I decided to pull the emergency brakes and call a halt for the summer. My mind replayed the image of a cartoon where characters use a broom to sweep up a huge cloud that covers the entire room and blocks out all light. Self exploration and reading led me to sling open every door, drawer and closet of my internal self and pull my heart and soul out into the open. I was living in the middle of that unbecoming dust storm. Everything was up in the air. My plan for the summer was to sit back, relax, and let the dust settle. If I could just stop stirring things up for a few weeks, then I could gain some clarity and new perspective.
Now, my summer break is quickly coming to a close. As I prepare to walk back into my office and see my fellow faculty members for the first time in two months, I consider my answer to the obligatory question, “How was your summer?” They will expect to hear about trips or adventures, but I can reflect upon new understanding and awareness that I will carry with me beyond these warm, sticky months.
Settled is exactly how I would describe myself at the end of this season. I don’t mean that I settled for a lesser than ideal situation or state of being. I mean this is the calm after the emotional storm. I have used this space and time to think and grow into my newly emerging self. When people ask me if I had a good summer, my honest answer sends me down a rabbit hole of ways I have grown as a person. I am better now than I was at the beginning, which indicates the answer could be simply, “Yes,” or I could delve into a few takeaways from my summer of settling.
Sitting on my front porch watching the storm roll through this thick Southern afternoon, I am settled into a newfound treasure - quiet, alone time. In some ways, I felt out of character this summer. I craved solitude. A lifelong extrovert, this recent withdrawal is unfamiliar to me yet strangely comforting. I am no longer racing to stay busy and run from my thoughts. Developing self-love has meant that I actually enjoy hanging out with just myself. I can listen to my thoughts and ideas. I can just be me and that is enough. Quiet, alone time, not to be confused with loneliness, has become a necessity. Maintaining my well-being involves safe-guarding dates with myself.
While I savored the silence, I also reaped the rewards of deepening meaningful relationships. This summer has provided opportunities for conversations and heart to heart discussions with friends, both old and new, and family.
A founding member of my original “Mom Tribe” came to visit for a week. Robin and I both had our first babies in New York City. She is an intelligent, well-read, intentional, occupational therapist, and mother of three. We haven’t seen each other in over a year, but we picked right back up and discussed books, motherhood, politics, religion and family drama while hiking around the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Robin is a scavenger of sorts. Almost every conversation with her involves, “I have this friend…” She has friends who have written books, traveled the world, established foundations, survived unspeakable tragedy - the list goes on and on. She is acutely aware of the fact that every person in her life has a lesson to offer.
In one of our many conversations on parenting our strong-willed children, Robin mentioned a lesson she learned from a psychologist friend. When someone does something nice for you, acknowledge their choice to be kind by simply stating, “You didn’t have to do that.” The idea is that if I am constantly reminding my children to notice when someone chooses kindness, they will begin to recognize that it is always a choice they can make. Whenever possible, choose kindness. And it is always possible.
Our family has been implementing this language and awareness. Lila points out when someone “didn’t have to” let us pull out in front of them at an intersection. Jude notices when a stranger hangs back to hold a door open for us at the grocery store. They don’t have to do that, but they still do it. It just feels right to be a kind human.
Books! I have read some really great books. I mostly abandoned non-fiction and got lost in stories. A friend of mine asked the question, “Do more empathetic people read fiction or does reading fiction make people more empathetic?” The books I read this summer definitely grew my sense of empathy. A pattern emerged in my reading. I swung back and forth between books involving slave narratives and books set in World War II. For an added dose of self-torture, I read a memoir of a woman who grew up in a polygamist compound. These were all books I could feel in my bones. They revealed layers of the human spirit and condition.
Simultaneously, both my kids delved into fiction. My daughter is ploughing through World War II stories, including The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, while my son is reading books of adventure and incarceration. We discuss these texts over dinner and grapple with the human capacity for evil. On more than one occasion, one of the kids crawled in my lap crying as they wanted to discuss some painful turn of events in a story. These were authentic, teachable moments. In an interview for NPR, LeVar Burton said that lifelong readers are “dangerous people.” I will forever be grateful that my children share my passion for reading. During this summer of settling, we deepened our sense of empathy and encouraged independent thinking. We are a “dangerous” tribe.
I have only begun to scratch the surface of my settling. Over the summer there were fun adventures, some challenges, and soul searching moments. Two months can be forever and a blink of the eye at the same time. As I close the chapter on this season, I am mostly grateful. I am thankful that as a parent I can grow right along with my kids. I can both drop and collect nuggets of wisdom wherever we might go. When it’s all said and done, I might just settle for quality time listening to myself, cultivating empathy and focusing on kindness.
So, did I have a good summer? Yes, I did! It was great. How about you?
Summer Reading List
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir by Ruth Wariner
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Favorite Films of the Summer
The Big Sick
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