I’d been manifesting for years before I knew it was called that. It occurred to me at one point in my 20s that I had achieved pretty much all of the life goals I’d ever wished for aloud — they just hadn’t turned out quite as I hoped. Still, inspired by that realization, I rattled off a long, detailed list of qualities I wanted in a man. Shortly thereafter, I met a man that checked off almost every box…but again, it didn’t turn out as expected. (We’re divorced now.) Turns out there were a few things I was unaware of that should have been included in that list.

Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it.

I manifested again while we were house hunting. After stalking RedFin, Trulia, and Zillow for a while, I described in detail my dream house — an informed, educated manifestation this time. A few years later, I bought a house that for the most part filled the bill. So far, so good. I think I’m getting better at this manifesting thing. (I’m almost afraid to say that. But I do love my house.)

I don’t believe that saying things out loud magically makes them appear. But I do believe that thinking deeply about what you want and need and committing it to list form, either verbally or in writing, sets you up to wait for the best option rather than settling for something that’s a bad fit. In that spirit, allow me to manifest the job I’m looking for.

  1. 100% remote, with absolutely no required travel
  2. Flexible full-time hours
  3. Salary commensurate with my education and experience
  4. A stable position with a financially stable employer
  5. A truly family-friendly employer, who understands I can parent my kids and still do great work
  6. Opportunities for advancement
  7. Unlimited PTO — and the opportunity to take it
  8. Leverages most, if not all, of my skills
  9. Work in a field of strong interest to me — education (K-12 ideally, bonus points for learning disability content) would be nice, as I am deep in that space as a homeschooling mom already, but I have other passions too
  10. A supportive environment, where people help each other learn and grow — I’ve had enough micromanagement to last a lifetime, thank you
  11. Good benefits — bonus points for a home office allowance

This list may change over time, but right now this is a good summary of what I’m looking for. Will I get all of these things? Probably not. But a position that meets the top five and includes a sufficient amount of the rest would be great.

I’ve spent a good deal of my professional life settling because I was unaware of my worth, or was aware of it but was so desperate I would take work that was beneath me because I needed the income. Now I am in a position to be choosy, and make deliberate career moves. I can be patient.

(But I am really quite tired, so sooner would definitely be better than later, please and thank you.)

Just breathe

Long drives — windows down, stereo blasting, singing at the top of your lungs — have been crucial to my mental health since I was young. In my teens and early 20s, I slid behind the wheel whenever I needed to process big feelings, or step outside of my life and blow off some steam. In those days of cheap gasoline, I would drive until I could not feel my thighs. I spent a good deal of my early 30s letting the wind blast tears from my cheeks, though sometimes it necessitated using a credit card to buy the gas. (I do miss those 90s gas prices.) Some people go to therapy; I hit the back roads.

There is much to be sad/tense/angry about these days, but that is not the palette I want the kids’ childhood painted with. For my part, being aware that an unavoidable sorrow lies just beyond the horizon makes me doubly determined to stave off the tears and do my best to enjoy the time before its arrival; there will be plenty of time for grief later on. So I am making a point to infuse as much simple joy into our days as can be done safely.

One of the routines we have established is the weekly grocery pickup run. Early on a weekend morning, we treat ourselves to Starbucks and some windows-down driving on the way to and from picking up groceries. I used to not let the kids roll the windows down because of our allergies, but so long as we all stay well, I’m willing to indulge us. We mask everywhere we go; it’s nice to be bare-faced and just breathe.

Music is key on these drives. Taylor Swift is in heavy rotation, though we do not have the same favorite songs; they are fans of “No Body No Crime” (which is fantastic), while I am loving “Cruel Summer” and “Getaway Car.” But I also add old favorites to the mix sometimes, to broaden their horizons and share a bit of Young Mommy with them. The other day, we took a sunset drive while listening to Melissa Etheridge’s “All the Way to Heaven” and it felt like we traveled back to 1996 for five minutes. They don’t like all of the music I introduce them to, but we have found some new favorites this way. (Kai is now a huge GGD fan, which makes me so very happy.)

I’m not from here — I wouldn’t even say I’m of here — but parts of it belong to me. The honeysuckle-drenched shade of tree-canopied country roads. The warm, dusty smell of hay fields at sunset. The bathwater dampness of the air before and after the heat of the day. Stacks of incandescent cumulonimbus clouds against an eye-wateringly blue sky. These things are as much a part of my DNA as the vast plains of my childhood, crops bursting from row after orderly row as far as the eye can see; cool, breezy summer evenings under a dazzling starlit sky; majestic watercolor sunsets washing everything in pinks and oranges. In these strange times, I’m finding it more important than ever to share these pieces of myself with my children. Though we sometimes feel at odds with this place, we still belong. And it still belongs to us.

Beauty and peace and stillness can be found even in hard times, I tell them. No matter what is going out outside this car, inside it is healing in the form of music and sunshine and sweet perfume. Sometimes you need to shut the rest out for a little while and just breathe.

Heavy conversations

Usually I write these posts days in advance, and reread them several times before posting. I can’t, for obvious reasons, bring myself to do that this time. I apologize if this is a rambling, nonsensical mess.

“My grandmother is terminally ill,” Anya explains, her mouth rolling carefully around the word terminally.

“That means she is really sick and will die,” she adds.

For the longest time, I skated around this truth with the children. I’m not sure what I thought I was going to accomplish. When I was growing up, children were shielded from disease and death and dying. No sense dragging them into such sad subjects. Then the world gave us a global pandemic and hard discussions became de rigeur. My kids know more about deadly communicable diseases than I did in February 2020.

It’s painful, bringing Mom’s health out into the open like that. Their questions are like daggers. It’s gut-wrenching when Kai tries to find a way to fix her, because he is little and does not want to lose his Mimi yet. I don’t want to lose her either. That’s my mom.

But talking about it just might help prepare us for the day that is coming on us way too fast. Hiding from it makes it seem unbearable. So I have begun to talk to them about Mimi. I tell them she will someday be gone. We have discussed where they would prefer she be buried. We talk about all the ways we can make the most of the time we have with her, because we do not know when that time will run out. Sometimes I cry as we talk. I try not to, because it distresses them, but I don’t want them to be afraid to feel or show emotion. Sometimes they cry too.

In this house, we talk about hard things. Things other people may consider inapproriate for children to know about. I don’t just mean disease, death, or even sex — though they can tell you exactly where babies come from. I’m talking about about racism and sexism, hate crimes and genocides, climate change and Chernobyl. We’ve talked about Ruby Bridges and Black Wall Street, the truth of the first Thanksgiving, and Matthew Shepard. They know about the boy from a neighboring town who hung himself in a school bathroom this year, and the classmates who recorded it.

But I cannot bring myself to tell them about Uvalde.

Anya knows school shootings have occurred, of course. She has participated in as many active shooter drills as she has fire, tornado, and earthquake drills. She knows that I watched coverage of Sandy Hook while sobbing into her baby-fine curls. She knows I had planned to homeschool her until she begged me to send her to school. She knows how reluctantly I agreed to let her go.

They both know about the mass shooting in a grocery store 30 miles from here. It’s not one we shop, but we frequent other stores in that area. Mass shootings are not a new concept to them. It breaks my heart to type that.

If I were to tell them about Uvalde, would they ever feel safe in a school again? In a store? On a playground? Should they? How am I supposed to tell them that a bunch of kids their age were identifiable only through clothing and DNA tests? What are they supposed to do with that? How are they supposed to live with that in their heads? How are any of us?

So I haven’t told them. I’ve cried in showers, in closets, in the morning before they wake up. They sense something is off, but they don’t know what. And for once, I’ve not explained.

I talk to my kids about the hard subjects. And I tell them that, in spite of all the pain and hate and unfairness in the world, there is still beauty in it. I tell them that they are part of that beauty. I tell them that it is their responsibility to spread that beauty, to bring light to the darkness, to leave the world better than they found it. I tell them that love triumphs over hate. I don’t know how to explain to them that there are strangers who would shred their tiny bodies with weapons of war just to make a point. I don’t know how to explain to them that there are people who would enable these murders in exchange for money, votes, and power. I don’t know how I can continue to believe that love will win over hate when we keep allowing people to slaughter our babies. And if I don’t believe it, why should they?

The morning after the Uvalde shootings, I enrolled them in homeschool for the coming year. Maybe it’s cowardly of me to do so. Plus I’m beyond exhausted, and probably failing them academically. But my burdens are nothing compared to those faced by parents whose babies will never come home from school. Our challenges pale in comparison to those faced by the family, friends, and teachers those babies left behind. This is a small price to pay to keep them safe.

I will have to tell them about Uvalde at some point. But for now I’m content to carry this weight alone, to shield them from this particular darkness a little while longer. I need them to keep the light going. Hopefully they can lead me back to it.

Can crying be considered a hobby?

I was sobbing over a scene in A Million Little Things when Anya walked in. I tried to discreetly clean up my face, but she caught me.

“No watching sad stuff! I am not happy if you are not happy! Watch something funny — that’s an order!”

I laughed, but I know where she was coming from. There was a time when I was deeply uncomfortable watching things that make me cry; I avoided serious shows and serious books and even serious conversations every chance I got. Aside from the occasional Fried Green Tomatoes or Steel Magnolias rewatch, I never deliberately watched or read anything I knew would require tissues.

Now? Crying at the screen is how I let off steam.

Life these days is…heavy. All of my former outlets are currently lost to me. I don’t have anyone I can unload on without judgement, or the time to find someone, or the time to talk — or the will to, really. And I’ve never been able to just sit at home and feel sad and cry. But lately I need to cry on a regular basis, and I can’t always hop in the car and drive out to the middle of nowhere to bawl. Which is why I watch shows like Million even though they sometimes feel like a contest between writers to see how many dramatic developments you can feasibly cram into one episode. If I saved all my crying for the shower, my water bill would be outrageous. Plus I’m not a fan of long showers, anyway.

I am not a stoic parent. I believe stuffing everything down and never allowing the even, calm exterior to crack, intended to make kids feel safe and protected at all times, sets them up to view adults as all-knowing, all-powerful, unbreakable powerhouses who never ever make mistakes. Then when the kids make a mistake, they feel like a failure. (Or was that just me?) So I have made a point to model a range of emotions — some intentionally, others not so much: Joy. Sorrow. Frustration. Anger. Hopelessness. Determination. They watch me get knocked down, and they watch me get back up. They have seen me fall into deep despair, and they’ve seen me pull myself out of it and push on. It’s messier this way, as they view me as the fallible human that I am rather than a pedestal mom, but I think it’s a better way to parent. I suppose time will tell if I’m right.

But I don’t always want to share the cause of my tears. Sometimes I’m crying for them. Sometimes it’s because of them. Sometimes it’s just for me. Other times, it’s because of things I’m not ready to discuss with them yet: The horrors this world dishes out. The evil people are capable of. The hurts for which there are no easy answers. The way things change and change without getting any better. My fears for their future. So I hold the tears in. And when they won’t be held back anymore, I cry at a screen.

Watching shows that make me cry isn’t pandemic-new for me; I’ve watched This Is Us since the beginning. But that show is hitting waaaay too close to home with Rebecca’s illness, so it is not the catharsis that soapy shows like Million are. I need drama that in no way resembles my life.

As the awful drags on, I’m finding that I spend a good deal of my free time crying. It’s hardly a hobby I’m going to list in my bio, but I find it useful nonetheless. Letting sadness come out as tears beats bottling it up and watching it come out as anger or depression. And crying at streaming shows is a heck of a lot cheaper than therapy.

So what if this is what I want?

Moms are under a lot of pressure these days to pursue their passions. Is it because Gen X’s kids are mostly grown up, and today’s moms missed out on being latchkey kids? Perhaps. When I talk to people about how I’ve centered my life on my kids, they always get this look. I can’t tell if it’s pity, bewilderment, maybe even slight revulsion. But it’s clear that I am Doing It Wrong. I am supposed to be following my bliss. Writing my novels. Taking classes. Climbing the career ladder. Going on date nights and outings with friends. Asserting my right to my self and my interests — not spending my free time hanging out with my offspring. Motherhood can’t be ALL I want, surely.

The truth is that the moment I looked into my daughter’s sweet, perfect little face, I felt for the first time in decades that I had come home. The years of lonely aimlessness had finally led me to somewhere real. Everything I have ever worked for came together in that moment.

This IS what I want.

Is it all I want? Hell no. But I realize that this time is fleeting: Anya’s half grown already, and Kai isn’t far behind. I also realize that this time will color their view of me forever. We keep coming back to childhood in our memories because it is the era of firsts, the origin of everything — our sense of self, our approach to life, our understanding of home and love and life and family.

It often felt to me that my parents and I were isolated from the rest of our family. Tensions, history, circumstances, distance. But there was never a time when I didn’t long for a larger family. People with larger families often scoff at that, telling me stories of tensions and drunken arguments and battle lines. And yes, I’ve sat at more than a few tense tables myself. But in my heart is burned this image of a long dinner table for the holidays, piled with food and wreathed with stories and laughter. Of family picnics in the spring. Game nights and movie nights and Sunday brunches. Of an open door that kids walk through on a random Tuesday, just to say hi. I don’t want the first couple decades of their lives to be the only ones I am a part of.

This morning I slept in; a toothache has derailed all but the most pressing of weekend plans, and I thought the more pain I slept through, the better. So I snoozed my pre-dawn alarm, waking later in a sun-drenched bedroom to my children stroking my cheek and squeezing me tight. “Mama hugs,” my son said, beaming. I hope these are the memories they hold of me as they get older and begin to pull away — not me at my stressed-out worst, but the snuggles, the games, the bedtime stories, the impromptu parties, the holiday traditions.

If I were to vault up the career ladder, or become a best-selling author, or find some measure of success through any of my creative outlets — hell, all three, let’s shoot for the moon — but only saw or talked to my kids on major holidays (if then) because my calls were an obligation and visits were a chore, I would feel like a failure. If I die having achieved nothing more than having a close family, I will die a happy woman. Looking at my own family, I would say that a great first step is to put the kids first now. Later is often too late.

Maybe family isn’t all I want, but it is all I need. The rest is icing.

So this wasn’t the best Christmas

My mother is dying.

If I needed further evidence of this, I need look no further than the photo of my grandfather’s last birthday. Mom looks so much like him in that photo. Only he was 10 years older than she is. It’s so unfair.

My mother is dying, and she knows it, and she is saying goodbye to the world. This fall brought her abundant birthday wishes, beautiful weather, vibrant leaves. We had a wonderful family photo session, and the photographer captured memories we will cherish for years to come. She has spent this holiday season immersed in wonderful memories from our past. Me as a child. Family gatherings large and small. During a recent visit, we went through all of her photo albums and she told stories about her childhood. Pointed out photos of me and Dad she particularly loves. She wants me to have the stories because she is the last to remember many of them. Some she has already forgotten.

I am glad she is remembering the good times. All I can think about are the bad ones. The Christmases I refused to spend with them as a teen because I was angry about the move. The times she wanted to hang out with me and I was too busy. The wasted time. So much of it.

She is as peaceful as one can be about it all. I…am not.

I am beyond burning the candle at both ends — at this point, I am basically a flaming ball of wax. That cup I am supposed to fill before I fill everyone else’s? I don’t even have one anymore. Every time I think I can’t possibly take on one more thing, life throws something at me I am unable to turn down. This is the place from which I am attempting to cope with my mother’s decline.

The logical thing would be to spend as much time with her as possible. We have the opportunity: She is close by. I work flexible hours, all remote. But there’s this pandemic. This disease that many people are treating as a joke. A disease that would assuredly kill my mother, probably in a matter of days.

So I am the virus patrol. We go almost nowhere. We mask, distance, sanitize. I have denied my children trips to parks, to stores, to restaurants, to parties. We have passed up parades and tree lightings and trunk-or-treats and playdates with friends. And they have coped with my haphazard homeschooling efforts for two years now. We are both closer than ever and weary of each other’s company.

I am growing extremely resentful of people who do not take precautions against the virus. It’s gone from exasperation to a white-hot rage. Perhaps they do not deserve this anger, but it’s got to go somewhere or I will burn alive.

Today at the garden, my son yelled out to a group of unmasked people: “You there! You just go the other way! You aren’t wearing masks!” And I realized that this tension I feel is filtering down to my kids. I hate hearing that part of me come out in their sweet little voices.

I am in the middle of my first vacation all year. I took last week and this week off both jobs. (Still freelancing. I mean, this is me. But I don’t have a bedtime right now.) I had hoped to spend time with Mom — playing games, putting together puzzles, baking, listening to her tell stories.

Only it looks like the kids and I are sick now.

I am just so damn tired.

All we want for Christmas

Anya gave me her list for Santa yesterday. It was initially a top 10 list, but I had her add a few more items after I saw what she’d asked for.

She wants a cat (she knows I’m allergic). She wants a car — a real, grown-up automobile. For her, not me. She wants COVID to go away. As we discussed her replacement items (“Gee, honey, I don’t think a car is going to fit on the sleigh, and anyway you’re 6 years away from being able to drive it”), her top pick was a COVID shot.

This child asked for a vaccination against a global pandemic and 15 packs of gum in the same breath. What a world. What a childhood.

I get it, though. Recently I entered a Christmas wish list contest. I do not win contests, but what harm, right? After much hemming and hawing, I asked for:

  1. A new car
  2. New kitchen appliances
  3. New living room furniture

It felt all kinds of ugh, asking for stuff like that. It’s not even really what I want. What I want more than anything is this:

  1. My mother to be well again
  2. This stupid pandemic to go away so my kids can have something resembling a real childhood
  3. Peace, time, and/or hope. I’m not picky.

So…I mean, a car is a big ask. But compared to my mother’s health, it’s nothing. Hell, she could buy a car in what she spent on medical bills last year. I’d pay twice that for just a little more time with her. Ten times that.

What I want for Christmas is for it to be a good one. We need it to be good. I need it.

The grocery store song

The other day, which was maybe last week and maybe last month (time has lost almost all meaning), R brought home a papaya. I’m still off fruit and almost all sugars — more on that in a later post, but short version: I feel so much better now — so I did not partake, but it was interesting to see the inside of a papaya after hearing about them my whole life. The seeds are gray and squashy and look vaguely insectile. I didn’t hear any calls for buying a second papaya, so I’m thinking it wasn’t a favorite. Or maybe they just need to eat it two or three times.

Anyway. It triggered a memory, long faded, of how my mom and I would sing “Lone Palm” by Jimmy Buffett in the grocery store. The first line is “My garden is filled with papayas and mangoes,” and as we walked by the produce, one of us would start humming. We’d usually get to the chorus by the time we reached the canned goods, singing in harmony while getting side-eye from other shoppers. Over time, we began to refer to it as “the grocery store song.” I had to Google the lyrics to find the title just now, because I’d forgotten what it was really called.

It feels like another life, me and mom singing in a store. Those years were overall not happy ones for me, but there were good moments. In-jokes and routines and silliness. Singing about fruit we’d never eaten, without a care about who was listening.

On the heels of this memory was the realization that, some day all too soon, I will be the only person left who knows what the grocery store song is, and it was such a lonely feeling. So I decided to share it here, so someone else will remember with me.

“It’s okay to cry. You’re still a good mom.”

I’ve heard that the best way to support a child through rough feelings is to name and make space for those feelings, but I admit it always felt a little hokey to me. “Aw, you feel sad. You wanted [blank], and you are super disappointed. It’s okay to feel bad. You are still a good kid. Just let the bad feelings out.” I say these things, sure, but I was skeptical of how much good I was doing.

A nurse in a drive-through COVID testing center showed me just how effective it is.

It was a busy work day for me. A busier week. I had a rush project, the house was a wreck, the kids had done precious little homeschooling, and Anya had been feeling bad for a few days. Most likely allergies, because we don’t go anywhere and no one else was sick — the family that cosleeps shares allll the germs — but she’d been complaining of ear pain and yellow sinus drainage, so I had to rule out an infection. For added fun: When her sinuses drain into her stomach, it causes GI distress; i.e., vomiting and diarrhea. The only bright side in all of this: She’s now old enough to barf in the toilet.

It took two days to get her in to the doctor because COVID is burning through our schools. We can usually get in within a couple of hours.

The doctor was concerned about the GI issues and sent us for a COVID test. Just as a precaution, she said. She assured Anya that even if she did have COVID, she’d almost certainly be okay. She’s a healthy girl. She’d just feel a little sick.

Yeah, but there’s a little girl in our area who had no symptoms at all, and she’s in the ICU on life support. Also, we saw Mom the previous weekend, two days before Anya got sick. Mom absolutely would not survive COVID. My mind started racing, trying to figure out what we did wrong, how she could possibly have been exposed. Speech therapy? They keep their masks on the whole time, but it’s the only place we ever go inside. Could R have brought it home from work? Was it on the pizza boxes? The groceries?

After I struck out several places trying to find a drive-up testing center that would administer a rapid test that day, my parents hooked me up with a local drive-through center. I called and made the arrangements while driving home from the doctor. (It’s an hour drive. I was on hold with them for 20 minutes of that, listening to a couple warbly snatches of Enya mixed with plugs for their services. Which didn’t help my fraying nerves.) By now I was several hours behind on my work day, and taking the afternoon off was not an option, so I snagged my tablet in case we were there for a while. Plus the cord and the AC adapter because of course it wasn’t charged.

Forgot to grab the insurance cards, though. Starving (we missed lunch), sweating (half stress, half being dressed for a cool morning on a hot afternoon), and with a throbbing finger (I mashed it between the AC adapter and the gear shift), I found the place and got in line, mowing down some orange cones to do so; the entrance was not clearly marked, and my patience was at that point completely gone. That’s when I saw the signs asking for insurance info. By this point it was mid afternoon. I didn’t have time to go home and get them. I’ll just pay cash, I told myself.

I had that much cash on me, but good lord! When R had the test, it was free. I started crumbling around the edges.

The nurse saw this.

“It’s okay to cry,” she said. “This is so hard. Just let it all out. You are doing so well.”

My eyes overflowed, as if they were waiting on permission to do so. “I…I have done everything right!” I blurted out. “I am just so tired!” I then proceeded to blubber all over myself.

“You are such a good mom,” she said. “This is so scary and so hard, but you are doing a great job. We will find her info. We’ll get this taken care of. Don’t you worry. I will do anything I can to help. Do you need to cry for a little bit? I can always come back to you. Take all the time you need.”

“No, thank you” I said, sobbing. “Just give me the forms.”

I thought about that nurse all evening. How just that little bit of compassion helped me deal with one of the scariest days I’ve had in a while. How much it helped hearing from someone else that it was okay to feel whatever I was feeling. How much better I felt letting some of it out. How much I needed someone to tell me I am a good mom, that I am doing a good job.

Anya’s test was negative. You don’t want to know how long I had to sit on hold to find that out. I can’t be mad about it, though. I got the assurance I needed, both in the test results and in the emotional support I received from the testing center nurse.

Now that I know the power of naming and making space for feelings, I’m going to work harder at doing so with the kids. With everyone. We all need a little empathy. Especially these days.

An ode to my garden

When I was a child, I had a working mother. It was the 80s, so this was still a novel concept. While other moms baked and cleaned and did cross-stitch, mine put on a dress, heels, blush, and a spritz of Lauren and went to an office.

I loved seeing her all dressed up, and she was much happier as a working mom than she was as a stay-at-home mom, but Mom was not my role model. Our neighbor was. The one with five kids and a beauty shop off her family room, who had a kitchen garden and made her own ketchup and baked her own bread. After admiring the handiwork of a different neighbor, who made elaborate Precious Moments cross-stitch pictures while watching Days, I taught myself embroidery. Around this same time, Little House on the Prairie — both the show (which I’m barely old enough to remember) and the books — lit a fire of self-reliance in my soul. I was fascinated with handwashing clothes, churning butter, grinding grain. I used to entertain this fantasy of marrying a farmer and grinding the wheat with which I’d make our bread. Which of course would be buttered with butter I churned myself.

My mom, who baked, sewed, crocheted, and knitted, but who was equally fond of shopping in big cities and dining out, was both amused and bemused by my pioneer obsession.

For years I lived in apartments. I could have, and did have, a windowsill herb garden, but growing veggies was out of the question. During these years, I learned to make more and more foods from scratch. I loved the challenge of it. I went from being a TV dinner nuker to someone who could and did make elaborate dishes from raw ingredients. Food that was as tasty as it was healthy. (Okay, some of it was healthy.) But how great would it be, I asked myself, if my ingredients came from my own yard?

I had this vision of myself as a SAHM who grew our food, sewed our clothes, cut everyone’s hair, and made everything from scratch, from the embroidered dining chair cushions to the condiments in our fridge to the herbal remedies I was going to make to cure all that ailed us. I was going to hang our laundry on a clothesline. I was going to knit and/or crochet all our sweaters. I was going to decorate our home with my own paintings, make my own skin care and hair care products, wash my face in morning dew that I collected in a bowl on my back porch. (This oddly specific idea came from my mornings on the school playground, running my fingers along the dew-damp grass, then rubbing the water on my skin.) I was going to be admired among those in my inner circle for my baking skills. I was going to give handcrafted gifts, build furniture, take care of all our home renovations. Everything we wanted or needed, I would make with my own two hands.

Friends, it didn’t happen.

The shift started when I realized I was going to have to change the S to SAHM to a W. Fine, I thought. My neighbor had a successful salon in her house. I began to aspire to whatever would let me work from home. Maybe I would make and sell jewelry or something. Or write after the kids went to sleep. I’d find a way to make some extra cash. I’m resourceful like that.

Another cog slipped when I had a kid, downshifted my career, and realized how unhappy losing that W made me. Okay, so I’ll have to work full time at an actual job, not something that merely brings in cash. I can do that. It meant I wouldn’t have as much free time, but I figured I’d find a way to fit it all in. I’m a hard worker.

It came as a blow when I realized I really don’t have the patience to sew clothes. (When the pandemic hit, I found a simple pattern, dusted off my sewing machine, and made a mask. One. It took days, and it’s terrible. I would much rather give Uniqlo $25 for 3 masks. It’s cheaper.) But I rallied. Whatevs; I’ll just buy those.

I did, if you’ve been following me for a bit, try my hand at homemade laundry soap, cleaning products, and hair/skin care products. Then I found commercially available products that don’t irritate my allergies and also, y’know, work. Similarly, I discovered that herbal remedies only tend to work if you’re not all that sick. (That dew thing went out the window when I realized what all might be in that dew.

Finally — don’t laugh — I severely underestimated just how much work kids are. I had these sugar-coated visions of bathtime and tantrums and flung food. Parenthood as a montage. I did not anticipate flopping into bed after an 18-hour day being so tired I ached, day after day, year after year. I had no idea I would be in survival mode long after the newborn days.

What was I thinking? I barely have time to do laundry and wipe the fur off the furniture. I have a grocery store five miles from my home, and it’s full of boxes of food that just require water and heat. To hell with this garden thing.

Still, I tried to garden. It was a challenge at that point: I just wanted one time to fix a meal with ingredients I grew myself. Just to see what it felt like. We rented a house two weeks after Anya was born, and for the first time in my adult life I had a yard. Year after year I planted seeds, and year after year they grew, then died. I think I salvaged a handful of peas once. The rest of the plants died from neglect. I just didn’t have time to garden. But I didn’t have time to cook, either, so it worked out. Back to fixing food from packages that are ready in 30 minutes or less.

Then my digestive system revolted, and I found myself once again making all the food from scratch. Scouring labels for triggers. Learning to make things myself when I couldn’t find it ready made. The more foods I eliminated, the more I had to learn to make.

As if that didn’t complicate things enough, we threw a pandemic in the mix. I began looking at the kitchen garden as less of a science experiment for the kids and more of a necessity. Cooking homegrown food is tasty, yes, but it also ensures there is food.

This year is the first time I’ve had anything resembling success in the garden. (Not gonna lie; it’s all R. I have no idea what I am doing.) We have made a couple of batches of tomato sauce with our harvest, seasoned with herbs I grew myself, and have the makings for more in the freezer — plus we gave some tomatoes to my parents. We have a stash of lima beans. R made two batches of pickles with the cucumbers we’ve harvested. We have a watermelon in the fridge, and more on the vines. And the part I’m most excited about: Butternut squash. Two beauties out there finishing off, and flowers galore. Each morning I check excitedly to see if more baby squash have popped up.

We also have proper flower gardens now. The previous owners had planted hydrangea and hosta in the front of the house, and they’re pretty much plug and play. We water them on occasion, but otherwise they don’t need us. So I’ve been working on the back of the house. I dropped a couple hundred bucks at the botanic garden’s plant sale this year and picked up a butterfly bush, shamrocks, hens and chicks, petunias, mint, and rosemary, plus a bunch of other plants I can’t name. R bought these red fluffy plants that looked like flames. We dug and edged and planted and filled with rock two flower bed and a pollinator garden. Then the yard guy sprayed for weeds and much of it died. The butterfly bush — Kai’s pick — rallied, at least, and the pink flowers I bought even grew into mini bushes. My bare patio now has flower beds flanking a morning glory-covered arch. The pollinator garden failed to grow, but the sunflowers on the side of the house are taller than Kai.

The garden has enthralled me. My parents didn’t garden, so I have no experience with it, and I’m slightly amused with how emotional I get about everything. Each fertilized blossom fills me with the same excitement I felt when I detected the first pregnancy symptoms. I mourn the loss of baby fruits and vegetables — not at the level of my own losses, of course, but they still make me sad. I feel a connection to these plants that I never anticipated. And they bring me joy beyond my wildest dreams.

My backyard is a haven for cardinals, robins, doves, hummingbirds, and countless other birds I cannot name yet. We have butterflies, hummingbird moths (Google them — they’re super cool), frogs, lizards, ladybugs, and cute little inchworms. Plus a squirrel that my daughter terrorizes, but that’s a story for another post.

For my birthday this year, my parents gave me a check and told me to buy some nice patio furniture. So I have a proper table and padded chairs, and an umbrella that tilts and even lights up. It’s too hot to go out there right now, but in the next month or so I see me spending lots of time out there, drinking tea and admiring my view.

I’m already planning next year’s garden. The food part and the flower part. I want a lush haven that gives us food to eat and wildlife to watch. I want to put plants in the ground, nurture them, and watch them grow. I want to feed my family with food that I grew. I want to sit on the patio on a cool spring day with my mom and watch butterflies.

I never wanted to be a SAHM, I realize now. Or the homesteader I once imagined I would become. But I do enjoy being a gardener. I feel more connected with nature as I nurture foods and flowers. I feel more connected with my loved ones when I feed them dishes I prepared from food I grew myself. I haven’t given up on making stuff for the house — Anya and I are plotting a garage workshop so we can make furniture, or at least refinish furniture. And one of these days I’m going to crochet again. For right now, though, gardening is good enough for me.