On embracing change.

In this season of traditions it can be hard to think about change.  In a focused way, I  mean, a way that’s internal and wholehearted as opposed to, er, decorative.  But it’s as good a time as any to process those deeper questions about change.

Brian Andreas of the Story People has some good advice for successful celebration of the holidays: “1. Get together with the family.  2. Relive old times.  3. Get out before it blows.”  I LOVE this, not least because something usually does blow, and indeed we are wise to escape in advance.  Or, of course, we can work on change.  Prolonged work toward complex, deep, systemic change.  Easier, often, to eat and run.  (And yes, this is where I brag about the fabulous eight days my family just spent with my brother’s family…an unprecedented and unprecedentedly good time together.  I chalk it up to change of the scariest, hardest, and most rewarding kind.  We rock.)

In related news, I was just asked to view Jason Clarke’s TEDxPerth talk “Embracing Change,” and it’s well worth it.  Not only is he nail-on-the-head right about reasons why we don’t change and obstacles we throw up, but his models for approaching change are eminently useful.  He’s got a four-part chart, for instance, that you use in a fictional home renovation to map what you’d keep, what you’d chuck, what you’d change, what you’d add.  Nice, right?  Imagine applying this to ourselves, our souls, our lives.  In fact, this may be the new New Year’s tradition in our household, maybe in crayon on the fridge.  Keep the love!  Chuck the clutter!  Change the post-nap entertainment from tv to reading!  Add more music!

Change is hard.  It FEELS hard.  It makes us lonely and uncomfortable, both of which suggest that we’ve done something wrong.  But sometimes that itchy feeling gives way to something better; sometimes that fear of screwing it all up needs to take a back seat to the hope that even if it’s not perfect, what comes next will be better than what is.  Those of us who overthink things need extra help in remembering that, and extra cups of cocoa, perhaps, to soothe the anxiety that is a totally reasonable part of moving on.

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On recovery.

It’s been a long week for all of us, including flu shots and incipient molars as well as a host of other, more significant challenges.  Friday comes and we’re pretty much beat.  More than beat, we’re beaten down, a little, by circumstances and the persistent tiredness of not being able to see what comes next that might fix the things that need it.

So what else is there to do, really, but head out into the evening garden for potatoes?  The fingerlings have gone untouched so far, since they were planted late and we harvested the yellow potatoes earlier and are still working through them.  But I wanted fingerlings, specifically, to go with the local lamb burgers and sauteed kale I was planning, and the boys surely needed some kind of existential shift.  We all did.  So out we went, with pitchfork and hod, and I dug and sifted while the boys pulled the bright beads from the soil.  Some were serious potatoes, but most were the kind of thumb-sized beauties that gave rise to their name.  Every time one came to light, Ezra would shout with joy, and he had a hard time taking turns with his brother (assisted, no doubt, by said brother’s stubby one-year-old arms).  Two-thirds of the crop is still in the ground, since the bugs found us shortly after we hit our stride, and we had enough for dinner, anyway.

While we were out there, we brought in a massive bunch of kale, a smaller assortment of late zinnias, marigolds, and bachelor’s buttons, as well as a few carrots whose impressive tops made us pull them just out of curiosity.  (Our fridge is full of carrots already.)  And of course, the raspberries have been loving this frost-free October, putting forth nearly as much ripe fruit as they did all summer, and better.  It was an evening to remember.

Every time we bring in flowers, Ezra helps arrange them in a vase, and then he says, in a tight, excited voice: “We have to have a celebration!  To celebrate these flowers!”  And indeed we do.  Three-year-old vision is sometimes so impeccably clear.

Best of all was Ezra’s request, at dinner, that we give thanks (which we do sometimes, but not often enough).  We held hands, and I spoke my gratitude for these sweet men, for this good food and the land on which it grew.  A few bites later, Ezra wanted more: Papa gave thanks for our family, and for all the love, and for the many people who grew the food we eat.  And then, Ezra himself spoke a bit later:

“Thank you for the good Ezra-Mama-Chi day and for whole-family-day tomorrow.

Thank you for the fruit and flowers that grow all around us.

And for the vegetables that grow all around us.”

As I write, my heart spilling over, my eyes rise to the prints on my desk, gifts from my artist friend Kim Crichton: “Grow.”  “Nurture.”  “Sow.”  (You have to see the images to really get them, but when you do, you’ll see why I’m all weepy over all this together.)  From a day when it seemed like nothing could come together, I all of a sudden see that in this moment, everything has.

On meetings.

I used to have a lot of meetings in my life.  From, say, 8 am to 5 pm most days.  In fact, we were so busy meeting that we never had any time to do the actual work we were meeting about.  Which, some might argue, is an issue.

I’ve also been part of a culture where folks not only don’t like to meet (in “meetings), but they are really conscious of meeting practices.  Best example comes from my old camp counselor days, when we were all so tired by Sunday night staff meetings that we wanted maximum efficiency…and worked well to get it.  My favorite group practice was the subtle (and not) mimicking of holding a huge steering wheel — when someone got going on a rant, we always described it as “driving a big bus,” and we would demonstrate.  It was astonishingly useful and not too painful to experience as the driver, which is perhaps why it was so effective.  It called your attention without really calling you out.

I’ve been at meetings with agendas, meetings without; meetings with strong leadership and meetings with none.  I’ve met with presidents and provosts and with middle-schoolers and with everyone else you can imagine.  And still, the best meeting I’ve had yet happened today, on the second floor of my house, called and managed by my three-year old.

He requested a meeting formally: “Mama, Chi, let’s have a meeting, okay?”

He pointed out his need for a “hammer” (a gavel) but accepted my alternative offering (a full tube of A&D ointment).  He pointed us to seats around his foot-high table but graciously permitted me to sit in a chair I would not break.

He declared a clear purpose: “This is a muffin meeting.”  And he ran it with clarity and vigor: “Mama, what kind of muffin do you want to make?”  Pumpkin.  “Malachi, what kind of muffin do you want?”  Pumpkin.  He then asked the same thing of himself and of four or five participating stuffed animals; he had the grace to be amused when the rabbit answered “carrot” to everything.  His own preference was zucchini-banana, and although his was the only voice for it, he declared it the winner.  (In equal and opposite reaction, I later went downstairs and made pumpkin muffins.  There was no rebuke.)

After the muffin meeting there was a cake meeting (“carrot,” said the rabbit), and a soup meeting.  There was a bizarre and abbreviated “lamb” meeting (at which we were surprised to learn that Elmo, at least the one who lives with us, declared himself a vegetarian) before we turned our attention to the birds at the feeder and adjourned by default.

It was short; it was sweet; it was participatory.  No decisions were made, except by the leader in the moment and by me later, but I suppose that’s all pretty typical.  I wonder if most meetings wouldn’t be a little bit improved by two parties under three years of age?

One of the ways you know you’re living with the right people

backlit paperwhite

This morning was a hurried morning, as they usually are.  Potty training isn’t making life any easier yet.

Malachi surprised all of us by sleeping tall paperwhitewell from midnight to 6, so he awoke confused and starvacious. Ezra announced he did not sleep enough, which was why he was sad and grumpy and unable to use his big-boy voice.  There were Cheerios everywhere and Sunbutter on my sleeve and coffee splatter on Len’s work tie.  In the midst of all this noise and hustle, the sun rises above the neighbor’s trees and beams directly in the eastern window, backlighting the newly-unfurled  paperwhite so that it glows, transformed, a fierce beacon on a fragile stalk.  Ezra and Len and I stare amazed for a moment before I grab my phone/camera; then Len grabs his and Ezra starts grabbing at our waists for us to lift him up to see. Malachi, strapped into his high chair, spends some time trying to owl his neck all the way around and then gives it up, content to eat and watch us watching.  Where else, I ask you, would I find people so willing to let their lives be altered by such a brief moment of beauty?  Who else would see this and drop everything to stand in its light, breathing more quietly while we wait for the sun to shift?