to be the first to jump in with complaints about winter, and some days I still do, out of habit, but I understand now that while I may have claimed spring and summer as my own for most of my life, my personality has always leaned toward the other side.

What seasons do you feel most comfortable in, and why? Have your opinions of them changed over the course of your life?

I shared this post on Mum Turned Mom’s The Prompt, whose word this week is Winter. Click here to see what other writers have to say…

the prompt