The Year We Went To Forest School

if you like to read about motherhood, spirituality, and a smidge of uplifting thoughts, you may like to read my work.

4:44 am

Birds chirp. The clock ticks. The coffee gurgles, finishing. The baby yawns His vocals meet me where I am It’s dark Footsteps encroach I just want peace A moment to let my soul return A second to feel like me Well Here comes morning I can wake earlier and earlier But I can’t escape

It was the storm, the daring clouds, the furrowed brow in the distance, hanging low over the trees, that signaled me to pay attention. It was the red lights, that echoed into my living room.

I am sitting awake for no reason when the red spilled over and inside. It’s 3:38 a.m. Between the mini blind slats, a story unfolds across the street.

I am watching their window within our window, when the medics arrive. A bit of curtain is parted, as though waiting for her to drift home. The light behind the curtain still glows, though weeks have passed since she died. I imagine myself weightless and mingling with her spirit, between the brick barriers of our homes, when I fall back down to earth, suddenly, like the time.

Across the street, a story unfolds. The front door swings open to invite the crew and stretcher. I wait and wait. Is it him or is it her? I lift the slat an inch to see better. I think I see a figure in their window, watching me, watching them.

The coffee is done. 4:51 am. The room is dark. The ambulance has left. The baby begins to wake.

I look again to the north, and wonder if I sense her drifting in and out the parted shade, through the window that is always lit by the light that is always on. For his sake, I hope so.

by Melissa Lipnick

But, How Did It Make You Feel? By Melissa Lipnick

It’s autumn and I’m driving. The clouds that clustered for days have dissipated. Just little puffs like smoke sprinkle the sky, now. The days before this, I drove blindly through the fog. My senses lit the way because there wasn't a choice otherwise. The haze felt too real, too ominous, and too metaphoric.

But today, the light is bright and easy. And though there is one child in my car who is unleashing his anger in screams that suffocate the cabin space, I can breathe better. I am treading lightly in this new space. If the clouds reached toward me, through the windshield, I would let myself be enveloped in their soft hug. This floating feeling exists only if I allow my reasoning to be flung out the window, lost in the wind.

This is the year of the pandemic, the year my fourth child is born, and the year we went to Forest School. We exit reality the moment I turn left onto the gravel drive that leads us to the forest that can be everyone’s school. It’s our path to Narnia; the tree branch covered road that unexpectedly opens into an exhale of wide land. Power lines litter the cross space of field and gravel. It should feel wrong. The juxtaposition of ugly with freely growing grass should feel misplaced, but instead I read it as a message.

Today we round the corner towards that opening, and suddenly there is nothing but light. I hit the brakes at a halt. I am blinded. To move forward, I have to trust again like the days of fog. But in the light, it feels like free falling. We are barreling down the roller coaster hill, even as my foot is firmly on the brake. Somehow it is scarier to trust how to move forward in the light, then it was when the absence of it.

Time wins. We have four minutes less then usual, so I press down on the gas and imagine I am enveloped again in a cloud’s hug, being guided safely. For a millisecond we are suspended in trust. Blink. Next millisecond and the stomach drop passes. The next curtain of trees ushers us inside their shade.

We get there and it’s on a different timetable than I intended, but it’s ours. I accept it. Is there a choice anyways? Fog, light, blinding sun, sad skies, deep clouds, gravel, road, suspended in a moment, click the camera to remember not the image, but how it made you feel.

5:39am You chat in babbles. I am knees up, beneath the blanket on the couch. The coffee maker clicks. I’m at the side of a mountain; the air is still.

I’ll jump or climb or tumble down; soon, not yet. The pause in your voice as it drifts across the rooms is only temporary. It’s adventure, to you. It’s exhaustion, to me.

Here they come, feet on the boards above-I’ll know who by the sound on the stairs.

I begin by remembering I’m not here just for me. Each corner of the house begins to unfold like a pop-up book, just as your cooing quiets. Different patterned thumps, unique as their fingerprint, sound the call of morning, of family, and of responsibility to each other.

It’s all romantic in a sense, until the dog vomits. Duty to one another extends beyond the preparation for perfection. Pull up the rug to wash and decide whether to be burdened by it or grateful. Either way, the book is unfolding into another day-another chance to decide.

By Melissa Lipnick

Rhythm Dancers By Melissa Lipnick

Narratives. They feel like ribbons waving across an ocean. Glamorous and shiny. Lapping against the water for as far as the eye can see. Grab hold of one, and it will shift in your hand. Tangle with the others. Become what you think you want it. The shape is different, but the material is the same. Do you swim? The ribbon satin becomes stained in spots that dip beneath the surface, dark where once glistening. Do you listen to the sounds of the ocean or do you watch the ribbons dancing in the light? The sunset can hypnotize. Let your eyes focus in one spot, Where the orange melts into the green-blue, and you say, “Isn’t that nice.” Tie the ribbons up in a neat bow- The ones that haven’t stained. Come back tomorrow when it’s light again; noisy with friends. If you stay now, The shore will shift beneath you, Your feet suspended in the salt Without eyes to keep you afloat. Go home. Return only when the ribbons are restored. Bring friends, not foes. Plug your ears with music. The ribbons will dance for you, on the salty ocean surface. Magnificent. Lovely. Narratives.

The Gift of the Midwest

The gift of the Midwest is sometimes we are snowed in. Today is one of those times, a forced day of rest within a forced year of exclusion. You asked me not to leave, and though I am busy, I will sit and watch you sleep. Your blue blanky is hugged tight beneath your chin and the sun makes lines across your body, slipping through the blinds. Our baby sleeps near you. The waves rise and fall from the machine that makes sound.

It’s 4:59 in the evening and this will make for a long night, this late nap. I rock and make lists, gazing out the open door towards the house that keeps moving. An open closet door is filled with aging spices. On it’s handle, hangs a white garbage bag that must be gathered tonight with the rest. Just beyond, near the food bowls, stands our Wendell dog, aging like the spices, perhaps beyond his expiration date- one can never know with rescues- he looks up expectantly, waiting. “Dinner” looms, sitting on my shoulders while calling from the kitchen, admonishing me for another day unplanned, unprepared, happening upon the time we eat without an idea of what I will set out for it. Dinner doesn’t like me. But the feeling is mutual.

You both, my elder two, the ones who are a pair, with names I say together like one, you’re languishing in another day of nothingness. This year has been like a river, some days smooth, others that are filled with currents. But the shores are soft and overflow easily; water spills onto plants that have enough and aging wooden docks buckle under the pressure. The river used to be murky, impossible to see beneath the glistening layer of sun kissed water at the top. But suddenly now, it is shockingly clear, straight to the bottom, here, in this river that has been this year. We are floating downstream, lazy on tubes, feet grazing the wet at times, heads tipped back just enough to cool our necks. If we try to look down, to absorb this chance to finally see what is beneath the top layer of glistening sun kissed water, the tube tips. So we float aimlessly like a dream, then grip the tube sides when the current suddenly pulls us this way and that. Wet hands and wet tube are mostly futile, when matched. But we try. And when I tip just a bit and take a look downwards, on my break from looking upwards where I basked in the sun, I see that the river bottom is only quicksand. The promise was that the river was built well, but now I see that the seahorses were fake and the plant life simply plastic. If we fall from our tubes, the sand beneath the water will swallow us whole. Now we are plummeting faster and faster downstream and all I have are my two arms, so I pull my children atop both our tubes. We link together and with hands held tight, we are balanced. Eyes match eyes, not up or down, but straight on. Children on our laps, they keep us from tipping this way or that. We cannot depend upon the clouds or the river floor, and if we turn forward or back, our tubes may tip. So we are finally steady, and we take the turns together. It’s not calmer, there is still chaos as the dams break and water wins relentlessly, mercilessly, but we have our own foundation upon which to travel these clear waters.

It’s 5:34 and I’m on 1%. I promised I wouldn’t leave, but I need to recharge. I’m quick but not quiet and the baby cries when I re-enter the room. You can’t jump ship without rocking the boat, or tube. You can let the phone die and sit in the dimming room, as the sun sets, and just listen to the manufactured ocean in tune with your children’s miraculous breaths, or you can get up and keep moving. Keep charging. You’ll miss out on a moment but you’ll be active in the next. Maybe you’ll make friends with dinner. Maybe you’ll think of a way to save your boys from the lazy river they found that they love, within the year that the quicksand swallowed the structure beneath our plans. Maybe you’ll just enjoy the snow, the imposed break, the gift of the Midwest, the moment in time where life shuts down for Mother Nature to make her way despite us, in spite of us, or just because.

Why I Stopped Sharing My Children on Social Media

I still remember joining Facebook. It was 2005, I was headed off to grad school, and my college was on their list. I had a general idea of what I was getting into; I sometimes went on MySpace and decorated my page.

First, it felt like a good way to connect with people at a new school, in a new city, in a new state. Making new friends is awkward, but friending on Facebook is simpler.

Then the floodgates opened, and we know that story. Sixteen years later, we have a small sense of the effects that social media imposes on our children. Sixteen years ago, I never could have dreamed that I would use this new thing called Facebook in the way I do now. So, who am I to say what I post now is harmless? Who am I to say I know the future?

What I do know is that I needed to take a break from all social media last year. I dipped my toes in first. I deleted the apps, only signing in on my phone browser. I blocked the sites from my phone browser because I’m too smart for my own tricks. I deactivated my accounts because I know how to unblock what I block. I downloaded all my data from Instagram and Facebook, then did the unthinkable- I fully deleted my dear Instagram account. Facebook and I have been friends longer, so I just couldn’t hit that delete button yet. It’s okay, I told myself. Give yourself some grace.

Trying to get off social media wasn’t about anyone but me. It wasn’t about the comparisons to other’s pretty pics, the way it shapes how we document our lives, or the privacy concerns. It was about living in the moment.

Call it nostalgia, but I want to share the joy of my photos and my actual self and children in person. I want to see your eyes light up as you sift through my stack of pics from our vacation last year. I want to hear your comments, in person.

Perhaps it’s ironic that I am making this choice during a pandemic, when we are social distancing and connections are more severed than ever. Or, maybe it’s one of those hidden gifts in the despair. Sometimes, we don’t really need a reason, a defense, to follow our instincts. We just need to be able to hear ourselves think.

In the quiet of the pandemic, it’s been easier for me to turn off the noise of the world. It’s a luxury, I know. But I have been barreling down a path for years, because the days and nights stop for no one. And I just want a breather to reflect, notice, and evaluate.

I’m pausing and looking forward and it’s not difficult to access my fears for my children, in the future. Do I want my child to point the phone camera at another when they make a mistake, do something silly, however innocent it may be? Do I want my child to share it on their page, because by example, I have demonstrated over the years that it’s what we do? So, I take down the video that I love, where I discover two of my kids tossing pounds of flour in the air. It’s not for me, it’s for them. And I take down the picture that I think is so cute, but because maybe my child won’t agree. I figure that though they are little, I won’t have time to stop and think along the way, so I had better chose a path now that I’ll be okay with down the line.

And, it’s not just my children that I’m thinking about- because I feel a responsibility to all our children – I need to understand the ramifications of speeding unbuckled through social media with our kids in the car, before putting my foot on the gas. After the pandemic, after the social distancing, we will be carpooling again. We will be a closer village again. And your children will be mine and mine yours, at times.

So I deleted all the stuff and I stopped sharing all the stuff because I am not a fortune teller. I don’t make decisions out of fear, but I do value a well thought plan. At the end of the day, I trust those I see in the real world to look at my cute pics and hear me tell a funny story. I’ll share that flour video in person, if my kids say it’s okay. I trust us to raise our kids. But I have gathered enough evidence to know not to trust my kids with the Internet, and for that reason, and that reason alone, I’m done.

I am back to signing on Facebook because I have things about me and my work that I want to share. But, I'm making a choice to stop sharing about my children on social media because, thankfully, for now, I live in a world where I can.

This won’t hurt. Maybe. By Melissa Lipnick

I whisper to you, “you’re safe.”

I make pretend promises. This won’t hurt. You’ll feel better soon. I’m not going anywhere, ever.

This cascades. You, sick. You, stronger, better. The world shuts down. Triage our life.

I disappear over and over. But then, we have new life. A baby!

Do you still trust me? Promises broken from that hospital room, to school here one day then gone the next, to your vibrant 3D life gradually flattening bit by bit into a screen.

Maybe this is just a blip in your 6 years. Maybe the week you were sick and the year the world was sick and the unanswered game of peek-a-boo will be something for the history books. Or maybe, that week, and this year, changed me. Maybe it changed you.

#writeas #readas

Gasp By Melissa Lipnick

It's October and the sky is yellow. The fire is hot, the marshmallows burnt. The baby is asleep in my arms.

You three move quicker then I can document. The photos are blurry, like the moments in memory. We still say “snapshots” and here they are, ready, blurry, or not: marshmallows roasted. Three of you on a tiny red slide. Pajama bottoms falling down. Chopping wood with daddy. Fussy baby. Sad third child. Angry third child. Scared second child. Provoking second child. Loving second child. Moody first child. Leader first child. Anxious parents. Miscommunications and fixes. Hugs and pushes. “I’m learning,” husband says. He means the tending to the fire. I mean at life, as I nod.

There are rhythms to our chaos. Like waves that cascade, the tiny rhythms are these blurry photos from one hiccup to the next. A triumph sits heroically in between. The waves grow bigger and I see them in seasons. 'This too shall pass' is on repeat when we are at the top of the surf, unbalanced, afraid to drown. Then just like that, kicked out on to the beach. Not so unlike the time I found myself spit out onto the sand, with new awareness of our fragility, after the great Atlantic had mercy and let me go.

That evening, after the orange sky and sugar energy ran out, while my children snored, while I sat awake again on the couch, our next door neighbor died. Gasp. Quick deep breath, shocking news. Over and down the waves, under water, break through, Gasp. A soul waving at us from across the driveways under the orange setting sun, then gone. Gasp. Distance of time, already making the memory of her blurry. Quick, quick, another wave is coming. No time for deep breaths, just gasp. Quick, snap, document, remember if you can, then, move on. It's done.

#readas #writeas #parenting

What Kind of Parent Would I Be If There Was No Social Media? By Melissa Lipnick

I need to imagine for a moment how I would parent you, if there was no social media.

Your clothes would be delightfully mismatched, used, and peppered with cartoon characters, because I would never have been swept away by images of full families that are adorned in organic beige and white draping fabrics.

If there was no social media, we would spend summers at the pool instead of farm camps, truck-paloozas, measuring the number of our outdoor hours and critiquing the quality of our indoor time. You would gulp a mouthful of chlorine-filled water, and I would be too ignorant to spend the remainder of the day watching you like a hawk for dry-drowning symptoms.

I'm fairly certain that if there was no social media, you would be munching on frosted cereal and chicken nuggets, instead of the sprouted cacao krispies and tofu I feed you now. You're healthier, but are you happier?

I would send you to the nearest elementary school with a kiss and a shove, if there was no social media. If I took a first/last day photo (I wouldn't), it would be pasted in your scrapbook that I never finish, and not uploaded to be viewed by my closest friends, acquaintances, past coworkers, present circle, and the extended relatives we have never met. Your entry to and from school would be less affirming, but perhaps the uneventful would be more than enough.

There would certainly be a lot more money in my pocket. That just goes without saying. (Darn those glossy social media ads!)

I would likely still document each funny or remarkable thing you do, because that's just who I am. The difference would be in the lens. Instead of nudging your silly antics in the direction of consumable content, I would do more noticing and less marketing. Our daily life could be as boring as we liked. I would not be a reporter with a news feed. Your triumphs would be yours alone, and not material to share. There may be less notoriety, but certainly there would be more authenticity.

I think my mind would be quieter, if there was no social media. With less platforms to stand on, there are less people shouting to be heard. It's so loud out here in the virtual world, I can't hear myself think. Did you really want to play soccer or did I see that someone else's kid was playing and thought I'd screw you up if I didn't sign you up too? Video games are bad. Video games are good. I can't keep track, there's a lot of experts and research and voices telling me what we can and cannot do. Suddenly I realize I cannot trust anyone because social media levels a playing field, and it reveals we are all just grown up kids trying to figure it out. Some may be more intellectual, some may be more spiritual, and others possess more currency. We all, it turns out, just really, really want to be liked. The mystique of those possessive attributes are unveiled and the doors to our homes flung open. And it reminds me of how much stock we have placed in an invisible connector that could be pulled out from beneath our feet without a moment's notice. I like to feel connected, we say. Feel is the operative word, because I feel like I need to be every kind of parent that profiles their life, and I'm really confused now as to who I would be if none of it existed.

It strikes me that I want you to take far more risks then we let our researched, civilized, intellectualized minds allow now. When you are 18 and you go out in the world, I really just want one thing of you – come back home alive. I will try to protect you less from the hidden dangers (in a developmentally age-appropriate, screen-time measured, diet restricted way, of course), and you in turn, please just come home once in awhile with sound body, mind, and spirit. Ok, just one more request: when you resent me for the mistakes I made, please spare a little gratitude: I tried really hard to stay away from the screen, and attempted mess up this parenting thing as much as I could. It was for your own good. You'll thank me someday, I hope.

#parenting #motherhood #writing #writeas #socialmedia #pandemicparenting

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