Angela Amman

Winding down

end of summerTaking Abbey to a birthday party was one of the things I did on my birthday this year — along with consuming mass quantities of garlic and chicken schwarma. I teased her that I should be invited since it happened to be my birthday, too, but she’s discovered the tween eye roll and sigh combination that’s sure to drive me to the brink of ballistic more times than I’ll be able to count.

She wanted to walk, despite carrying a present in the sweltering heat, so we did. Later I drove Dylan to the pool, picking her up later in what seems to be an increasing shuttle back and forth between things they want and need and desperately have to do.

Summer’s winding down.

We had a summer PTA meeting this week, and teacher placements should hit inboxes sometime this Friday. Many of our friends around the country are already back in their buildings, which means I spend extra time on Facebook each day, marveling over how people’s children have changed, how babies I remember as babies are now kindergartners, some of them with gaps in their smiles.

We’re lucky to have a little extra time to stretch our summer into September, but I can feel the gears moving scheduling into the next gear. My pens are already filling days with color coded activities and hopes for the upcoming year.

Back to school sprinkles magic into the air; it always has for me, but the magic tastes bittersweet this year. Our summer, though the calendar might deny it, has been too short. My pendulum has wildly careened from loving the time with the kids to feeling stress over things far out of my control. The futility of those worries hasn’t escaped me, and my frustration with myself shortened my temper more times than I would have liked since June.

Still, it’s been one of our sweetest summers. The kids can both swim and ride bikes without training wheels and pretty much remember to look before launching themselves down the driveway and into the street. They laughed as we read The BFG, and they both read themselves to sleep many nights. I like playing Headbandz and Connect 4, and they mostly accept it when I need to work for a while before another trip to the pool or grocery store or one of the very few organized activities we did this summer.

Last summer ended with a freelance position requiring more time than I’d anticipated working during Dylan’s first weeks of kindergarten, and juggling my time became a chaotic way to drown out the quiet of having both kids in school full time.

This year, I’ll be working fewer hours.

In two weeks it will be quieter in my house, both literally and figuratively, than it has been in over eight years.

Summer’s winding down, and I’m just not sure I’m ready for it quite yet.

The connection between ease and strength

 

Motivational quotes float around Pinterest like dandelion fuzz, getting stuck on my boards and in my head. One of them comes out of the mouths of the instructors at the studio where I work out many mornings: It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger. A quick search lead to this possible source of the quote:

Quote about strength

screenshot courtesy of Goodreads.com

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” (Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free)

For the past few months I’ve been dragging myself out of bed for a 5:30 barre class — a variety of classes really, from barre to cardio kickboxing to a boot camp that might be my favorite. I’ve been there 107 times since I started going in March.

A friend started coming to classes a few weeks ago. Thursday morning as we stretched before class, we laughed a little about various sore body parts. She mentioned she’d hoped she’d stop being sore after she got over the initial discomfort from starting a new workout. I paused and shrugged a little, shaking my head.

I still get sore.

I know I’m stronger than I was when I started. My kicks are higher, my lunges lower, and I recently added weighted gloves to kickboxing days. The changes, though, came about so incrementally I can’t pinpoint when they happened. And that greater range of motion means my muscles still scream at me some days.

quotes about grief

one of my dad’s old coffee mugs — perfectly sized for black cherry ice cream

 

My old Care Bear rests on the couch a few inches from my still-sore legs. Abbey brought it down last week after a slightly painful dental appointment — mine, not hers — and I haven’t been able to take it back upstairs to the stuffed animal bin. He was a birthday gift over thirty years ago, gifted by my dad and tucked under covers in beds from my childhood canopy to my dorm room and beyond.

Last week, I turned 39, the age at which people like to joke about having one more year before 40. I laughed and ate cake for dinner and breakfast and tried not to think too much about how this was my first birthday without my dad.

I still felt my breath catch in my throat.

Tears don’t catch me off guard as often as they did in April and May. I know when they’re coming, the weight in my chest a familiar presence I recognize and acknowledge, as I try to figure out if the tears are stoppable.

I still feel them trace their familiar path down my cheeks some days, but some days I don’t.

The sharp realization that he’s gone isn’t getting easier, but I think I’m getting stronger.

On buying shoes

pre-first Communion pedicures with my favorite girl

pre-first Communion pedicures with my favorite girl

I was 18 years old the last time I bought Birkenstocks. I spent my summer working in the shoe department at the department store formally known as Hudson’s, which was half my dream job and half a nightmare — access to all of that fabulous footwear teeter-tottering with having to help slide other people’s feet into shoes. My wardrobe teeter-tottered, too, wedges and crop tops in one breath, oversized flannel and the iconic Arizona Birks in the next.

At 18 years old, I didn’t know what my closet wanted to be when it grew up, let alone my whole person. I’m inching closer to 40, and I’m still not entirely sure about either of those things.

I’ve got a pair of Birkenstocks in my online shopping cart again, though I haven’t been able to click the purchase trigger just yet. I ditched oversized flannel 20 years ago, and I don’t plan on sliding into cut-offs this summer. This time, I’m thinking about buying them because I refuse to give up my workouts or my favorite wedges, and Googling “plantar faciitis shoes” made me cringe in horror.

Buying shoes purely for comfort feels foreign, and I can’t exactly reconcile it with… well… anything. When, exactly, did my feet grow up and start demanding support and responsible decisions? I thought we were still on the same page, and in my head, that page is filled with sky high heels and ridiculously flat flip flops for days when I’m rushing across the street to pick up the kids.

The past few months have turned a lot of my pages upside down; my grief expands and contracts at the strangest times, a new sort of normal bookended by memories and unbidden tears.

Six months ago, I would have told you I’d said good-bye to my 18-year-old self long ago. Eighteen was kind of the middle of bad decisions and halting starts and stops, poorly judged friendships and a poorly judged tattoo.

Losing my dad, though, thrust me forward in a way that made me think 18-year-old me wasn’t as far in my past as I thought. I still reach to call him when I need an adult perspective, I think about taking him banana bread when I make two loaves. I couldn’t breathe for a moment when I bought one less Father’s Day card this year.

As I think about the years between my first Birkenstocks and the pair waiting in my shopping cart, I wish I would have enjoyed 18 more, when I could slide on shoes and identities without much thought, when I never doubted I had a soft place to land.

A glimpse at the end of the school year

end of the school yearWhen the “Star of the Week” schedule came home at the beginning of the school year, he was appalled he’d have to wait until the end of the year for his turn. I explained that someone had to be last, secretly grateful not to have to hurry to put together a poster while we were still adjusting to a full day of school, to eating lunch in gulps and swallows, to a new way of life.

I glanced at the list at different times during the year, knowing how dates can creep up when you’re not looking. I didn’t want to be caught unaware, scrambling to find photos and poster board on a Sunday night. Each time, the date seemed comfortably far enough into the future that I didn’t worry too much about it.

He finally brought home the Star of the Week bag on a Friday, a bag containing the class pet and its adventure-chronicalling journal, a jar for an estimation game, and the intangible reminder that the end of the school year is approaching quickly.

I’d known it was coming, but diametrically it seemed both too soon and not soon enough.

This year looks different than I had expected when we were buying school supplies and talking about kindergarten last summer. I’m working more than I’d planned, in part because of a contract position that won’t last forever, a job that brings pride and anxiety for someone like me who has her calendar color-coded months in advance. Our house is unorganized, and I haven’t even had the time to put away all the gloves and hats, though flip flops and swim goggles are intruding on their territory.

April, and now May, came in a blink.

I feel caught by surprise, though I shouldn’t be. And though it came too fast, I find myself wishing the next few weeks away, yearning for days where I don’t have to make lunches and snacks and check bags to make sure they’re actually turning in the homework we do together at the island.

Before school started, I set up a desk in their playroom. It’s covered with LEGOs and pencils and craft paper, and I don’t remember the last time they did homework there.

I find it hard not to blame myself for the chaos.

Despite the disorganization and the missing snack bags surrounding our almost-end-of-the-year mood, Dylan reveled in his Star of the Week status. We tucked little Hoppy into bags and onto shoulders and chairs as we went to soccer games and t-ball games and the grocery store.

I worried we’d forget him, somewhere, but we never did. We manage, most days, to keep track of the things that matter. I’m still planning to rein in the chaos and rediscover a little bit of the organization that makes our home operate more smoothly.

Summer will be here soon, and there’s always time for fresh starts.

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