Out With the Old, In With the New!

In a season marked by the giving and receiving of gifts, I am overcome today by a need to purge and clean as all the new stuff enters my house with no place to live and every closet and cupboard filled to capacity. Which begs the question – if we have to get rid of old stuff to make room for new stuff, how much stuff do we really need? Are we cultivating an attitude of simplicity and gratitude in ourselves and our children? Or one of excess and extravagance? Now, as I have mentioned before in a couple of posts, I don’t thing that gift giving is purely about satisfying needs. If it was, we would all get Hoovers and underwear for Christmas. Instead, giving gifts is a physical demonstration of the thoughtfulness that emanates from love. If our holiday gifts showed such thoughtfulness and were messages of caring and love, than they were a success and a worthy investment. If, however, they were just an accumulation of things because it’s the time of year to accumulate things, than they were a waste.

All that being said, I am grateful for the motivation and incentive to cleanse my house and my cupboards of unnecessary clutter. It has been a long time in the making. My boss once shared with us at a company luncheon that he and his wife make it a habit to go through their things once a year and get rid of anything that they hadn’t used in the previous year. Having lived in the same place for the last 3.5 years and never purged or rearranged, I’ve been drawn to this idea ever since he shared it. I’m sure my fire is fueled by nesting instincts as well, since Baby No. 2 will be making his début in 4.5 months. But regardless of the reason, nesting or staleness or Christmas, the time for “spring” cleaning has arrived and began today in earnest. I only made it through part of one room but already the pile marked for garage sale is substantial. Although I am exhausted and know I have a LONG way to go, this pile of no longer needed/wanted junk (or treasures to garage sale customers) makes me very happy. It is the beginning of greater order, more space, and enhanced simplicity. It is an opportunity to make some money from things we don’t need and benefit those who do. It is a change, no matter how small, that makes our home more livable. We’ll see how far I get in the coming weeks before the fire dies.

The World’s Rosy Complexion

I’m not sure if it is the gradual change of the weather this year, as opposed to the dramatic drop we usually get from 90° one week to 45° the next, or if it is simply the universe smiling at us poor southerners at a time when the stress of life is getting overwhelming, but I was just commenting to my husband that the fall colors seem more vivid this year and remarkably out of character for our little corner of the world. Of course it helps matters that, due to a temporary change of sitters for my son, I have been driving the Natchez Trace to work every day. It is the most beautiful stretch of road in Mississippi and such a refreshing change of scenery to clear my mind as I drive.

A section of the Natchez Trace near Rocky Springs

I must confess that seeing all of this Autumn grandeur does more to make me miss my Yankee upbringing that it does to help me appreciate my current home. It reminds me so much of the Autumns I remember growing up, surrounded by sugar maples, oaks, elms, and other hardwoods that transform themselves annually with a fiery magic that seizes even the most diehard advocates of summer and captures their hearts and imaginations for Fall. The whole world has a golden, rosy complexion and it is hard to not to look at the rest of life through the same colored lenses.

Another section of the Old Natchez Trace, slightly north of here.

And the colors that seem to be spreading like wildfire over the local foliage are accompanied by the most glorious earthy, musky smell of the fallen leaves and the damp earth that lingers in the cool air instead of being baked away by afternoon heat. It is a smell that inspires us to fill our homes with the other smells of Fall: pumpkin spice muffins, squash casserole, roasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon apple cider, and zucchini bread. It reminds us to kick on the heat, pull out the afghans and find a good book to wile away the rainy afternoons.

Mmmmm, Yummy!

I am so grateful that Autumn has finally arrived and has decided to grace us with its rather picturesque presence this year. I, and I’m sure many others, definitely needed the change of scenery and the renewal of inspiration.

The Development of a Sense of Humor

I am continually amazed (and amused) at my 2 1/2 year old’s development of a sense of humor. It’s astonishing to me that in such a short amount of time he has gained enough of a grasp of reality and the world in which he lives to understand irony and a sense of the ridiculous. It began with a firm grounding in language that enabled him to recognize which were “real” words and which were “siwwy.” He would then make up the most absurd combinations of words such as opisnook and manganash and as soon as he said them he would bust into hysterical laughter. He didn’t need anyone else to confirm that it was funny. He knew. And we could go back and forth for half an hour making up outlandish words in turn and breaking for bouts of laughter. It is so refreshing that something so simple and silly can make even a grown up laugh.

Then, as his handle on the world grew even stronger, he began to appreciate the foolish hilarity of slapstick. Recently, as I was making him lunch, I let him watch an episode of Sesame Street on Netflix. As I was getting everything ready I heard him start laughing in the other room. The laughter grew into a rolling, un-self-conscious, un-contained giggle as though someone was tickling him mercilessly and he was about to fall out of his chair. And what was causing this display? Grover continuously tripping on a banana peel and it eventually landing on his head – the first door leading to the world of the Three Stooges, Mr. Bean, and even Jim Carey. And as I watched him from the doorway to the room, I was struck by the independence of his humor. No one was in there with him giving him queues about what was “supposed” to be funny. No one was making him laugh with tickles or funny faces or any of the other gimics we’ve been using since before he could see our faces clearly. He just knew, deep in his belly, that Grover was being ridiculous and it was funny!

And last night, before bed, he told his first joke. Daddy read him a story that had a joke in it and he remembered it and told it to me when I came to tuck him in. “Who goes to bed with their shoes on?” I don’t know Aiden, who? “A HORSE!” Bahahahahaha! I know, I know, it’s a terrible entrance into his world of joke telling, but he was so proud of himself, I couldn’t help but laugh with him. I fear we are in for many more corny jokes before Daddy teaches him all the subtleties of a dry wit.

The development of a sense of humor is not one of those things you see on developmental milestone charts at the pediatricians office or in popular parenting magazines and websites, but it is one of the most sophisticated changes I’ve seen in him so far. One that marks him distinctly as an individual and a kid, and not just a needy baby or toddler. I am excited to see how it grows!

Fighting For Fulfillment

A few minutes ago, as I was reading to Aiden before bed, I fell asleep between one page and the next. There was a long pause and Aiden asked, “Mama, why’d you stop?” My only response, “Oh, sorry, where was I?”  That is the state of exhaustion in which I find myself tonight while trying to write something insightful. I was discussing with a friend recently that every decision we make as adults seems to involve some amount of sacrifice. The question we face when making these decisions is, does the gain outweigh the loss? While in the early months of pregnancy, I find that the sacrifice for maintaining my personal goals and sanity seems to be utter exhaustion. Obviously, I believe the benefits of a stimulating conversation with a greatly missed friend till the wee hours of the morn outweigh the crushing fatigue that faces me the next day. Clearly, I think it is more important for me to keep writing consistently even when my bed is calling my name like a siren, than to wait for a refreshed and inspired moment to enlighten my readers with witty repartee. And it is certainly beneficial for me to continue reading for my book club even when sleep is crowding my vision.

But, while considering these things, I realized that this is not a unique problem of early pregnancy. My current battle may be with exhaustion, but there is always something that is encroaching on our time, energy, and commitment. We always have to fight for personal fulfillment and growth even when the activities that cultivate them sometimes feel like chores. Because without them, we stagnate. We sleep. We waste. If we are not striving to be better, even while sacrificing a certain amount of ease and comfort, then we become millstones around the necks of those we care about who are trying to grow. So keep fighting for the things that make you a better person, even when you would much rather be doing something else, because in the long run, you will find yourself changed, with a greater capacity for understanding, challenge, and new growth.

Stop Dying and Start Living a Little!

Human development is stunning . . . at all of its stages. The way I see it, the moment we stop developing in some capacity, as our human nature demands, is the moment we start dying. If we are not growing, we are diminishing. Everyone expects children to be constantly developing, growing and changing, but at some point in our adult lives, we get the distinct impression that no one expects us to grow anymore. That, just as our bodies have stopped growing, we as people are also free to coast our way through the rest of our existence without giving much thought to change. This is a sad way of living, with very few expectations, that leads to the end of personal fulfillment, relationships, and love. However, when we encounter people who have not given up on their own person development, who journey through life with an unspoken belief that every door, open or shut, is an opportunity, who take every chance they get to reexamine how they do things, why they do things, and what difference they are making by doing them, then the light that emanates from them is unmistakable. They are an inspiration to everyone they meet because, deep down, we all crave what they exhibit so freely.

I have experienced some incredibly potent examples of human capability and growth this week. They may be very small, in size or significance, but in actuality, they are great. They are what make us unique, vibrant, and mysterious. The human being that is developing in my belly is only 7 weeks old (5 weeks from the time of conception) and today, as we visited the doctor for the first time, we heard its minute heart making a big sound. A human no larger than 1/2 an inch with a fully functional, beating heart. A journey of development that started only 5 weeks previous with two cells, has now become multiple body systems with a heart that beats 126 times per minute. Amazing. If that is not inspiring, I’m not sure what is.

My son, who, up until now in his 2 1/2 years of development has been very literal in his interpretations of the world around him, has exploded into the realm of imagination. Everything is pretend. And there is no limit to what is possible. So there’s a dragon behind that chair whose fire you can put out with water that spews from the end of your sword? Fantastic! So Superman is having supper with you and imbues your catfish with special powers to grant strength? Amazing! So there’s a campfire in the living room and you want to roast marshmallows? Why not! The mind has such incredible capacity to create, that once it has developed a framework of understanding for how things work, it breaks those barriers and creates new rules. Once again inspiring us, as stodgy old adults who have everything figured out, to step outside of the box and just IMAGINE the possibilities.

My husband, who keeps his plate completely full with music, goals, ideas, learning, family, work, exercise, and (occasionally) relaxation, has managed to stretch his boundaries further and increase his capabilities because the people who love him need his help. Being hobbled by morning sickness lately, I have been unable to accomplish everything that I normally do for Aiden, the house, and our family, and Jonathan has stepped up to fill all the gaps. Finding time and strength he didn’t know he possessed. That is love. That is maturity and growth born from necessity. That is inspiring.

Every day we can find new examples of growth and development if we seek them out. And when we find them we should nourish and feed them, and spread the infectious inspiration of them to others, so that they too can stop dying and start living a little.