The Last Dandelion Bouquet

Memoirs of a Mama Bear

Brilliance. Staring into flashes of memory. My kids when they were little. My son as a baby, how warm his round head would get when he was sleeping. My daughter not even five, and obsessed with black and white scary movies. The excitement of picking Halloween costumes, and their small faces seeing Christmas presents under the tree. Them peering over my shoulder as I did homework, asking when I would finish and come play. Knock-knock jokes, peanut-butter-and-jelly, velcro light-up shoes. Summer nights with roasted marshmallows and lightning bugs, movies, and popcorn. So many bags of popcorn.

The snowsuits and skinned knees, the spilled milk, and tickles. Wishing upon stars. How their little faces would cringe and their chins dimple as they tried not to cry. The first time they learned how to tear the wrapping paper off of presents. Them sneaking around in the morning trying not to wake me up “Shh, don’t wake up Mom!” Their intent expression while reading the back of cereal boxes as sunlight streams in the kitchen. The birthdays and bedtime stories and pancake breakfasts. Missing mittens and forgotten lunch boxes. Watching them smile as they climbed onto the school bus for the first time, and how tiny they looked reaching up towards the rail. How the bus sounded as it roared away, and how I cried when they were gone.

My son, born strong, silent, and stoic. Dark brown eyes blinking at me as he was placed on my chest. My daughter came with a full head of raven-black hair, loud and cantankerous, eyes of the deepest navy blue. My son’s first smile. And his reaction to me celebrating that smile. My daughter’s first words aside from mama: “tickle, tickle”… whispered from her high chair with a mushy Cheerio stuck to her round cheek. 

The thousands of beautiful dandelion flower bouquets that I was gifted. Training wheels and then learning how to ride without them. Roller skates and scooters. The neighbor kids’ bikes laying all over the front yard and driveway. Letting them go for the first few (hundred) times: “… don’t forget — just to the stop sign and back — remember?”, and “… stay where you can see the house, ok?” Red or blue or purple-stained popsicle lips and eating the strawberries right out of my Aunt’s garden. Bullies and trouble with friends. Couch cuddles and snack time and cut up hot dogs. The sprinkler and playing with the hose. The first sleepovers and the hugs during pick up on the mornings after. The back door slamming from the constant in-and-out during ‘outside’ play. Laughing at Saturday morning cartoons and staying in pajamas all day. Falling into a pile of leaves on a warm autumn afternoon. Jumping higher because of new shoes. Hot chocolate, snowmen, and cold noses.

The ever-worn and ripped knees of my son’s pants from playing on the floor. The never-to-be-eradicated glitter fallen from my daughter’s headbands. Cold school day mornings, packing lunches, grapes, juice boxes, and Little Debbie snacks. Waking them up late to tell them it’s a snow day. Hot wheels, stuffed animals, dress-up clothes. Legos and crayons. Colored pages covering the refrigerator. Watching them pick gifts for their friends, the thought and effort for someone else energizing them. High school dances, prom, graduation, driver’s licenses. The moon following us on a night car ride. Checking under the bed for monsters and closing bedroom closet doors. Lost special blankets and late-night drinks of water. Their goofiness and grumpiness, the funny faces, and practical jokes. How excited they were when I came home from work. The hugs and enthusiasm, the sense that all was whole.

My daughter on stage at the choir concert, eyes bright under the stage lights. Looking back while driving and seeing their little heads resting against car windows, asleep on a long ride home. Making beds with clean sheets and tucking them in after a bath. The Friday night lights at my son’s high school football games “Go Warriors!” Stay-home sick days, their cheeks red as they napped in front of the TV on a blanket-covered couch. Playgrounds and swinging on the swingset, “Please Mom, just one more push…” Their inclination towards serious and difficult topics. How I wanted to shelter them but knew that I couldn’t. How carefully they listened as I spoke hard truths. How they sometimes spoke wisdom beyond their years. The moon reflecting in their eyes as they looked at the night sky and told me how much they loved the mystery of outer space. Their little voices telling me “I love you” as they glowed- meaning it with every atom of their being.

Childhood is gone so quickly that it takes a moment to even realize that it is gone. It seems never-ending from the middle of the story, from inside the day-to-day. Only in hindsight, can I see that I had chances to do better… perhaps because we always think we have time. We don’t realize when the last of something is happening. I don’t remember when I was given my last dandelion bouquet. When my daughter gets home from work, I will ask her to surprise me with one someday. She will roll her eyes and smile. And that will make me smile. Looking back, it’s a blur, a whirlwind. A fraction of time. A fraction of their lives — and just a fraction of mine, really. For only one split second, they were mine. 

Read me on Medium, here.

*Photo by Herbert Goetsch on Unsplash

When I Left My Dream Job

and went to play in the woods instead.

“Red Trail” 7.13.19
photo by author

Last January, I walked away from a job that I initially loved and had worked hard to get. Structural changes trickled down and leadership had a massive turn over. New management came through and the environment became toxic.

I felt lost. I realized that I had wrapped my entire self-image and self-worth into my career. I am not sure, but it might end up being a chip on my shoulder for the rest of my time on this planet. The experience changed me profoundly.

Unfortunately, nearly all of my friendships were work-related. It is rather embarrassing and it hurts to say, but losing the shared atmosphere caused my friendships to dwindle quickly. You know how that goes.

At the same time, I inadvertently pulled my head out of the sand and finally faced some hard truths about my 24-year relationship. That’s a story meant for another rainy day, but I mention it to illustrate the Snowball Effect that seemed to occur when I started to evaluate the world around me.

I took a couple of months off and slept. And felt sick. Really sick. Like not able to look in the mirror sick. And I felt useless and aimless and pointless and was filled with purposeless-ness. I mean, I *was* without purpose. I needed something that I couldn’t name. And I was lonely.

On a cold spring day in April, I went into the woods. To hike, to hide, to feel like I was running away- without actually having to run away. It was a distraction disguised as a positive outlet. 

I came up with arbitrary hiking goals that included:

  • Twelve Miles A Day Because Every Day is Leg Day
  • A Marathon a Week or It Didn’t Happen
  • Two-A-Days or Bust (super effective way to avoid being at home)
  • Muddy and Rainy: Better for the Brainy
  • If You Aren’t Crying Then You Aren’t Trying

But, seriously.

To feel a sense of control, I avoided any kind of paved trail and sought to find the more unknown trails. The messier the terrain, the better. The less-traveled, the better. I even made a couple of my own.

Over the course of 4 months, I lost the extra 40 pounds that my “dream” job had gifted me through stress and break-room bakery.

I sprained each ankle no less than 3 times, tore my calf muscle (brutal), tweaked my knee, slipped, fell, bruised, bled, and I might have hit my head a time or two. I worked through each injury, taking a day or two off when absolutely necessary. Basically, there was a lot of ice and kinesiology tape involved.

But I needed to push past my physical and mental limits. The physical struggle was the only thing that offered me release, let me cry, feel alive. Without it, everything remained all bound up somewhere in my head. 

The exhaustion made my sleep a little less restless —  although my legs would wake me nightly with the dull ache of overtraining. But I preferred it, as it was a physical pain that demanded more attention than the emotional turmoil I felt.

I have no real lesson to share here. But I am still out there. Down to 2–3 x a week because of the winter weather and the nightshift job I have to maintain.

And I’ll never stop. I may move to the mountains and make hiking take over my life. The trees, flowers, and even the bugs. The sun, the ice, the mud, the wind, the warm, and the cold. It is all so beautiful.

Maybe I need a hiking buddy. So if you see me out there, stop and say hi. 
If I’m crying, stop and say hi, anyway. It’s a good thing. It means I’m breaking through something.

And I will come out of the woods stronger… or fall down a mountain trying.

CVNP 7.6.19
photo by author

cross-posted on Medium