I am a happily married mama with three little ladies. I am a teacher, a poet, a playwright. I live on a tiny island in the Pacific Northwest and write babybythesea.net often, or at least when I'm not making espresso or sneaking chocolate.

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Henry David Thoreau Taught Me To Keep It Real

Last month I bit off more than I could chew.  It was a bit like stuffing a watermelon into a pocket designed for dimes, nickles in the front of a Vintage pair of Levis.
Knee deep in bumblebee wings from costume designing Fall’s Community Family Theatre’s play, I thought of Henry David Thoreau fleeing to Walden Woods.

Yes, the American Literature student that still lives inside me.

I pictured James Fry, Oprah’s golden boy nonfiction drug addict exposed as a fabrication and fictionalized story teller. If Henry had been on Oprah, she would have asked him about driving his minivan through the espresso shack on his day off [or something like that].

Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden in the woods, but he regularly walked to dinner at a friend’s house while claiming to be a mile from any neighbor.  I still remember the shouts from my American Literature college class when his frequent escapes from the woods were revealed:  Fraud!  It made me like him a lot more, sort of like my soft spot for the mom with the put-together outfit, homemade cookies at soccer’s sidelines, polite children in public with the tall laundry pile, sibling rivalry and microwave meals at home.

I do what I can, I do what I must.  And just when what I do crept into moments meant for snuggles, bed time stories, walks to the playground – something happened.  At school pickup, waiting in the cold damp wind and recent rain-free November air, Olive pointed to the clouds above the playground, Mama, look!  Her big sister joined in with,

Look, Mama!  It’s not raining over by the playground.  And, Betty’s school bell is just about to ring.  Can we go to the slide?

No, I said.  The sun broke through the clouds; my answer broke my own rule.  It’s so very hard to be spontaneous with three little girls, and it’s so very hard to say yes some days more often than no.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love sewing and designing for the Artisan’s Market and being a part of my daughter’s first play:  I had lost my balance and I was breathless.

Six years ago, I met a confident mama of three who told me she always said yes to her children and no to just about anyone outside her home.  I held my new, firstborn baby in my arms and wondered just what she meant as she said, it took a few babies to learn to say no.  I was still living high on flattery of simply having been thought of when someone asked me to participate in any and all things.  It’s hard to say no when you’re a part of a small town.  It’s hard to say no when you’re new to a town.  It’s hard to say no when there’s so much to be a part of.

I need to show my daughters all days are made as purposeful days, where moments are carved out for our family no matter what. We have sit down breakfast and supper together always.  I refuse to pencil in time for spontaneity and instead choose to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau:

Why should we live with such hurry…when we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence…      [Henry David Thoreau, Walden]

I like it real.  I like it hands on. I’m so glad I can volunteer in the classroom, and am honored to be recently elected to my local school board.  I like time to write.  In all this damp darkness of Fall’s final days in the Pacific Northwest I’m orchestrating balance.

I like stacking priorities around my little ladies, their education and my own written word, but like Thoreau I need to leave the woods.

Standing on the corner of two of the busiest streets this no-stop-light town has, I was asked to direct a play when the daffodils begin to break ground.

No, I replied.

I said it without as much of a two second pause.

It felt so great.  Scores of volunteer hours with dozens of nights without tucking my babes into bed lead me to this path. I’m vowing to always say yes to a quick playground slide.  It’s as if this was a once and future promise I’d made to myself, but broke along the way.

Our oldest NW pals and their two kids came for the Thanksgiving holiday.  It’s easy to tell a good friend when we go weeks, months or even years and it feels like a short time.  As soon as they walked through our door I knew what I wanted to do:  maximize our chill time.  I chose to watch the Macy’s parade over basting a turkey.  I chose making two pies with my daughters over a dozen side dishes.  I chose eating outside our home, talking long and laughing wide.  We walked to the community Thanksgiving dinner.  It felt a little like cheating, but I know Thoreau would have approved.  I’m not yet sure of our Christmas plans, but I’m vowing to choose flannel pajamas at home over hustles of holiday travel.

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  4. Katie 12/10/2011 at 11:52 pm

    I love your raw honesty. A beautiful and inspiring piece, as usual.

  5. Alison Kallstrom 12/09/2011 at 4:34 pm

    Great piece and something we all need to remember!