Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For the moms: Say your name. Now repeat it.

Sappy and sentimental - that's me. But I've learned to let go and that's the key. Read my column posted several weeks ago on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter:

Reaching a moment that you strive for is like taking a drink of water when you are parched beyond measure. For me, it was that moment when you see your kids leave the house for college, or for a job that will take them somewhere that you don't see their faces but several times a year. The house settles into its bones, moving and sinking into a comfort that doesn't hold racing up and down the stairs, or the shaking that comes with sibling fights and rivalries. Like the house, solid and cozy, I let myself sink in and accept my creaks and groans — the settling of a body that's housed three children and bore each fight, scar and tear. I envelope the silence around me, gather it into my palm, and move ahead to what my now entails: words written and organized, songs played against a blank canvas of time and the silent slurp of my spoon dipped into a bowl of food I prepared for my taste buds only.
It's surreal and it's right. Our kids are meant to leave, and not readying them and ourselves will leave us with our hands in our laps, fighting back the tears of a life only lived for someone else. 

Peering through the vapors of time, I see myself with three kids under the age of 5 — each one vying for my attention in different ways. Nights of crying that bring milk-stained memories, rife with emotion and a new mother's worries – tiptoeing out of rooms and lying down to sleep dreamlessly.
First words and steps, racing to grow and smile. Mornings filled with chocolate milk and Barbie dolls, or Power Rangers and Legos scattered across the floor. I can recite every Rugrats episode from memory, hearing the lines and giggles as I moved throughout my day. Days spent with Rollerblades strapped tight around ankles, zooming through the rooms of our tiny house and falling repeatedly, or the whoosh of the bikes as they flew down our neighbors hill and into our driveway. 

There were seconds of time that I longed for the solitude of one moment, just one bathroom break without the banging of the door and the screaming of, “Mom! Mommy! Mom!” piercing my eardrums. There was no Instagram or Facebook to document it, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. Etched inside me are the warm dusky smells of tiny necks, sleepy and holding me tightly as they fought the sandman at every turn. The endless drinks of water that were needed before bedtime, and the stacks of books beside their beds that needed read over and over.
And when morning arrived once again, I would fry dippy eggs and cut the warm buttered toasted into tiny squares, just right for tiny hands to sop up the runny goodness. 

I see you, young moms, struggling to get to the grocery store and make it through without a meltdown. I see the endless tiny meals and snacks you prepare, trying to get them to eat something — anything.
I see you wishing for a quiet moment that enables you to remember who you are, what you want. 

I see you, moms of teens, who look at the growing faces of their offspring and wonder what planet they arrived from. Who took over this child who once needed to sit in my lap every day? Where is the child who cried when I left to get groceries, tiny faces pressed up against the window as I backed away, and me — grabbing a moment to settle myself in the rows of a superstore for one blessed moment. First dates, proms, games that involve some sort of ball, graduation, and your heart — beating bloody drops outside your body — as they drive away to their futures. 

If I can give you a word of unsolicited advice, it would be this: Make more chocolate milk, eat more cookies fresh from the oven, let them smear the chocolate on their faces and kiss them while doing it. Stop striving for perfection — it doesn't exist.
Give yourself the gift of a day to go shopping by yourself — you need it to remind yourself who you are. Say your name and don't forget the sound of it. Don't rush home because you feel guilty for leaving them. That guilt is false. Let them cry themselves back to sleep. When they come home late for curfew listen to their reason instead of screaming. Never say my child would never do that, because half the time they did. Be their advocate because no one else will. 

I've earned the solitude I find in my home. I smile, though, when I scroll through the pictures on Facebook and see the babies, toddlers, and the moms who find it hard to laugh some days. I love the pictures of elementary kids, the tweens and the teens whose parents are grasping on just a bit harder than they should. Ready yourself, because your arms will soon be empty. It's startling and it takes your breath away, but it is exhilarating. Repeat your name often. Write down your dreams. Ready your kids to fly, because they do. Abandon yourself to motherhood, but leave a lifeline — one day you'll need it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Inching this holiday season forward

Newest column freshly posted on The Holmes County Bargain Hunter:

I just rolled off the weekend – Thanksgiving weekend – and I do mean roll. 

The table at our family gathering was heavy-laden and food was partaken of at a rapid clip. 

The dressing, glorious in its vintage enamelware pan, is the heaviest of all. In all its fried glory, it is the most anticipated part of the meal – at least for me. I don’t make dressing on a regular basis — who does? If you do, I’m sorry, but there are certain foods I savor on the holiday – unless I’m eating in a local restaurant and get a bug for bready goodness. A dish appears on our table every Thanksgiving called cranberry salad, and lots of noses are turned up. I take a small helping because for one, I like its tart goodness and the way it cleans the palate and enables more food to go down. Bad reason? Nah. Thanksgiving only comes once a cycle. 

With Thanksgiving tucked away, that means one thing – lots of sales! Even though this is true, it also means that my Christmas spirit has arrived. While lots of people get crazy decorating for Christmas on November first, I still find myself in the spooky-fallish-themed-glare of October. It takes me weeks to get on board and realize that Thanksgiving is coming. I will not skip it, jump over it, bypass it, or pretend it’s just a ruse to get to Christmas. I will plant my ceramic turkey on the table and enjoy it until it’s time for him to go. I’m a weird stickler for enjoying each day as it comes, and that means relishing in each holiday – one trick or treat bag or turkey leg at a time. We ventured to a tree farm to pick out a tree the day after Thanksgiving (Go visit Fencerow Productions outside New Bedford), and as we were putting it up — with N’Sync blaring “Merry Christmas Happy Holidays” in the background — I was covertly pitching pumpkins away as the pine was drug out. Bring one in, usher one out. Just as it should be.

My gift lists are not yet made — and nary a longed-for item has been bought — but the coffee is hot as it slides down my throat this morning. I’m not panicked because I decided years ago that I would not let it touch me – that I would not let the madness of the season take over and turn me into something that I’m not. I would much rather shop online for a few things, as well as venturing out into the fray when I decide to and taking advantage of the insanity of markdowns. And oh, are there markdowns. I’ve also been scratching the itch to think outside the gift-giving box and shop at tiny collectives, boutiques, and mom and pop stores. There is a vibrant community outside the glow of the big box stores, and at times we need to detox from their warm lights. While I do and will haunt the big box stores – because who doesn’t need a good pair of jeans marked heftily down – I am making a commitment to finding other things that will tickle the fancy of the gift receiver. 

I stare at my Christmas tree, warm lights tucked inside its Frasier-furred branches, and I ponder. Only half the ornaments are up and it looks a little bare, but I treasure the light that spills from it around the room. There are bags filled with d├ęcor that sit patiently, as well as piles of gold and silver trinkets that await their place on the tree. The manger scene is sitting on the desk with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus haphazardly lying in a pile with sheep and wise men, tangled and expectant. Soon, I’ll arrange them carefully on a surface in my home, thinking of years past when the little hands of my children had this job. I once entered the living room to find the wise men and camels spread out all over the room. When I asked why they weren’t in the manger scene, my son cocked his head and looked at me like I was crazy. “Mom,” he said, “they’re traveling. They haven’t arrived yet because it’s not time.” It made me catch my breath. That particular year, every single day, he inched them closer and closer until they arrived at their destination. That will be me, this month, inching forward day by day. Preparing, nesting and making ready. I wouldn’t want to jump ahead of myself and ruin it all. Instead, I’ll be sipping my coffee and savoring each minute, because each piece I put out has its place – just like each season.

Friday, December 4, 2015

I'm back. Let's catch up.

I'm back writing my column! I've missed it, so swing by The Holmes County Bargain Hunter and have a read. Life is weird, but doesn't that make it interesting? 

Herrera is back and ready to catch up

Friends, I’ve missed you. Life takes a swing and you’re off on another venture, sometimes leaving behind something that was near and dear. This column was near and dear, but I had a few other things to do, so I was gone for a while, stacking up words neatly in piles. I’m bringing them out and dusting them off to let you know what I’ve been up to since we last chatted. 

I’m writing my novel and it’s almost done. 

It was a weight that sat directly on my chest, mostly taunting me through the years to finish. I’m nearly 60,000 words in and can see the finish line — albeit hazy in the distance. The last part of it seems to be moving at a snail’s pace, and that’s not for lack of being a fast typist. I do have typing medals to brag about from Oscar Miller’s class that I wore proudly on my letterman’s jacket but, um, does that date me? Regardless, my classes were in typing, not the newfangled term keyboarding, and I still position my hands over the correct letters before I start. No pecking one finger at a time for me. I value those typing classes every single day when I sit down to write. I’m sure Oscar would be proud of me today, although he might just chuckle and tell me I typed too fast and made too many errors. This is where I like the technology of now — no whiteout to correct mistakes — just backspace and move on. 

In September I traveled solo to Mexico and took part in a writer’s residency I was chosen for. It was a place that sat high in the mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico, and is available for all types of artists to apply their craft. The novel is about my husband’s life, and he is from Oaxaca — can I say match made in heaven? All I needed was a spare room, a desk and a view to sit in front of. I had all that and more as I punched my way through every single day, for three weeks, watching my word count rise and the story evolve. I made several trips to town to do research and visited places that he had been. Emotions and an amazing experience were what I found. The majority of the book was written in that tiny third floor room, and I’m writing as much as I can, now that I’m home, to reach the end. I honestly can’t take in the fact that I’m almost done. It’s been such a far-off thing — an unattainable dream — I short sold myself on. I didn’t believe in ME and my ability to finish. Things happen, friends, when we believe in ourselves. 

Life is a blur of days filled with words and love. My husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary back in May, we sent the younger two kids off to college in the fall, and my house became empty once again. I’m learning to enjoy the silence. Making a pot of coffee and sitting in my chair, while dust motes float through the slices of sun that break through the windows — isn’t this life? Most days I kiss my husband goodbye as he leaves for work, then sit down and begin my freelance work at the kitchen table. Now I can fold in one more thing to that list – this column. Until next week.