life's other half

Being Reminded Of Life’s Other Half

Last weekend we remembered and rejoiced the life of a young man who died in an avalanche last winter. His tragic passing rattled any sense of security I was feeling about my own children on the mountain, out doing what they love and the possibility…

There, under the spectacular azure sky painted with swirling clouds, surrounded by oak trees and rolling expanses of green grass, we were reminded of life’s other half – the part where we question, and cry, and consider why.

life's other half

Carson was a young man, just entering adulthood, happy, healthy and loved. He was exploring life – creating a life – to be lived on his terms.

He was a man I’d watched over the years, sharing my school, karate and ski racing communities.

I remember him from karate classes, his tall, skinny frame clad in a white gi as he willed himself through an arduous black belt test with my son. I remember his legs in horses stance for what seemed like hours, trembling with determination.

I remember his curly, dirty blonde hair and shy glances when I’d see him in the hallways at school. Never his teacher, I still tried to draw him out and connect when I could. He was a shy one back then.

I think about him on the ski race course, carefully navigating slalom turns with the concentration of a scientist studying his experiment. I can see his mother’s smile as he watched him cross the finish line, or persevere through the final round of push-ups, sweat dripping off his face and legs and arms quivering under the pressure.

And looking up at the clouds, I think about the lessons we learn through life’s other half.

His service, full of music and love, reminded me of those ordinary moments we spend with people we love, and that in the face of their absence, we realize how prophetically purposeful they can be. Songs we loved, poetry we aligned with¬†and talks along the beach or on a mountain top that at the time we knew were special, but when in the midst of life’s other half we realize were profound.

Carson’s memorial reminded me of my gratitude for the extraordinary in the ordinary every day. For the love of family, friends and community that surround us. And for the generosity of the universe, to open up the skies, to fill them with clouds and sunlight, and the reminder that we are all here for such brief, sparkling, exquisite moments together.

I hadn’t seen Carson for awhile. I was happy to hear he’d joined up with the ski team again, now as a coach, and he was happily living and working in Tahoe. In so many ways, he was just a regular human, finding his way and discovering who he was.

He was living life generously, with delight.

I am not saying that we should love death,

but rather that we should love life so generously,

without picking and choosing,

that we automatically include it (life’s other half) in our love.

This is what actually happens in the great expansiveness of love,

which cannot be stopped or constricted.

It is only because we exclude it that death becomes more and more foreign to us and,

ultimately,

our enemy.

It is conceivable that death is infinitely closer to us than life itself…

What do we know of it?

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

primark

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Trust The Journey

“Ring out the old, ring in the new. Ring happy bells, across the snow.

The year is going, let him go. Ring out the false, ring in the true.”

~Afred Lord Tennyson

It’s clear and frosty this morning. C is asleep in his bedroom, and the house is still. Silent.

In the darkness, I journey down the stairs and nudge open his door, knocking into skateboards and loose lacrosse balls. He groans, “It’s still dark, Mom. What are you doing?”

“Just checking on you. It’s what mommies do. Are you warm enough?” I whisper.

“Yes….” his words come out in one breath as he rolls over.

“Go back to sleep, bud. I love you,” I reply, and gently shut his door.

Back upstairs, I light my candles and prepare for the last day of 2015 following my familiar morning rituals. Candles. Journal. Quotes to think on.

I notice the cantaloupe-colored sunrise just beginning to peek through my open window. There’s frost on the roof next door, and the trees are bare, thin branches mimicking the overhead power lines across the street. The candles flicker around me.

This won’t be the first New Year’s Eve we’ve spent apart from our four-person family. Our plans carefully crafted to coincide with Lily’s trip home from college, altered when C crashed into a tree ten days ago, taking the impact with his head.

Grateful for his high-tech ski helmet. Grateful he walked away.

2015 with mamawolfe

It’s been a rough journey for my boy since August 3, 2014, when he broke his leg on a race course at Mt. Hood, Oregon. Three days back into training this year, another setback.

I’m grateful he will recover. But I’m tired of this.

I’ve been in too many ERs and hospitals and exam rooms; I’ve read chapters and chapters in waiting areas and labs. I’ve asked occasionally for help, I’ve questioned and I’ve accepted. Mostly, I’ve kept it all inside.

I can “Fakebook” with the best of them.

I know how to selectively post, how to check in and let you know where we are. I gram and tweet and snap and I could tell you what a high school friend ate for breakfast (PG and J), who is on a romantic night away from the kids ( ūüôā ), and which motivated friends crawled out of bed in the dark for a frosty run. I see your smiles as you ski, the shared meals and new loves. I can almost see your life right there, your clues about 2015 shining through your status updates.

I see the pride, the hope, the joy and sometimes if you’re honest, a glimmer of sadness – all amidst those ordinary moments of living this journey.

Facebook proclaims it’s 2016 in Australia now, so the resolutions have begun. The lists, the fill-in-the-blanks, the wishes and dreams that maybe if we say them out loud, might just come true.

Instead, I pull out the box of memories I keep faithfully filling year after year, and open my journal from 2014.

Just curious,¬†I think. What’s changed? How have I filled a year’s worth of living?

The cover proclaims, “yes to growing and reaching, yes to healing, yes to soulfulness, yes to joy, ¬†yes to vulnerability, yes to change, yes to beginnings.”

Yes, I think. I’ve said yes to all of that this year.

Scanning the pages, I remember how sick I was this time last year – down on the couch, coughing and achy and sneezy kind of sick. Today, I feel well.

Last year I was reflective, grateful, struggling with change and believing in possibilities for the year ahead. I dreamed of joy and understanding.

I was hopeful.

It’s an hour later, and not much has changed. The sun is peeking through, reminding me that blue skies will be here soon. I can sill see the melon colored hue melding into the fog; the frost still clings to the roof tiles, and this, here and now, is still my extraordinary life.

Tonight I’ll ring out the old, I’ll let go of 2015. I’ll ring in the true.

This year, I’ll remember who I wanted to be when I grow up. I’ll trust the journey that’s taking me there.

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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5 Years of Decembers

It’s been five and a half years since I started blogging; five Decembers that I’ve shared my stories with all of you, and 50 Decembers that I’ve been learning life’s lessons.

This December, I decided to look back and see what themes popped up during the final month of the past years, and I was both surprised and reassured when I saw my progression Рand devastated that while I followed the thread of motherhood and memories in my posts, I also realized that every year has brought the loss of children.  Stepping back, I see the hopes and joys and sadnesses that parallel our ordinary lives.

I hope you enjoy my favorites from 2011-2015. Maybe you’ll re-read some favorites; perhaps you’ll discover we have more in common than you realized. Above all, may you experience the beauty of living the extraordinary in the ordinary, of loving fiercely and thinking deeply. Happy holidays, and thank you for sharing this journey with me.

2011: A Year Of Feeling Time Shift

Prom Night At Our Place 

“But what prom night really taught me this year is that belonging¬†happens in many different ways. ¬†The girls learned that they don’t need to be joined (literally or figuratively) with a boy to have fun.¬† The boys realized that if they ask, they have hope.¬† And now I know that I don’t really need to¬†join anything¬†to be important in my daughter’s life – by being myself she and her friends feel comfortable.¬†Actions speak louder than words.¬† My house really is the place to be.”

Shifting Gears

“After driving through the mountains in the predawn hours, my son and I pass Donner Lake, and in that moment, as the water and sky met and steam hissed from its surface, I quickly stop the car. My brain pauses and we drink in the tranquility of the water before us. Silently I breathe deeply, wait, and shift back into gear with a new sense of calm.”

When You Wish Upon A Star

“As the sun rises over the mountain tops and the moon and stars fade for another day, once again I am challenged. ¬†It is up to me to make my wish come true – no genie with a magic lantern or fairy godmother is in sight. ¬†My wish remains inside my heart, but my actions I wear on my sleeve for everyone to see.”

Another Day

“Slowly he prepares for the snow, insisting on doing it alone. ¬†His fuzzy brown head disappears beneath a royal blue helmet and goggles, contrasting the lime green and black of his jacket. ¬†We kiss goodbye, my assurance I will be waiting for him when he returns. ¬†It is dawn out, and he gets to have another day.

Yet as I sit by the window watching the sun crest the snow-covered hills, I cry for the mother and child who are apart, who will never feel their arms around each other again, and who cannot brush away each other‚Äôs tears.”

 

2012: Reflecting on Memories of Childhood and Tradition

Lily’s Apple Tart

This year, we decided to go simple yet elegant, and adapt a recipe from one of our favorites, Ina Garten. ¬†Her apple tart just seemed like the perfect complement to a heavy dinner: sweet apples, flaky crust, and a tang of apricot jam make this simple dessert one you’ll want to try for any holiday gathering. ¬†So grab your favorite baking partner, crank up the tunes, and have some fun!”

Just A Moment In Time

We stopped, you posed, we snuggled you between our legs, holding you tightly. ¬†Never wanting to let go. ¬†You raised your face to the sky and grinned with rapture.¬†It was just one moment, really. ¬†But I remember every detail.”

Christmas Tree Traditions

“I used to be a freaky mom. ¬†Sixteen years ago, when I had my first child, I thought I could do it all. ¬†Control it all. ¬†Be the perfect parent. ¬†I certainly had seen enough examples of what I considered ‚Äėbad parenting‚Äô ‚Äď those kinds of adults who would make excuses for their kids, send them to school without their homework, and blame their teachers and the school for everything wrong in the world ‚Äď plus some.”

47

My kids officially grew taller than me this year… I learned that letting go is growing forward. As I end 47 and open the chapter of 48, I think of all that I‚Äôve experienced: ¬†the children, parenting, family, teaching, education, memories and motherhood that blended themselves together and brought such lessons to me.”

Spending Time In The Snow

“And despite the struggle, the frustrations, and the hours and hours of driving – not to mention the ski race that was canceled, we ended up with a white Christmas after all. ¬†And a whole bunch of memories, too.”

spending time

2013: A Year of Ski Racing and Empty Bedrooms

Morning Ritual of a Ski Racer Mama

“The alabaster snow catches a glint of moonlight out my window…savory bacon and eggs fold into warm flour tortillas with cheese as kids stumble downstairs in ski socks and fleece….boot bags bulge with gear. ¬†Speed suits stretch over strong legs, and heavy parkas with hoods zip up as we push open the door.¬†It’s time.¬†Morning ritual of a ski racer mama.”

It’s A Different Kind of Christmas

“And every time I’ve walked through the door this month, I’ve plugged in the lights and sighed. I just can’t do it. The boxes of ornaments are still stacked in the dining room, unopened. And it’s December 23. This has never happened before. And I can’t blame it on holiday business, too many parties or anything else-except for one thing.”

retro Santa

2014: A Year of Change and Possibilities

Home

“The sun streamed in through her sliding glass door. It was mid-morning, and she already looked like she had never left for college. A wet towel hung over her pink desk chair, and her fuzzy sky-blue bathrobe still lay carelessly tossed on the floor. Her closet doors were flung open, and she rummaged around as she replied, “I don’t know. I didn’t pack much. I’m trying to figure out what to take home.”

My breath caught in my throat. Home?”

home

Birthdays

“I’m open to possibilities in this last-year-before-the-half-century. I’m open to quiet, to listening, to requesting and to hearing the Universe answer with guidance. Zora Neale Hurston wrote in one of my favorite books,Their Eyes Were Watching God, that ‚Äúthere are years that ask questions and years that answer.‚ÄĚ I’m not sure what this year will offer me, but I’m ready to receive her whispers.”

birthdays

Two Kinds of Quiet

“There are two kinds of quiet. The kind of quiet when I hear the candles flicker, feel the crumbs drop onto my plate, and the Christmas music plays on and on and on. The kind of quiet that mothers dream of, and the kind they dread, one in the same.”

Interlude

“No, Mom, look.” Again and again his plaid Detroit Tigers sleep pants spun as he raised and lowered his body on one leg. “I’m getting there. I’m balancing, Mom – can’t you see? I haven’t been able to do this since the accident!”

She’s Nineteen, and She Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

“I keep thinking that one day, you’ll understand the exquisite pain and pleasure of being a mom, and all my emotional antics will make sense. I hope that one day, when that thrill hits your heart when you see your baby living their life full of happiness and joy, you’ll understand why I have such trouble letting you go.”

me and my girl

In The Holiday Spirit

“Today, as the rain pours down the windowpane and the wind whips the trees around my house into a frenzy, I breathe, and pause, and think of them. I remember their love for each other, and for their families. I call in their spirits as my pen scratches gratitudes into my journal, filling the pages with small moments of the extraordinary ordinariness of my life, feeling their love, grateful for 50 years with their spirits by my side.”

50 years

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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A Year of Accidental Life Lessons

Dear Son,

Last August 3 I’m pretty sure I was sitting in this very spot, looking out this same window, thinking about my kids and how much I missed them. It was quiet without you both here, and I’m pretty sure I was anticipating your sister coming home from Mt. Hood that day, knowing I’d have a few days left with her before she left for college. I know I was wondering about you, and that I sent you our usual good morning text saying something about having an awesome day. You texted me back from the ski lift, and I was sure you were safe.

I was wrong.

A Year of Accidental Life Lessons

Your dad and I took our bike ride early that morning – it was going to be a triple-digit day – and we stopped for breakfast on the way home. The pancakes were huge, and I remember wishing you were there with us. We talked about how strange the upcoming year would be with Lily in college and you living back in Tahoe. We’d be empty nesters, and I wasn’t ready for it. I remember thinking about that year, and the next and the next and trying to predict what life would be like.

I had no idea.

Before I’d even gotten back in the driveway, my phone was ringing. I knew that if your coach was calling, it couldn’t be good. From that moment on, I gave up predicting…and just took life moment by moment, taking in the accidental life lessons as they arrived.

skiing accident

Life happens and show gratitude.

When you were lying so still in the hospital bed and I knew life was going to be very different from here on out, I momentarily panicked. How would I help you adjust? How would you go to school in a wheelchair and would you ski again and why did this happen to you? For all those moments of worry, all I could do was take them one moment at a time. Deal with what was here, now, in front of us. Accept the help being given. Trust that all will be well, and things will work out. And be grateful – do you remember our three gratitudes? At the time, they sometimes seemed silly – grateful for new water bottles with straws and free movies and Top Ramen – but boy did they make a difference. They made us laugh, made us think, and reminded us that we are OK.

You are stronger than you think.

You’ve always been goal oriented, driven, and focused – and physically strong. That’s what made you decide to move to Tahoe and dedicate yourself to ski racing. The accident squashed that dream, but your mental strength helped you when you couldn’t move or walk or stand anymore. You learned how to get yourself off the couch, into a wheelchair and ride in a car. You figured out how to navigate school, how to rip around on crutches, and even jump in a bouncy house.

cast into the car

Family is there for you, even when you don’t know what you need them for.

Without your dad, your sister, Grandpa Bruce and Grandma Sue, I’m not sure what we would have done. When we were stuck in Portland, your grandpa knew just what to do; we got the right doctors, the best treatment, and he decided to do the 10 hour drive to get us home when I had no idea how to get you on a plane. Your grandma knew to stay home and care for you so I could take Lily to college; she even put the kitchen back together after the flood while I was gone. I didn’t even have to ask either of them – they both just knew to step in when I couldn’t do it all by myself.

friends at Target dorm shopping

Friends can fill in the missing spaces.

I wasn’t sure how I would get your sister ready for college; all our planned time ended up just being a passing hello in the airport as she came home and I left to take care of you. Stephanie invited her home, took her dorm room shopping¬†and elevated her ‘Tahoe mom’ status to another level. She even sent texts with silly Target shopping photos, just to make me feel included. I cried tears of sadness when I saw what I was missing, but the happy tears came once I realized what a great friend I had to count on.

When people show you who they are, believe them.

Kindness is free, but unfortunately, we learned some people don’t realize how easy it is to give. We’ve both met a few people in the last year -family, friends, teachers – who surprised us with their inability to look beyond themselves and that made us sad and sometimes angry. I think we’ve both learned to appreciate the kindness of those around us, and let go of the people in our lives who’ve shown us they’re unable of caring. Not the lesson I’d wish for you to learn at 15, but an invaluable one nonetheless.

Son, I can’t say that if I could ‘do over’ the last year I would want to do this all again. No mother wants to watch their child in physical or emotional pain. And I can’t say that I’d do over the tears or the worries or the uncertainty about our future. But these life lessons? I’d do these over in a second. It’s the experiences in life that are our teachers, the moments in life that push us to learn who we really are.

Wishing you a year full of love and (less painful) life lessons,

Mom

On the recovery couch, one year later.
On the recovery couch, one year later.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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When Your Kids Are Athletes, Life Shifts

Looking back over the last eight years, I realize I’ve put tens of thousands of miles on my cars. I’ve worn through two sets of snow tires, at least three sets of snow cables, and bottle after bottle of anti-freeze windshield washer liquid. I’ve learned to keep blankets, towels, shovels, lighters, lanterns, water and kitty liter available at all times-just in case. I’ve mastered the art of breakfast-in-the-car, preheating burritos at 4am, and how to pack enough food to keep two teens and a dad satisfied until wearily, they return home for dinner.

This year, I’ve had a shift in parenting, creating a shift in lifestyle. One of my athletes is on her own, stuffing her ski bag with Cliff bars, water bottles ¬†and squished pb & j sandwiches. She remembers her goggles and glasses and wax and poles all by herself. She follows in our family footsteps of preparedness like a champ.

My other athlete has been sidelined, injuries forcing him to rest, heal, and reevaluate. He’s found – finally – a few new outlets for his every-present energy (I never thought I’d be so grateful for skateboarding), and is, at this moment, tossing a lacrosse ball with his buddy to try out a new sport.

Tomorrow we head up for our first – and last – ski day of the season. Broken legs and ski slopes don’t make good friends, it turns out. We’ll still wake in the dark, bundle up and tumble to the car in the pre-dawn hours, armed with strong coffee and warm burritos. We’ll watch the sun rise over the Sierras, and breathe deeply the air of our home away from home. We’ll have one more day to test the muscles ripped apart last summer. One more chance to get my athlete back where he belongs.

I’m pleased that this all coincides with a feature I have on Ten To Twenty Parenting – a post I wrote a few years ago, when these kids were in the throes of racing, when parenting an athlete was as normal as sending them off to school each day – when I never even considered doing anything else.

To read my feature article, Parenting Athletes: How And Why I Do It, click here. Maybe it will trigger some fond memories of parenting your own athletes, too.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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