Wrapped in the Arms of a Maple Tree

When I was in grade school, troubled by all the normal things that could trouble a young child’s mind—popularity, boys, fighting with my brother and sister—I found peace and solace by sitting in the little maple tree in our front yard. It could barely support my developing athletic build, but I would nonetheless climb the small limbs, one after the other, and sit and play sometimes for hours.

My tree seemed to grow with me in mind. Its skinny branches created a stairstep directly to my favorite, cozy perch. It created a haven for me. Its big maple leaves hid me from everything—neighbors and cars drove by never noticing me and similarly, all my worries were left outside the maple tree branches. I would climb and create a make-believe house, which included a living room (where I normally sat) and a make believe adjoining kitchen. In my young mind I suppose it was a small studio apartment with a loft. It was a home away from home, just for me.

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My Maple Tree (pictured left)

What felt like normal adolescent play provided something more, something magical. Sitting in the branches of the small tree, playing until the sun was ready to set over the surrounding hills, always brought peace of mind, love and clarity to my heart. I found myself gravitate towards the tree whenever I needed to find peace. I knew I would leave my tree feeling better. It’s the first time I remember falling in love with nature and becoming keenly aware of what could be learned when you allow yourself to appreciate what’s around you and lean into all that nature provides. I was just a young child but I quickly respected and understood nature’s rejuvenating and enlightening power.

Back then, like most young children, I thought I would have life all figured out as an adult and I could not wait to grow up. I thought I would not have so many worries and it would be easier. Life would be fair and if I worked hard enough, was a good person, took care of myself, and had faith, there wouldn’t be anything that I couldn’t overcome or that could stop me. I wouldn’t need a maple tree to help feel centered. I trusted that adults had it better because, well, you know, they were the adults, the rule makers, the decision makers, and the experts. After all, I never saw any adults climbing trees trying to escape their troubles, which was further proof, in my young mind, that adults had it all together. They moved through the day with a certainty that I admired. I was age-appropriately naive.

Now 46 years later, I would love to climb my maple tree and enjoy that same peace of mind. “Adulting” and peace are antonyms and when you throw children into that mix you add a certain amount of dizziness and confusion. The volume of “ish” that life throws you as an adult is comical and there isn’t anything anyone can ever do or say to prepare for it. It’s as if, as you age, life just piles on–the good stuff and the not so good stuff–but either way, it’s perpetually throwing something at you. The volume of it all, especially in aggregate, can be exhausting. Regardless, as an adult, you are expected to be okay, minimally “fine.”

That’s why I love the notion of finding a maple tree to climb and just sitting, hiding, until I find that same sort of youthful peace I once felt. Imagine me doing that today. I go missing for 10 minutes, my youngest who just likes to know where I am at all times is incessantly calling my name, and I’m outside stuck in some unflattering position trying to climb a tree I have no business trying to climb. So much for finding peace–can someone call the fire department to get me down?

So today, I have to find the type of peace I used to feel while sitting in my tree in other ways. It looks more like short stints of quiet, mommy time in the car between drop offs, five minutes alone in the bathroom, walking the dog, zoning out while sitting in a grocery store parking lot before pulling out or through the white noise of the nail salon. It’s found in the small moments of being aware, present, and accepting of whatever life has thrown my way no matter how good or difficult. It’s found in reminding myself, however possible, just how small and temporary we all are and just how small and temporary our problems are in the grand scheme of things. It’s remembering that despite that smallness and the temporary state of problems and life, everything is happening as it should.

Life is messy and imperfect and not particularly easy — that’s sort of the point. It’s a process, a test each day, an unexpected gift or challenge, a blessing and/or unfathomable pain. It’s a matrix of guilt, shame, love, elation, willpower, discipline, doubt, confusion, confidence, and more, and those things are often experienced all at the same time. It’s controlled chaos with peaks and valleys of calm thrown in there and it is beautiful, every moment of it, despite the possible exhaustion. It’s easy to get worn down by the volume of life, our childhood notions, adult expectations, varying emotions, societal pressures, the wants, needs and/or even the opinions of others. But, to keep going, to get through, I think it’s key to find a tree of sorts, and climb.

I pray my little girl (and her brother) find their tree. I hope it allows them to continually  find their center, their code, and when they do, each time they do, I hope they will stay true to it no matter what. The reward is feeling as if you are wrapped in the arms of a maple tree and trust me, there’s nothing quite like that.

Don’t Let the Fear of Having Another Baby Stop You!

Yesterday my baby turned 11 weeks old. He’s doing great. He’s already sleeping through the night, he’s got a healthy appetite, he loves to play, he handles visits to the doctor and shots like a champ, he doesn’t really cry in general, and although he is teething, he finds a way to keep himself together. Oh, and he’s even almost potty trained! I know, right? A. Dream. Come. True.

Even as he continues to grow, I know he’s going to be an amazing little boy. I know, no matter what, he won’t talk back, stomp up the stairs because I’m “the meanest mommy ever,” look at his food crazy and proclaim that he’s not eating it, start a fight with his siblings, deny me kisses and hugs, drag his feet to get out of the door, get grossed out when he sees mommy and daddy kiss, turn up his nose at clothes I may buy him, make me beg him to drink water, and he won’t be interested in spending as much time as possible on a screen. Most important, I know he will never, ever, ever, ever leave his mama.

This little boy truly has my heart. Dash is an amazing mini cockapoo with a beautiful tricolor coat. He’s spunky without being too crazy, smart as a whip (the trainer’s words, not mine), and literally all he wants to do is sleep, eat, use the potty, and play. If I give him belly rubs and cuddles, he’s as happy as can be. He is pure joy wrapped up in a small bundle of fur.

Don’t Stand in Front of the Microwave

This morning, like many, I woke thinking about the many nuggets of wisdom I still need to share with my kids. I find that if I’m not consciously thinking about this, I can look up and a whole year will have passed before I remember something I should have taught them a long time ago. It’s usually the little, sometimes silly, things like how to put on socks properly so that the grey area around the toe is in front, or how to floss properly (teeth, not the dance). But sometimes, it’s the bigger stuff like what to do if a stranger knows their names or why they should be cautious of some police.

The “heavy” stuff makes me procrastinate–I want to delay sharing anything that could lead to bursting their bubble of nonstop joy. When I first started teaching my youngest our phone number, for example, I created a song out of it to make it easier to remember (I do know how to do some things right). It led to more questions. “Mommy, why do I need to know your phone number when you’re always with me and when you’re not, I’m with an adult you trust?” he asked. Then, he continued, “Will I ever be separated from you?” The fun song shifted to five-year old, eyebrow-frowning concern. He continued, “Is someone going to take me away from you?” Bam! Joy bubble bursts. A little bit of his innocence melts away. My heart saddens as I’m literally watching my baby mature.

The Private School Diversity Struggle

**Note: I’m defining diversity in terms of ethnic diversity unless otherwise stated.**

I am the product of a predominately white private school in Atlanta, The Westminster Schools. I was one of two Black girls, maybe three for a few years, in our grade from sixth until graduation.

In middle school, I remember sitting in a religious studies class when the teacher referenced the South side of town, the Black side of town, as a horrible area full of violence. I lived on the South side and I knew well-educated people living in nice neighborhoods. They were teachers, doctors, business owners, and lawyers and had homes with tennis courts and swimming pools; even the mayor lived down the street. Despite this, I felt shame and singled out as I was the only one that lived in that part of town in the class.

I remember stressing about a big, annual, Sadie Hawkins school dance that was always held at the Whites-only private member club. It meant having to ask a (White) boy to the dance and going to a historically racist facility where the only faces that looked like mine would be in service positions, probably looking at me like I was crazy. I was conflicted, trying to fit in and wanting to go to the dance, but also hating that it was even being held at this club in the first place. I was alone in having that concern.

I recall a lot from those days but unfortunately, I don’t often think about a favorite teacher or experience. I remember counting down the days until graduation. I remember the many instances of feeling bad or angry because I was in the minority and most of my peers were clueless about what that meant and how it impacted me each day.

Yet, now as a parent, my kids attend a private school where they are often one of two or three in a grade. I know, I know. What am I thinking? I evaluate this decision often but for a host of reasons that I’ll save for another post, I am back in a private school community repeating experiences from over 25 years ago.

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It’s no wonder that not much has changed, really. The very foundation of private school as an institution is rooted in racism. These institutions were created after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling because White families did not want to send their children to school with minorities. That’s a heavy historical fact that most families in private school don’t know but it is the subtext to what Black students in private school experience each day.

How to Prepare Kids: When Life Happens

(Written several weeks ago)

Life happens folks. And it’s happening bigtime for me these days. And by happening, I don’t mean in a good, fun way. I mean the tough stuff. The stuff that challenges everything you know to be true. The stuff that tests your faith and piles up conflicting emotions like a Jenga tower waiting to tumble. The stuff you can’t do much about and yet you have to deal with each day. The things that happen to a lot of us, at some point. Thoroughly confused? I thought so. My cryptic and vague wording is by choice–I believe in sharing but I also believe in not oversharing and being more specific doesn’t lend to making my point. For the record, I am fine. I’m basically just trying to say, life just got more challenging and that’s what happens sometimes. Life can be hard and then sometimes it gets even harder.

As an adult, I’ve been through enough to know how to plow through, keep the faith, trust the universe, learn from it all, and focus on what I can control. But it’s made me wonder–how can I prepare my children to cope? Having key coping skills is an obvious necessity in life but we very rarely talk about it in specific terms with children. Heck, it’s not always clear even for adults. Learning to cope is part of the journey of life and it often evolves right alongside it. That said, this has to be one of the most important parenting responsibilities aside from keeping them alive and healthy.  The ability to cope not only has significant mental health implications but also, it’s what can make or break a happy and productive life because, as we all know, life happens. What can I arm my kids with now? How do I prepare my children for the inevitable times when life happens?

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As parents, we shield our children from pain and failure but often these things are the best ways children learn to successfully cope. But to what degree do we let our child fail or experience pain? How do we know when they’ve really learned? Every kid is different so figuring this out varies by family. But one thing parents can do immediately is to talk with their children about feelings from an early age. Help children learn the right words for what they are experiencing and then intentionally talk about how best to cope, what that can look like, what has worked and what has not. Helping our children become emotionally aware and learning to vocalize feelings is a great first step.

Your Mama Is An Outsider

It finally hit me. I am an outsider. I’ve felt different more times than I care to count but until recently I’ve not given it much thought or embraced the notion of being an outsider.

When I was born, my older twin siblings didn’t want much to do with me as they had each other. I tried desperately to make them play with me but mostly, I was left to play by myself.

What I Hide on Social Media

I have a fabulous life. No really, I do. I have two amazing children, a loving husband and family, good friends, and many interests. I get to travel to amazing places, meet amazing people, and do amazing things. Mostly, I get to raise my children and revel in the routine of going outside to play with our neighbors, shuttle from activity to activity, volunteer at school, manage our home and cook dinner. I get to do these things and so much more. It is nonstop work but it is a blessing. If you’re not convinced of just how blessed I am, check my social media feed. It’s a reflection of my life and proof positive that everything is wonderful. Or is it?

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This is me….way too much.

A few weeks ago I posted a short video of my son enjoying some grape jam at breakfast, a picture of my friend’s “Sexy Lips” necklace and a reference to one of my favorite poems, Desiderata, in honor of national poetry month. In weeks past I’ve posted pictures of date nights, spring break, sporting events and more. See? Wonderful, right?