I sat down to talk with my shadow the other day…

The running track on my elementary school playground was aligned a few degrees off of due west.  It was paved with that fine-grained subsurface asphalt that usually is laid below the topcoat of a roadway, faded to a charcoal and white crust on top from the sun.  Six laps around the track was a mile – a fact drilled into my brain to this day from the yearly presidential fitness exam.  The east end of the oval was filled in with a metal-pipe jungle gym – monkey bars, parallel bars, and mid-height bars to turn flips on and fall off of – the site of the one fight I ever got into at school.  The west end held the kickball field, the Alabama red dirt cracked and dusty in the summer and a muddy clay-like mire in the winter.  In between was grass to serve as a “soccer” field in which goals were defined by sticks or rocks and guarded with great enthusiasm.  I walked hundreds of miles around that track over the course of my 10-year tenure at that school, dancing with my shadow around and around and around.  My shadow and I grew up together there, with all the other shadows and the boys and girls that made up the other half of their pairs.

The first death I attended was my grandmother, my father’s mother, when I was 11.  She was 72 and had cancer.  I remember the pastor coming to see my father, the funeral home, the cold silky feel of her softly wrinkled cheek when I touched her in the casket.  The next was a junior high classmate, when I was 15.  He would have been 15 or 16.  I remember my mother telling me and then me going for a walk on a dirt country road thinking about it.  It was a incongruously gorgeous day with bright blue skies and lush green trees and bushes lining the roadway. His name was Josh.  After that came my mother’s father the week I moved away to college – I left two days into class to attend his funeral and came back straight into sorority rush that night.  Before that semester was over, I got a call from my mom that an elementary school classmate had been murdered.  Donald.  He was 18.  As far as I have ever heard, his murder is still an unsolved case.  Then came a string of family members: my father’s father’s brother, of Alzheimer’s.  His wife, later, simply of old age.  My godmother, heart disease.  My mother’s stepfather.  My aunt’s husband in a motorcycle crash.  My husband’s grandfather, grandmother, grandfather, great uncle, grandmother, uncle.  Somewhere in that string, my sorority sister Amy.  36.  Breast cancer.  I found out after the fact at a dinner with the girls when I was probably 6 or 7 months pregnant and I couldn’t comprehend it.  How did SHE die?  And how did I completely miss it in our uber-connected facebook society?  The next death was a college acquaintance who committed suicide, which I learned about a year later from his wife’s blog.  The last time I had seen him was in a christmas card photo hanging on a mutual friend’s mantle.  Then last year, another elementary school classmate.  Of … unknown causes, probably his heart.  He was 35.  Crockett.  I still have the last message he sent me on facebook tucked away where we exchanged the pleasantries of people who grew up together but have gone their separate ways, searching for common ground of shared memory and experience.  Two months ago, my mother’s mother passed away, her lungs and heart worn down by years of chronic illness and incessant smoking. Saturday I got a facebook message that a high school classmate died of a massive heart attack leaving behind his wife and two small children.  He was 36.  This morning, a follow-up message that another was killed in a car crash in North Dakota.  Another wife, two more small girls.

My son, those girls, they are the age that I and the dead boys were when we met and first walked around that elementary school track, ran through the pine trees on that playground, spun and kicked and screamed in excitement and the sheer joy of playing outside together.  I saw it tonight in my son’s face, how young he is, and yet no younger than we were once.  It never crossed my mind, ever, that we might die, that we would die, that they would die young, that they would die before me.  It never occurred to me that one day all that would be left of them are my memories of our shadows forever walking around that track in the afternoon soon, stretched out before us, stretched out behind us, breaking free only when we leapt into the air just to see if we could become unbound from them.

The shadow tonight isn’t my shadow, the one that has faithfully attended me my whole life.  It’s the shadow of death, the shadow of my own mortality, that shadow of their mortality.  The haunting premonition that this is all just a cycle, and that one day my own children will sit at their kitchen table shocked by the deaths of their childhood friends.  That one day I will attend the funerals of these small children who have just entered our lives through my children’s school.  The past, the present, the future.  They are all met tonight.

Dust we are, and to dust we shall all eventually return.

I

In the Darkness, I am feeling…

Sure we can roast marshmallows, he tells them.

Inside I groan.  Smoke. Sticky faces. Bug spray.  It’s 8:00 already, their schoolnight bedtime, and I think this is a terrible idea.  They will be overtired, sugared up, and have to have a bath before they can go to bed.  They will never go to bed.  Which means I will never get to go to bed.  I really want to go to bed.

He lights the fire, reminding them that they will need to gather replacement kindling tomorrow.  I coat us all in Off, and pray that it actually keeps me from being eaten alive.  Given the chance, the mosquitoes will descend first on the baby, and when she has been sucked dry, move on to me. The other ones don’t even need spray when we are around as sacrificial targets.  In the darkness, I pretend that they aren’t hovering, testing my protective sphere of chemicals for an unguarded patch of skin.

I curl up on the bench, sit just at the edge of the heat.  If I lean forward, my face grows uncomfortably hot – but a few inches back, the dry heat burns off the night’s humidity, making it marginally more comfortable.  They are like fireflies darting around our back yard.  They run up to us, snatch a toasted puff of sweetness, then dart back out into the grass, shrieking and laughing at this unexpected parental laxness.  I track them through the night, neon bright glow sticks marking their path in and around the playhouse, the garden, the hammock. They throw a tennis ball for our long-suffering labrador, encouraging her to search the inky grass with her nose for the toy even she cannot see.  She looks at me, and I can see in her eyes that she wishes she could raise one eyebrow and ask me archly, “Really?”   I want to shrug and answer her, “Join the club, honey.”  She plays along for a while, but then snorts her derision and comes to lie down beside my feet, unmoved by plaintive appeals for more rounds of fetch.

I think about the darkness surrounding us.  Behind us is an uncleared lot with trees older than our old house.  To one side, the empty house next door, for sale again.  To the other, our cordial but private neighbor’s cordial but tall privacy fence.  Even our own house is dark, lights off inside to keep the nocturnal insects from swarming the patio door.  Above us the sky caps off the enclosing night with a new moon, no moon, no moonlight filtering through the leaves during this last month of summer.  We sit instead under strings of white christmas lights repurposed for this season, their soft yellow glow illuminating our toasting sticks and drink tables.  The fire flickers and grows, shifts and glows, the flames moving from blue to yellow to red, lashing up to eat the fresh logs then dying down into a comfortable bed of coals.  The only other light is the telltale glow of the city to the north, a lightened patch of sky bright enough only to outline the black-on-black silhouette of the old oak stretching its branches to the heavens on the corner.

As their lilting giggles and arguments float across the air between us, I think about the other dark summer nights I have known.  Splashing in my godfather’s pool, one of my oldest memories, as he filled that pool back in with dirt and I wondered for years whether I had only imagined it.  Catching fireflies in a mason jar with my cousins, trying not to crush their delicate bodies with the metal lid.  Shooting fireworks off of my aunt’s back porch.  Watching the city fireworks show and drinking mello yellow for the first time (a revelatory experience, I assure you, for an 8 year old.)  Church-league softball games stretching until midnight.  Volleyball in the church parking lot as dusk settled, the games ending as the lights came on.  Running down the road to my parent’s house in the heat, wired up from whatever adventure had come earlier that night, and dreaming of the man I would marry one day.  College parties that lasted so late they became early, where I DID meet the man I would marry, the man who now sits beside me with a beer in one hand and a bowl of marshmallows in the other.  The man who helped me make these children, who helps me raise these children, the man who through whatever combination of goodwill and anticipation himself agreed that it was a good night to sit outside with a fire.

Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

I scuff my toes in the silky blonde dirt below my seat, drawing swirls and butterflies and my initials as when I was a child.  They are wearing out, their sugar rush burned up in their excited late playtime, and now they are coming to rest, to flop across us in our chairs.  Sweaty heads.  Dirty faces where the dust clings to the remnants of marshmallow.  Rubbing their eyes all the while protesting that they are NOT TIRED MOM.  I feel like the dog, raising my eyebrow archly and asking, “Really?”  The dog, on the other hand, is asleep.  Time to pack it up.  I send them inside with instructions to head to the tub, and we gather up the detritus of the last hour – empty bowls, discarded sandals, a forsaken barbie discarded by the stairs.  He turns the lights off and I stand alone for a moment.  I pour the remnants from my water glass onto the last smoldering log, the hissing steam smothering the flames and snuffing out the last of the wan firelight.  The cicadas sing out in the darkness, their summer song echoing from every direction.

Goodnight, good night.  Sleep well – rest your body, rest your mind.  And I’ll see you in the morning.

Stitch from Stash – June 2015

Month: June

Spent: $0

Earned: $4

Balance Forward: $81.46 + $25 + $4 = $110.46

June, and the end of SFS-A!  It was a pretty good month for me – I finished this pattern from Plum Street Samplers as a Father’s Day gift for Manly.

From this (at the May checkin)…

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To this!

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Stitch From Stash has been fun for the last six months, but I’m not planning on joining Group B for the rest of the year.  I thought it would be encouraging to have some other stitchers cheering me on, but it’s ended up feeling like just another responsibility that I have to slog through.  I’ve worked through some of my stash, and I have my supplies organized where I can find things easily now, so it’s definitely been beneficial – I’m hoping that carries through to working on more projects during the second half of the year.  Good luck to all the other stitchers!  I hope you have a fantastic Group B session!

Stitch from Stash – May 2015

Month: May

Spent: $12.00

Earned: $0

Balance Forward: $68.46 – $12 + $25 = $81.46

I didn’t do a huge amount of stitching this month – I started this pattern from Plum Street Samplers as a gift for someone.

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I also picked up the colors I was missing for this Princess pattern from Tiny Modernist.  I haven’t started stitching yet, but that’s on tap for this weekend.

The BIG thing I did this month was to finally sit down and take stock of all my DMC stash.  I had reached the point where I had skeins of thread in my project folder, in my drawers, in my thread holders, in a big plastic ziplock bag, in my jewelry box … you get the idea.  I sat down with a DMC Shopper’s checklist and slowly sorted through everything, put multiples into thread binders, put singles onto Stitchbow holders and in a three-ring binder, culled out some really old Anchor skeins that don’t match the current DMC color numbers, and then put everything in numerical order.  It took hours – way longer than I expected, but at least it’s DONE now, and I have an inventory of what I do and do not have for future products.  Organizing for the win!

Stitch from Stash – April 2015

Month: April

Spent: $0

Earned: $0

Balance Forward: $68.46

In April, I did not pick up a needle and thread, not even once.  And because of that, I don’t feel like I even earned my allowance.  So nothing spent, nothing earned – my balance for May will remain the same as what I started out with in April.

It was just one of those busy months – we hosted Easter dinner for our family, then had an unexpected death and had even more family in from out of town for that, then a 1st birthday party for Finale, then a 1st birthday party the following weekend for a friend, and now this weekend is M’s birthday.  I feel like I’ve been running around trying to vacuum and keep the bathrooms clean in every spare moment!

April Moon, Day 13: Sometimes I wonder

… if I will ever grow up.

… if I ever want to grow up.

… if I’ll ever run an entire 5k.

… if I’ll ever see a healthy weight on the scale.

… if I’ll ever stop crying over my kids growing up.

… if I’m a good enough parent.

… if I’ll ever get a full 8 hours sleep again.

… if I’ll ever find that missing sock.

… if I should go back and finish my Ph.D.

… if I should have gone into accounting in college.

… if I am spending my life doing something that is worthwhile.

… if I should call out of work and spend the afternoon sunbathing.

… if better camera lenses would improve my photography.

… if I’m going to get old and regret it.

… if I spend too much money that I should be saving for retirement.

… if we’re all just faking it.

April Moon, Day 12: My favorite part of the day.

I can’t decide, really, whether my favorite part of the day is my drive into work, or right now, the magic hour between the kids’ bedtime and mine.

The drive into work is my time.  Absolutely silent, no radio, no one talking, no noise except the air outside the car window.  The sun is up and shining but the world is still fresh and damp as the night lifts away and hands over time to the light.  I have my coffee, I’ve had my shower, and the hours stretch before me filled with possibility.  My hair and makeup are done, and my clothes are sill fresh and crisp.  I have a gorgeous commute – I pass through a poplar forest at the edge of a river where the water is still and swampy and I’m technically on a bridge, although it feels like it’s just a raised roadbed.  Right now, the tree trunks are still stark grey against the dark water and it feels like watching a herd of zebras, the light making the trees and shadows into a swirling tangle of stripes.  The leaves have just started to bud out, the lightest cake frosting of lime green touching the tips of the branches overhead.  The summer is actually the time I think is the least pretty – with all the green all around, the trees blend back into the forest, just more branches in the tangled underbrush.  But in the fall – Oh!  in the fall! – those leaves blaze out into the most amazing yellow and it takes my breath away as I drive in and then back out in the afternoon.  Forget flowers – they are pitiful imitations of the color that those trees put forth in their glory.

On the flip side, I have my time now, here at the end of the day, at the end of all things.  The errands have been run, we’ve battled our way through dinner, the dishes are washed, the kids bathed and storied and nursed and tucked in and finally asleep, I have my last cup of reheated coffee from the morning’s pot going cold again in front of me as I type, and I have my own bed beckoning from upstairs.  We’ve worked out a sleep schedule (finally) that allows me more than a few consecutive hours.  Baby gets nursed/bottled/rocked/patted/whateverittakesdon’tjudgememan to sleep on the couch, and she hangs out with Manly until he comes to bed around midnight-ish.  At that point, he handles last diaper change and a final bedtime bottle.  I go to bed earlier and have a couple hours of blessed alone sleeping time (i.e., no one is kicking me in the face touching me), and then I usually get another few hours before she wants to nurse early morning.  Or before Smaller wakes up to pee and then starts yelling for me to come turn her bedtime music back on and wakes me up anyway.  Or before Mini can’t breathe from miserable allergies and wakes up needing a drink and medicine.  Or someone pees their bed, or their diaper, and I have to deal with it.  After that I may or may not get up and work out or stay in bed and desperately try to will myself back to sleep before my alarm goes off.  Off-tangent — tl;dr, my sleep still sucks most nights.  But right now, I’m okay.  I’m still hopeful that TONIGHT will be the night everyone sleeps through and therefore I will be able to sleep through.  One day, it WILL happen.  But I’m relaxed and I’m happy and it’s a good hour.

How can I choose?  I think it’s a good thing that I have multiple favorite parts of the day.  I haven’t even touched on that first blessed cup of coffee with milk and cream in the morning.  Or my running time.  Or the feeling when all three kids come running when they hear the door open when I get home at night.  All those moments are fantastic in their own ways.  I can’t pick one favorite without implying that the others are not as good, and that simply isn’t true.

I love my life.