Saturday, September 12, 2015

Contemplation of a Crescent Moon

"Did you see the moon?"

My husband's voice rose above the rhythmic pounding of our feet as we wound our way through the deserted park in the early morning stillness. I lifted my eyes to the darkened sky punctuated with sparkling points of starlight.  There, hanging almost shyly just above the roofs of the houses bordering the neighborhood park was the slightest sliver of a moon glowing a soft, pale orange.  It was so slight, in fact, it could have been easily missed in the great expanse of darkness.  It occurred to me that maybe that is what it hoped, that it could escape notice as it made its journey across the sky and disappeared into the light of day.  Perhaps it was focused, not on impressing others with its brilliance, but simply on completing the course that it had been set to follow.

And perhaps it did not understand just how beautiful it really was, for this was not the moon that prompts people to exclaim, "Did you see the moon last night?" That is a question usually reserved for the biggest, flashiest of full moons. But how much do we miss when all we notice is the biggest and the brightest?

It is easy to recognize those who stand out the most.  But what about the ones who hang quietly back? Do we see the beauty that they, too, contribute to the world?  Or are we too busy being dazzled by the ones who put on a grandiose display?  Which ones do we praise and compliment and congratulate on a job well done?  And which ones do we fail to fully appreciate for their gentle gifts that they quietly offer?

These thoughts churned in my mind as our walk took us in a direction that turned our backs to the moon.  As I contemplated these ideas I saw the faces of my students: the ones who shine brightly and the ones who provide a softer glow; the ones society will acknowledge and the ones that it will either pass over or want to "fix," molding them to fit their own vision of what is valuable. 

As we turned toward home, the moon once again came into view.  It was higher now, having continued on its journey as I continued on mine.  My eyes lingered on that slight little sliver of moon and I smiled.  It didn't need to be any bigger or any brighter. It had a gift no full moon could offer.  It was perfect just the way it was.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Bruised Toes and Orange Juice

I am horrible at juggling.

I remember when I was a kid my dad would grab three oranges from the fruit bowl and effortlessly toss them in the air.  Around and around they would go in perfect synchronicity.  He made it look so easy.  Certainly I could do that too.

My efforts only resulted in bruised toes and orange juice.

Imagine my horror, then, when I discovered that life as an adult is all about juggling.  And it seems the older you get, the more difficult it becomes, with more and more objects being thrown your way while those who mercilessly throw them chant, "Juggle, juggle, juggle!"  There you are, center stage, frantically trying to keep everything moving, knowing a blunder is inevitable and everything will go crashing to the floor.

Work. Home. Family. They all have their demands that need to be met, quite often simultaneously. Let us not forget that inner-voice that screams up from the deep every once in a while, "What about me?" Exercise.  Reading. Writing. Time with friends.  Time alone. So many balls in the air, going around all at once, no time to stop.  Must. Keep. Moving.

That's how I've been feeling, especially since returning to work full-time after working part-time for seven years.  Trying to tackle to-do lists ten miles long and growing, all the while satisfying the needs of those around me, has left me exhausted and overwhelmed.   I look around me, both literally and figuratively, and see so many oranges on the floor.  The house isn't as clean as I would like it.  There are piles of laundry that need to be washed, dried, folded, and put away.  There's the grocery list still to be made, the grocery shopping to be done, and the meals to be prepared.  Three weeks into the school year and I have yet to go online to check up on my middle schooler's grades or my third grader's AR progress.  I haven't made the 2 1/2 hour drive to visit my mom in months.  Beside me sits a bag full of papers from school waiting for me to go through it and lesson plans waiting to be written. Every direction I move, I'm slipping in orange juice.

And yet, oddly enough, this juggling act has filled me with a sense of purpose and accomplishment as well. Because the truth is that, while I may not be doing everything to the level of perfection I would like, I'm doing it.  The kids are clean and fed, and somehow I manage to get them to school each day, on time no less. There is food in the house and a home-cooked meal most nights of the week.  No one has had to go to school or work in clothes recycled from the hamper.  My students have never arrived at class to find me unprepared.  Okay, so my anchor charts may not be Pinterest-worthy, but they get the job done. And while I may still be figuring out exactly how to get there, I have a pretty good idea of where I want to go.  I haven't been writing as often as I would like (unless you count the "writing" I do in my head), but I am writing now. My husband and I have begun walking in the mornings, sneaking in a bit of exercise and cherished time together.  These are all things to feel good about.

It occurred to me the other day that I have been holding myself up to almost impossible standards.  I have been trying to be the wife and mother my mom was without making it the full-time occupation that she did.  Just because it's different doesn't mean it's inferior.  Our lives may not be the mirror image of the one I lived growing up, but it works for us. So what if we don't eat every single dinner at 6:30 p.m. at the kitchen table?  So what if the sheets don't get changed on the exact same day of the week every time? So what if there are piles of papers and piles of books where there shouldn't be?  In the long run, it isn't going to matter. I see my children becoming strong, confident, capable young men.  They know they are loved and cared for. My marriage has never been stronger. And I have never been happier. When I stop to look at my life as it is, without holding it up to the idealized vision in my head, I recognize that while it may not be perfect, it is just fine the way it is. 

Yes, my dad made it look easy, but he was juggling oranges for fun.  He was able to stop whenever he wanted. In life, we don't really have that option.  We have to keep going even when our arms get tired and the thought of keeping one more ball in the air seems like more than we can take. Occasionally, one's going to fall. There will be bruised toes and orange juice from time to time. But we can use that as our opportunity to acknowledge everything that's going right, to recognize how many oranges we manage to keep in the air every day.  It's also a time to decide which ones are truly necessary for our juggling act and which ones can be put aside and saved for another time.  It's our opportunity to pat ourselves on the back, take a deep breath, and start all over again, confident in the knowledge that we can do this.

Bruised toes and orange juice?  That's not failure; it's just a part of every juggler's life.