This is where we are

This was the year. The year when my firstborn child, my sweet son Dillon, stopped making valentines for his classmates at school. The conversation went something like this:

"Uh, am I doing that this year?" 

"I think so," I replied. "I got an email from your teacher saying there were 24 kids in the class—14 girls, 10 boys—and if you send valentines you have to give one to each student. And no special valentines for special someones."  She included that last part because puberty is coming. Or, perhaps it's already here. 

"Yeah, but it's not mandatory, is it?" 

"Oh. Maybe not. Let me check." I sent a group text to some moms.

Me:  The 5th grade boy wants to know: Valentines or no valentines? 

Boy mom 1:  Ha! Same question at our house. I bought some for my son just in case. He asked if he really has to take them out of his backpack. 

Boy mom 2:  I keep asking my son and he said no to valentines. So we're not doing them this year. (grimace emoji)

Boy mom 3:  My son says no. 

Girl mom:  So funny! My house is all about Valentine's Day. 

Actually, even though Dillon opted out, our house was all about Valentine's day too. My middle child, Blake, who's in second grade, said he wanted to make valentines out of construction paper. He and his younger sister Cate had fun making these happy heart faces, complete with lifesaver eyes, bedazzled noses, and glitter smiles:

And, when I realized we didn't have to produce valentines for a third classroom full of kids, my reaction was part relief (because making valentines is kind of a pain) and part mourning (because I wasn't ready for Dillon to be done). 

But, this is where we are. 

 

My 5th grader, no-Valentine-maker turned 11 today. 

My children are now 5, 7, and freaking 11. No more babies. I am decidedly out of the toddler-chasing, diaper-changing stage of motherhood, the stage that has defined my life for the past 11 years. 

And, to be honest, I have trouble falling asleep at night. It's not like I didn't see this day coming. I've written about it before. And, it's not a bad day. But it's definitely a new day. My family is growing and changing at what feels like the speed of light, and I'm trying to catch my breath. 

But that's the constant state of motherhood, isn't it? Just when you think you're getting the hang of things, it's time to move on. 

I've been a mom for 11 years, and I've been blogging for nine of them. Writing helps me process the relief, and the sadness, and the beauty we experience when life is in transition. I find myself looking ahead to fall, to the new school year, when I send my youngest off to elementary school for the first time and my oldest off to middle school for the first time, and I wonder what this writing space will become.

What stories will I share? Because my children aren't the only ones changing, I am too. If I had to pick one word to describe how I feel about what lies ahead, it's curious. Because, if I've learned one thing about motherhood so far: It's never exactly what you imagine. 

Onward, my friends. 

Angie

ps: There's a construction paper heart stuck to my fridge. It says #bestmom. Although I'd question whether that's actually true, my kids (for now) still think so, so I'd call that #winning.

To get updates from Angie Mizzell delivered to your inbox, click here to subscribe.

Small acts. Great rewards.

Back in 2009, I wrote blog posts for an online magazine that aimed to inspire and empower work-at-home moms. As it turns out, most of my stories were about my inability to do any actual work (or shower, or pee) while simultaneously caring for young children who needed my attention.

That was also the year that I met Abby, a writer living in Baltimore and raising two young sons. One day, she commented on one of my posts. She wrote something like, “Are we the same person? I feel like you’re living my life!” We’ve been friends ever since.

Our online chats led to talks on the phone and over Facetime. Then, Abby flew to visit me in Charleston. Later, I flew to Baltimore to visit her.

During one of our in-person visits we wondered aloud: How can we capture the essence of the conversations we’ve been having for years? Storytellers at heart, we brainstormed ways to share our ongoing dialogue with other women: our failed attempts to achieve work-life balance, our desire to redefine society’s narrow definition of success, and ultimately, our determination to live joy-filled lives.

“What about more good, less grind?” Abby suggested during our creative powwow.

“Yes!” I replied. And with that, we had a tagline, a hashtag, and a mission statement all in one.

We decided to create a joint Instagram account to document the good moments that happen all around us, in the midst of our everyday lives. We agreed to a publishing schedule, and a year and a half later, we’ve never missed a day. But I didn’t realize how remarkable that was until last summer, when my dad died.

“I don’t think I can post today,” I told Abby when she called to express her condolences. I had absolutely nothing good or inspired to say.

“Of course,” she replied. After all, it’s only Instagram. We know we can always trade days, or skip a day, or stop the whole thing anytime. One of our most important rules: no stress.

After we hung up, I thought back over the past several days leading up to his death, and my eyes fell upon the stack of mementos from my life that my dad had saved—newspaper articles, graduation announcement, wedding invitation, a story I’d written about him for school. I spread them out like a collage, snapped a pic, uploaded it to Instagram, typed out some thoughts on the tiny keys of my phone—about how we had a way of communicating without words—and hit “publish.” Then, I felt a deep sense of comfort, relief.

There’s an ease to our project, to be sure. Plenty of cute kids and sunshine. But on the worst of days, it stretches us. It challenges us in all of the right ways. Our underlying commitment to not force or fake the silver linings has cleared a path for those authentically good moments to reveal themselves.

 

This post originally published on Skirt.com for their "All In" issue. 

Follow the Abby + Angie project on Instagram.

For updates from Angie Mizzell delivered to your inbox >> subscribe.

On coming to the table

A few weeks ago, a friend invited me to a book signing for Jane Green, a bestselling author who has released a new cookbook. The gathering was held at a beautiful old home in downtown Charleston, which was filled with an even more beautiful mix of people. We stood outside on the porch and talked about how it was still too hot to feel like fall and any other thing that makes conversation flow from one thing to the next. I had walked in feeling like a stranger to this crowd, and I left extending hugs, cheek kisses, and well wishes.

In the days since, the words from the author herself have stayed with me:

"I quickly realized that for me, having people over is less about the food, and more about comfort, warmth, nurture. It is about creating the kind of welcoming environment that instantly makes people feel relaxed and cared for, that truly brings meaning to the concept of food being love."

When she spoke those words, I felt them. Tears rose, right to the edge. Not only because I crave the kind of love that feels that way, but because I want to be the kind of person who gives it. She described how I want people to feel when they are in my presence, when they enter my home. It feels like a worthy goal, something to value. 

~~~

I've also been thinking about the night two summers ago, when the Charleston cast of Listen To Your Mother came to my house for a post show celebration. This was another beautiful mix of people who had recently shared the experience of reading their powerful, personal stories on stage for an audience of a few hundred people. The show had brought us together and now we were sitting in my living room, on the couch, on the floor, on dining room chairs, on the ottoman. We talked, and we listened. We went deeper than what had already been bravely shared on the stage. We felt free to ask curious questions. Together—not from anything I had magically done on my own—we had created a safe place to ask the hard whys? and the hard hows? Why do you think that happened? How did you recover? There is so much power in the sharing, but also in the listening, the hearing. At some point I said, "I wish we were recording a documentary. I wish we could somehow bottle up this conversation and share it with the world." 

~~~

Just last week, my friend Patrick Jager (actually he is my husband's friend and colleague but my kids and I latched on to him instantly when we met him in California back in June) wrote something that got my attention. Patrick wrote, "What we need is a place where all can hear each other and find ways that 'us' means 'all of us.'" 

He also offered a challenge:

"Can you imagine if every Fortune 500 company, every media outlet, every church and synagogue, every scouting troop and every small town YMCA developed content that focuses on that which unites us? Ideas that feed the good among people to counter the polarization that continues to consume us?"

Imagine that.

~~~

These vignettes have been swirling in my head, but I almost didn't write this post because I couldn't figure out how to tie it all together. How could I make this all fit in with Thanksgiving, a holiday that focuses on the powerful and holy act of coming to the table? Then I thought, maybe I don't have to try so hard, I don't have to force the connection. They stand alone, and they fit together. And I just love when that happens. I love that about words, about stories, about people, and about life. 

Happy Thanksgiving Friends.

If you'd like blog posts from Angie delivered to your inbox, click here to subscribe.