Hi from paradise

Do you ever get a moment to catch your breath and find yourself asking, "What.... just happened"?  This year I took on several new projects.  Things reached a fever-pitch in the spring and left all of us with our heads spinning, feeling exhausted and a little bewildered.  I'm learning what a hard thing it is to be a mother to my children and my dreams at the same time.  But I firmly believe that my children deserve nothing less than a mother with dreams.  And what good are dreams if you don't go after them, even when you sometimes feel like you're in over your head?  Childhood is one big exercise in being in over your head, and I've learned something from watching my kids all these years.  When they find themselves in deep water, they learn how to swim, fast.

Another thing I've learned is that it's okay to take a moment to float on your back and catch your breath.  Preferably in Hawaii.  Because here you can wake up at 6:30 in the morning to the sound of roosters crowing, cartoons blaring and kids sprawled on the couches, already begging to go to the beach.  You can hide in your room until you feel ready to come out and engage.  You can engage for five minutes, and then leave for a long*, sweaty run.  After you come home with your head clear and your legs burning, you can head out to the beach or on a hike or some other adventure.  And in the afternoon you can eat a giant acai bowl for lunch, swim in the pool rather than take a shower, and take all the time you want to call a friend, or write an email, or pretend to not be watching the Disney channel show that's on TV.  You can eat an early** dinner, preferably seafood, preferably outside on the porch.  You can tell yourself that everyone, including you, is going to bed early, but not really mean it.  And then you can sleep under just a sheet, with the trade winds blowing through the open windows, until you wake up and do it all over again.

Tomorrow the girls and I are catching an early flight back to the mainland.  I have the feeling of dread I always get when I have to leave part of my family, but I know it will be good for the boys to have some time to themselves here.  They can go on crazy hard hikes, surf, eat whatever they want and sleep on the beach.  And I'm excited to have some special time with the girls, and to see the marsh and the Atlantic ocean, which I haven't seen in over two years.  And to eat shrimp and grits and spend time with my family and good friends.  

Mahalo, Hawaii, for being the perfect place to catch my breath.  

*My definition of a long run is 6 miles, and my definition of a short run is 5 miles.  I'm flexible that way.
**My definition of an early dinner is 5:30 and my definition of a late dinner is 6, because, again, flexible.


Thoughts for MLK

Every year I'm a little disappointed in myself for not marking the passage of Martin Luther King Day in a more meaningful way.  This year was no different, outwardly, although inwardly my thoughts have been lingering on the qualities of service, faith and courage that MLK personified.  I'm resolved to do better next year, but in the meantime I promised myself I would at least write this blog post, even if it's a few days late.

Last week I was helping in Marley's class when I read something that struck me with such force I had to write it down.  The teacher had just finished explaining to the kids that if not for Martin Luther King, Jr., their little class of white, brown and most shades in between might not have been able to exist.  My eyes were wandering around the room and landed on a poster with frayed edges hanging next to the black board.  It said:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.  Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.

Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.

Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate.  In fact, violence merely increases hate.

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

I've long felt that MLK was a prophet, and to me, these words feel like scripture.  I've been thinking about them, and praying for them to sink into my heart.  I think it's amazing that I, in all my privilege, and a world away in experience, can feel such resonance in his words, and feel like they apply so personally to my life.  

I'm not violent in my actions, but I can be violent with my words and thoughts.  And it never works, it just never does.  Light and love are the only things that work, whether your battle is with a toddler or a tyrant.  Not that I would ever compare my struggles to the struggles of those who fought for civil rights.  But the best way I know to honor their memory is to use the lessons they taught us, to become a more loving person, and to raising loving people.

I also thought this was fascinating, and, again, held such relevance to my life.

P.S.- When we lived in Atlanta we tried several times to tour the house on Auburn Avenue where MLK was born, but it was always sold out.  It's on my list of things to do before I die.


The 2nd of January

The sun has set on 2013.  I'm never really sad to see the old year go.  I love to put away my Christmas decorations and turn my thoughts forward to all the things I hope for in the year to come.  I have a feeling that 2014 has a lot in store for us.

I just sent an email to my friend in Brazil who's pregnant, and wanted my thoughts on Hypnobabies.  I opened up one of the mp3's that I listened to so religiously when I was pregnant with the girls.  I couldn't believe how, in an instant, I was back in that time.  I remembered the uncertainty, fear, excitement and hope I felt.  It may sound crazy, but there is such power in someone telling you that everything is going to be okay.  Even now, years later, I hear those cues and my heart rate slows, my mind relaxes, and my chin lifts just a little.  It gave me the energy to do a little catching up here...

 In early December I finished the training to become a CASA volunteer.  I took a six-week, thirty hour course that (hopefully), has prepared me to be an advocate for a foster child.  I looked through several files, picked a 16 year-old girl, and am beyond excited to meet her.  It's hard for me to find the words to describe what this experience has meant to me so far.  It's amazing to learn about the struggles and trauma that foster children face, and yet to see the efforts of the community and the court system to try to strengthen families and help children.  The system is nowhere near perfect, but there are some pretty incredible people and organizations behind it, and I'm excited to play my small part.

We had a wonderful trip to Oregon to see Eric's parents for Christmas.  We ate fondue, listened to stories from Grammie's youth and just enjoyed being together.  We also ran around Portland and the surrounding area a little bit.  There's something so magic about the Pacific Northwest.  I hadn't been back since we left Seattle, almost nine years ago.  I love the green, and the being able to sit in your car while someone pumps your gas for you.

I even got to spend some time with Cindy, my dear, dear friend from our North Carolina days, and her family.  She fed us amazing mexican food, ice cream and the healing power of just sitting and talking with someone who knows you really well and loves you anyway.  There's nothing like that in the world.

Now we're home.  I'm losing my mind a little bit with everyone home from school all day.  It'll be nice to get back into a routine in a few days.  But I'll miss sleeping in.  Time to revisit my annual resolution of going to bed earlier.  I could even start right now...


Our summer in the sun

I know that it's only a matter of time before the memories of our Hawaiian adventure start to fade, and since our minds are already turning toward next summer's plans, I thought I'd better get on it!

We spent the last month of the summer on the North Shore of Oahu.  Early on we had the company of our wonderful Santa Cruz friends, the Bartons, as well as our dear, dear Atlanta neighbors, Kaitlyn, Savannah, Mackenzie and Donna.  Eric, Brigham, Kaitlyn and Savannah fell seamlessly back into their easy friendship, which was one of the most magical parts of our time in Atlanta, and something I've missed fiercely since we left.

The girls had learned to surf in California the week before we left, so a lot of their time was spent in the ocean together.  Kaitlyn and Savannah are the best kind of fun, fearless girls.  If I could keep them forever, I would.

This was our first trip to Hawaii, so we relied on the Bartons, who are veterans, to show us how it's done, which they did- with a vengeance.  I don't think I could have kept up with them for much longer than a week!  They introduced us to the joys of Waimeia Bay, Matsumoto's shave ice, surfing at Chun's Reef, snorkling, poi balls, and that was just the beginning.  They also fed us what I've come to refer to as 'crack rice'.  I've tried and failed to replicate it, which is probably a good thing for my thighs.

That first week was a whirlwind, and then all at once, everyone left, and it was just our little family.  I'd be lying if said that didn't throw me into a mini-depression.  Which is why the next time we do this, we want lots of visitors!  I dealt with it by convincing my brother to fly out and spend a few days with us toward the end of the trip.  And also by having a fit about the state of our second rental house, which Eric heroically remedied by booking a new place, back closer to where we had been at the start of our trip.  He says I imprinted on the North Shore because that's where we were with all our friends, and I think he's probably right.  I'm not good with change, even on vacation, apparently:).  

About two weeks in, the kids were feeling a little 'over-beached', and fortunately for us, we had a local hiking expert at our disposal.  Our friend Christian grew up in Hawaii, and we had met his mom, Pam, on several of her visits to Santa Cruz last year.  She was kind enough to take us on some truly incredible hikes.  We swung on rope swings, jumped from waterfalls, ate wild lilikoi and squeezed awapui onto our heads.  Pam has an aura of calmness that envelopes everyone around her, and it was one of the highlights of our trip to get to know her and her family.

Would it be a true Aldrich vacation if some of us didn't go barefoot?

On Hawaiian statehood day, we joined Pam, Christian's brother Adam, and their friends for a bonfire on the beach.  

Eric spent a half-day riding along with a cacao consultant, in furtherance of his dream to one day make and sell his own chocolate.  He saw real cacao growing on trees, which was a thrill for him.  The man loves chocolate.

My brother arrived and we set about dragging him around to all the fun things we'd discovered during our trip so far.  It was his first time in Hawaii too, and there was a lot to show him in three days!

The kids could not get enough of him.  Eleanor, whose verbal skills exploded on this trip, dubbed him 'Adocado'.  The boys took him snorkling and surfing, and generally monopolized every moment they could with him.

I took him to my favorite food place in Haleiwa for an acai bowl.  I'm still dreaming about those things.  I think I could eat one every day.  I know I could.

My days fell into a pattern of long, sweaty runs, splashing around at the beach, and afternoon trips into town with the kids while Eleanor napped and Eric worked.

The warm, humid air felt so good on my skin after a year in cool coastal California.

I thought a lot about mothers and daughters in Hawaii, after our wonderful week with Donna and her three girls, plus the Bartons and their five (!).  One day I'll wake Marley and Eleanor up to go for an early-morning run with me.  We'll swap clothes the way I used to do with my mom.  They'll braid each other's hair and make cookies together after dinner- and clean up!  I can't wait for that.

In the meantime, the boys do their best to fill in.... :)

I also thought a lot about families, and the many relationships within them.  I've never made a secret of the fact that I'm not much for travelling, but I think it's a good thing to get away together every now and again.  All kinds of things come to the surface when there's no-one to look at but each other, and not all of it's good, but in the end, it brings you closer together.  Being in Hawaii seemed to magnify the intensities of life with four children- the highs were high and the lows low.  Oh my goodness, the screaming in the car- and not all of it coming from the children!  But in the end, I think it was worth it.  We'll hold onto to the good parts and the bad parts will become faded memories.

Eric and I both noticed that after we got home, the kids seemed to get along together much better.  That only lasted for a few weeks, but it's something.

Maybe enough to get us through winter, all the way to next summer.


The hello year...

I was talking to a dear friend recently about her upcoming move.  After we hung up, I started thinking about all the moves, all the goodbye's we've said in the past three years.  I think that's part of why this move has been a difficult one for me, because I'm still missing two places.  Just as soon as I had gotten my feet under me in Atlanta, it was time to go again.

But- there are no goodbyes on the horizon anymore, at least as far as we can see.

My sense of who I am as a person is so deeply connected to place.  Leaving the South, where I'd lived most of my life, where so many important things happened to me, felt like losing a part of myself.

But slowly, slowly, I'm making new connections in this new place.  I realized this as I dropped the kids off for their various camps this morning (moment of reverence for the wonderfulness of your car gradually emptying from five children to one).

First stop was Marley's new school, where she gets to go to kindercamp for the next two weeks and have a little taste of what she'll be doing in the fall.  We saw old friends from preschool.  We know people now.  That exhausting feeling of introducing and explaining yourself every minute of every day is gone.

Then it was down Bay street to the beach, where the boys and their neighborhood friends have beach baseball camp this week.  The ocean was so blue, and the streets were so quiet.  I'm learning that when you live in a tourist town, quiet is special, and you soak it in.  I smiled to think that we get to live in a place where people come on vacation.

Then Eleanor and I drove home to our cows and our view of the bay.  We just had a quiet morning around the house, and I thought back over the past year and all the new things we've done and seen.  I had the sense that we made it through the hardest part- the goodbye's and the hello's.

Now we can just be.


Inside every turning leaf is the pattern of an older tree

Eleanor turned two last week.  There are so many things about her that I don't want to forget even as I wish these toddler days away.  I know I shouldn't do that, but I do.  I may have actually uttered the words "I wish the Goblin king would come and take you away, right now!" once or twice.  Don't worry El- I would totally brave the labrynth and face down David Bowie in lycra to get you back.

It's all about vocalizing right now.  Loud, piercing screams are usually her communication method of choice.  You haven't lived until you've experienced a trip to the grocery store with Ellie and her vocal chords.  I tune it out.  She's my fourth kid, and I'm tired.  Half the time people compliment me on my amazing patience and the other half, they glare at me for my negligence.  The eye doctor couldn't take it, and suggested I come back when she was in a better mood.  I tried to explain that there would be no better mood.  This is just how she is all the time.  But I don't think it registered.

She talks now too, thank goodness.  No one understands much of what she's saying, but it's very clear to her.

Goldfish are "foofies".  Food falls into one of three categories: fruits and vegetables are "apples".  Treats are "cokies" and everything else is "pizza".

Animals are referred to under the blanket term "ooshang", a derivative of Mustang (our dog). At first I thought "ooshang" meant ocean, but no.  Ocean is "potty".  All bodies of water, from small puddles on up are potties.

I noticed her repeating the "F-word" in the car a few weeks ago.... that F-word.  It turns out that's her new word for foot.  Which was awesome at Marley's class field trip to the beach the other day- the sand was hot, and she kept repeating, in her extremely loud voice "hot f@%&#, hot f#$%&!"  We are very popular at preschool.

Happy second birthday to my little troll.  You have turned my world upside down, but you've also changed it for the better, and I can't wait to watch you grow into yourself.  Your confidence and sense of adventure will steer you true.  I hope you never lose the openness and assertiveness with which you greet the world.

I'm excited for our days together next year, just you and me.  Got my earplugs ready:).

Love you, little one.


Waiting on summer

Eric Jr. lost his reading notebook.  In it are pages and pages of summaries he's written for the novel his class is reading right now.  I watched him all last week as he read the chapters and carefully wrote his notes, and now it's gone.  His teacher is mad at him.  We talked before bed about personal organization, and also about dealing with difficult people.  And I reminded him that there are only three weeks left in the school year!

We're planning on making up to our kids all the craziness of our lives this past year- the moving, the screaming-toddler-sister, the late nights working...all of it- with a month in Hawaii.  It dawned on us a few weeks ago, as we noticed all our neighbors making plans to leave town, that one of the perks of being a professor is that you can go anywhere your hearts desire for the summer*.  And our hearts desire to go to Hawaii, not wear shoes, and hang out with sea turtles for a month, so that's what we're doing.

Also- I hear that church starts twenty minutes late in Hawaii...

I may never come home :).

*Just to clarify- Eric has to work in the summer (and work hard, believe me), it's just he doesn't have to teach, and he was clever enough to pick a field in which his research is portable, so he can do it just as easily in a Starbuck's in Hawaii as he can in his office.