The sun shines through the massive windows where I sit drinking a steaming latte. The door to the coffee shop is held open by a colorful rock, allowing the breeze to deliver the first hints of spring.
My heart races. Nausea swirls through my belly, and my legs quiver beneath raspberry denim. I am exhilarated and terrified. I close my eyes and draw air in slowly through my nose and out through pursed lips. The square breathing doesn’t work; I’m still shaking.
The first time I felt this same breathless anticipation was on the day of my first daughter’s birth—when I held her fragile body, red faced and screaming, in my trembling arms. The next was when I delivered my second girl and clutched her against my flaming mother-heart. With each birth, I stumbled into different versions of the same reality—motherhood, secretly convinced I didn’t belong in either.
In the first version, I was a selfish thirty-something woman thrust into caring for a being dependent on me for everything. In the second, I was a mother so in love with her firstborn, she worried she could never love another baby in the same way.
Both times I managed to rise to the occasion, learning how to be a mother under the expert tutorage of those two amazing babies, both now adults.
Today, I am poised on the precipice of yet another version of reality, a proposition that leaves me every bit as petrified and exhilarated at the first two. Today may be the day I say goodbye to thirty-seven years as a health care professional. Today may be the day I embrace a dream and commit myself to a brand new career—writing.
I have just finished a most satisfying meeting with the lovely woman, a multiple published author and editor I hired to review my manuscript. We discussed possible edits. She was pleased with all my suggestions; I basked in her compliments. I was moved to tears by her words: “You truly do have talent—and a good story. This business has a lot of ups and downs, but hold on to the fact that you’ve got that certain something. You’re a storyteller!”
She has long since left the café. I remain, waffling over a decision I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to make. I think about my girls, about what my oldest wrote on the card she’d made for my birthday a month back, “Thank you for always encouraging us to be everything we are capable of being.” The words seem prophetic somehow.
I bow my head and close my eyes, forcing my breathing to slow, my heart to settle. The busy everyday sounds of a café—the clinking of dishes, the murmur of voices, the scraping of chairs—all fade away. Calmness overcomes me. I ask myself, If you’ve spent their entire lives encouraging your girls to reach for the impossible, to dream big and aim high, why are you not doing the same?
A favorite quote floats through my mind. One I have shared with my girls on many occasions, by Lewis Carroll. “In the end…we only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.” In that moment, something lifts from my shoulders, something I have carried with me for far too long. Self-doubt.
I finish my cup of coffee, and collect my belongings. And, with that, I package my previous self into a box entitled “That was my old life” and head out into a day filled with possibility.
Leslie Wibberley loves the written word almost as much as her extremely tolerant husband and her two outstanding daughters. Her creative nonfiction essays can be found in Mamalode, Mothers Always Write, Literary Mama, and The Manifest Station. Her short stories have appeared Devolution Z and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her work has also won a 6th place and an Honorable Mention in Writer’s Digest’s Annual Competitions.
It is our pleasure to announce the winner, finalists, and honorable mentions of the Spring Micro-essay Contest. We received over 90 entries and were incredibly impressed by the quality of the writing. Thank you so much to all participants for sharing such beautiful writing with us.
1st place: “A Natal Sun” by Rachel Hartley Smith
2nd place: “On the Path to Hope” by Karen Hugg
3rd place: “April Showers” by Cristi Donoso Best
4th place: “The Sisterhood of Bereaved Mothers” by Rebecca Hope
“Mother’s Day Flowers” by Mary Plouffe
“Roots” by Alison Wilkinson
“Learning to Embrace Spring” by Megan Merchant
“Attachment Disorder” by Sherilyn Olsen
“It was Bought in Berlin” by Hiba Zafran
“Blooming Where I’m Planted” by Lorren Lemmons
These pieces and many others will be published during the month of May. You will be contacted in the next couple of days if your essay has been selected for publication. Congratulations to all!
It started with a pair of vintage glass candlesticks. It was my first estate sale, and we had just bought a house. I remember the late spring day, the kind that makes you open up all the windows as if to welcome summer. I spied the candlesticks sitting on a wooden table in the midst of milky, green vases and gaudy pink bowls, a collection of dishes and glasses that spoke of all we accumulate during a full life. The candlesticks were light blue and had a satisfying weight as they turned from cold to warm in my hands. I had just gone through a massive purge of our belongings, and the last thing I wanted was more tchotchkes. But, even though the seller wouldn’t budge on the price, I couldn’t leave without those blue candlesticks.
Perhaps part of their allure came from an article I had read with ideas for successful family dinners. One of the author’s tips was to dine by candlelight. She explained that candlelight has a soothing effect on children and can make a meal more pleasant.
Our meals during the ten months of my son’s life up until that point had not looked all that picturesque. Family dinners had started when he was a newborn, not at a table, but on the living room couch. I would shove pasta in my mouth with the warm weight of our summer baby nursing in my arms. We sat on our beige, suede couch and didn’t even think to cover it with a blanket. Our tired eyes were glued to the TV, watching our way through Chuck as the sun set earlier and earlier and ignoring the huge laundry pile in the hallway of our apartment. The baby always decided to cluster-feed in the evenings, so I planted myself on the couch and drank glass after glass of water with my feet propped on the coffee table.
When autumn came and the weather grew crisp, I began to pull the 6-month-old jackets from our bin of clothes, I decided it was time to get my act together. I started trying to be a perfect stay-at-home mom—one who could shop strategically for well-planned meals. I imagined a hot meal on the table when my husband walked in. The faint scent of dish soap would linger in the air, even though the dishes had been dried and put away. Our now-crawling baby would be eager to be scooped up for a quick hug by daddy and then tossed into his high chair where he would remain happily.
Instead, evenings were dominated by a four-month-old who needed to be held right when I least wanted to hold him. His little face peered out of the carrier, watching me cook with a critical expression, as if he knew it was all an act. The house usually had a slightly singed odor from the pieces of food that would fall inside the stove burners. My husband often walked in later than we hoped, tossing down a plastic grocery bag with chili powder or some other missing ingredient.
As our son grew closer to toddlerhood, he decided that he hated his high chair. It was a huge, hand-me-down with a rip in the tan vinyl and missing straps. The white plastic tray was usually sticky or crusted with food. Our dinners were plain, and if we had sides, it was generally a few leaves of lettuce tossed into a bowl, still dripping from their washing.
Far from a sparkling kitchen, my husband usually walked in to find a collection of opened cans, brown carrot ends on the chopping board, and a sink full of dishes. Ten months into my role as a stay-at-home mom, I still hadn’t become a very good cook. More often than not, we had to wash plates and silverware as I was serving dinner.
So with those magical blue candlesticks in my hands on that spring day, I imagined a fresh start. I pictured them shimmering in the middle of our freshly-painted dining room with a grown-up table instead of our thrift-store one. I resolved that we would have real family dinner with cheerful conversation and a seated child.
But, the vision didn’t materialize. Rather thanoffering a calming scene, the candles distracted my son who was determined to blow them out. Even with the blue candlesticks and a year of parenthood on our resumes, we still weren’t able to pull off the family dinners I longed for—the family dinners I was sure that we needed.
There are always so many things to work on in the little years. From learning to sit at the table to trying new foods to manners, there is always more I should be doing—more I want to be doing. I want to create a strong family culture—one where we have well-timed meals and a cleaner house and music time every day. I want to teach my son how to put on his own clothes and to understand the value of money. What skills will come on their own and which ones need my nudging or prodding?
Family dinner became a symbol for me of what our family could be, yet I was always failing, too lazy to get my act together and be a real mom. Real moms didn’t hold their babies on their laps during dinner or let their toddlers interrupt. Real moms could time the day so the child wasn’t fussy just as dinner was being made.
Yet from our earliest days as a family of three, we had at least beenhaving dinner as a family, even if they didn’t look the way I pictured. I can still taste the takeout noodles and fresh cookies a friend brought that summer right after my son was born. I remember the successful gluten-free sweet-potato dish I made for my mother-in-law that autumn and a quiche I made on my son’s first snow day. I remember the homemade honey-mustard dressing my best friend brought to put on the greens the night I successfullyroasted a whole chicken. I remember the short period of time when our son would scream happily at the top of his lungs all through dinner, his halo of hair sticking up around his head.
And yes, I also remember the breaks to nurse, the mismatched dishes, the longing for something I thought would never happen
It’s been almost three years since I brought my treasured candlesticks into our home. We have two little boys now, and it surprises me that we do eat dinner together at the table most nights. Often the toddler sits for less than five minutes before getting up. I almost always forget to put drinks on the table, and we rarely have enough silverware. My husband generally has to clean the kitchen, but it’s a task he does cheerfully.
As with all the important things—potty training, a consistent bedtime routine, daily toy cleanup— our family dinner has slowly, naturally fallen into place. It reminds me that often, it’s just about having a vision and then waiting for the right time (with maybe a gentle nudge here and there). But I’m also learning to see the beauty in the real life in front of me, even if it doesn’t match the vision in my head. I’m trying to accept that what we give our children right now may be good enough.
Those blue candlesticks are on the mantle for now—safe from grabbing little hands. But I can still hope that maybe one day, they’ll be in the center of our family dinner.
Heather Tencza taught English before becoming a mom in 2013, and now she stays home with her two sons and writes in snatches of time. She blogs at http://www.heathertencza.com/ and has been featured on several sites, including Coffee + Crumbs.
I started out looking for something benign and found myself on an archeological dig, unprepared. Barefoot. Surrounded by spider webs, catching the occasional glimpse of their inhabitants. The type whose long, paper-thin legs and tiny bodies seem prehistoric, forgotten somehow.
My imagination is far too wild for me to spend more than three minutes in a basement. Yet here I am, digging through piles of things that have remained untouched since we moved in. Among the sleeping bags, baby toys, and Christmas decorations lay the artifacts of my past. The historical documents that prove my existence, my journey.
Looking into the bin in front of me is kind of like cracking my head open and peering inside. There are painful memories and sweet ones. Photos of friends who are now strangers. Boyfriends who are now anecdotes. I look at pictures of myself and realize that even I am a bit foreign to me now.
I’m not sure I know the girl smiling at the camera, but truthfully, I’m not quite used to the woman looking at the picture, either. Three years and two children have transformed me in many ways, most of which a camera can’t capture.
There are boxes and boxes of photos, from the days when we couldn’t see what the photo looked like before we took it. Even blurry, dark, unflattering shots still exist in the basement where upstairs I hear the thunder of my children’s feet stomping, happy and carefree. Will they have the experience of unearthing relics from their past in private? Or will their youth be both intangible and fair use, held captive in pixels?
I continue to sift. Diplomas, diaries, notes passed during science class. Proof that I have lived, traveled, accomplished. A letter from my godmother during my pre-teen years contains such poignant advice for my thirty-something self I almost cry.
I start to count my blessings, beginning with her.
This box contains heartbreak, yes—both the awkward, middle-school variety and the throbbing, life-altering kind. But mostly it contains joy. It’s all me. I know what it is and why it’s there. Every thing matters enough that I couldn’t part with it then and don’t want to now. Still, I realize I am not interested in unearthing my old pain or even my old joy. That’s how I know I’m happy, I think.
I close the box, snap the lid in place. Pick up the paper towel roll I originally came down here for and walk back upstairs to my husband, my kids–my life.
Stacy Firth is a writer and content strategist who helps moms who are small business owners and solopreneurs tell their stories online. She’s also the mama of two. For years she’s been writing stories in her head, and now she’s writing them down. You can find her at stacyfirth.com