waxing nostalgic…friend or foe?


We bought snap peas at the farmer’s market this morning.  My youngest daughter calls out to me and says, “Mama, I found 7 peas in a pod! It’s our family!” She urges me to take a pic and I smile trying to hold back the tears.

From my last post, you must have gathered it’s been a bit of a circus show around these parts.

Well, yes, and then some which is why I haven’t been here even though I have needed to write about the process because that’s how I deal with stress these days.  But I haven’t been able to write because I don’t know where to begin.  This post has been sitting in drafts for a week because it feels like an emotional discharge that is impossible to water down or edit to under a thousand words.  Finally, today I am posting as-is because I have to start writing again to save myself from living in my head and to find what I always find when I put words down – clarity.

We sold our house quickly and recently moved back in to say goodbye.  We are living out of boxes and purging and purging and purging.

Needless to say, the month of May was an emotional roller coaster ride for my family.  There was A LOT.  Just a lot – A lot of explaining, a lot of questions, a lot of emotions, a lot of avoiding, and a lot of busy.  We spent April in the unsettling state of getting things in motion, making choices that began a tidal wave of change in May.

I haven’t considered myself a sentimental person.  I am the one that throws out photos and looks back on the past with a feeling of relief – a kind of “glad that’s over and we can move on” type of outlook.  I toss out the kids’ artwork like moldy leftovers always praising the process and not the end result.  It’s only over the last few years that I have had both the time and inclination to step back and notice that my family keeps changing.  Even my blog posts have grown more reflective as opposed to my early years of blogging when it was just about getting through the day with a house full of little ones.

It’s hard to zoom out when you are mama to babies and toddlers.  At that stage, life is very moment to moment and all one’s energy is placed in getting people’s physical needs AND emotional needs met which is something that only Mama can do.  Multiply that by five and there is no time to wax nostalgic.  Heck, in those moments, I couldn’t even remember the last time I had showered or the day of the week.

In those early years of motherhood, waxing nostalgic was a time-waster and an activity for fools – fools that had the opportunity to shower daily and spend hours wistfully looking out the window.  It was for someone who could remember what they said five minutes ago, let alone ten years ago.  It was something that old people did when they complained about today – today’s youth, today’s society, whatever was right in front of them.

Now I find myself in a jarring state of departure.  In this house, we are all finding ourselves in different states of departure.  I am leaving something behind that used to care for us in the way that I needed. This house was the third parent.  It was more than a roof over our heads.  It has been a safe harbour, a shoulder to lean on, a witness to this little family we have created and nurtured – a scrapbook of who our family has become.

It held space for my children when I couldn’t. Like extra ingredients in a haphazard recipe, new children were added to the mix over the years changing the chemistry of the dish but the house was the constant.  The house was the container that held us all in as we figured it all out.

So of course, what do I do for almost an entire month?

I become what I can only describe as a nostalgic mess – an addict of the past.  It’s as though I have turned in my badge as the champion (and sometimes the annoying authoritative expert) of the present moment in favour of the illusory consolation of returning to the past.  Returning to an imaginary place of ease because the present is so rife with chaos and uncertainty.

When all of your children take turns in waging mutiny on decisions you make on their behalf, challenging your faith in the present moment by becoming shape shifters in every instant, and demand that you be that unshakeable and confident mother you professed to them all their lives, you take shelter in the cozy confines of a past where you could nurse your babies to comfort them and the most serious quarrel in your day had surrounded taking a bath (and in most times, you would acquiesce and tuck them into bed dirty feet and all).

For the last month, my husband and I talked about the past every chance we had alone. Every person we have told about our move wanted more information but it really can be summed up in one question, “How did you get here?”  How did we get to this place of choosing to leave our home when everything was for all intents and purposes, perfect?

We all returned to the past in different ways this month.

My husband and I dissected our life over the last 20 years trying to figure out how to explain how we have gotten here – looking back with a sense of wonder at our miracle journey.  (“Dude, we are STILL together after all that hoopla. High five.”)

My children have needed me in ways that are reminiscent to those early years when they needed assurance of my presence to feel safe and when really they just needed us to LOVE them.  They didn’t need me to go over pros and cons or give practical explanations or dole out Hallmark card promises that chapters end and it’s only through change that we grow.  They needed hugs that held on for eternity, nights to sleep with me under the crook of my arm even if they couldn’t fit in it anymore, moments where I only listened and held back the tears to give space for them to cry, and allow them to cling to memories without tainting them with a real behind-the-scenes play by play.  The one gift I can give them right now is to let them believe in fairy tales, happy endings, and that we will always be here to make everything better.  (And why not? Happy endings come in many shapes and forms.  It is the happy middles that we all seem to have trouble with.)

The danger in nostalgia is the longing that is associated with it.  The wish to be somewhere else – in another place and another time.  The word is made up of two greek words: nostos (homecoming) + algos (pain, grief, distress).  Basically, it means to be homesick.  It is a yearning to return home where “home” just means a simpler place and time where things were predictable and familiar.  A place where life is static and immovable as if we could go beyond capturing moments in photographic stills and actually freeze that candid mid-laugh moment or that group picture where no one leaves.

As much as I want to curl up with photo albums and scrapbooks and talk about where we have come from or immerse myself in pinning jungle house ideas on my pinterest boards, the present moment beckons me again.  I can’t fast forward through this in-between and middle space.  Today my children wake me up from my reverie of days gone by with a baby nursing, a toddler or two under my arms, and a older child laying across my legs.  They jostle my eyes open to who they are now – struggling and rejoicing in the same moment, needing me and not needing me in the same breath, dipping in and out of the hot and cold pools of confidence and insecurity.

We are in the in-between – the stage just before adolescence, the stage immediately before adulthood, the summer before our family changes from seven to six, spending our days in a house that is no longer ours, dreaming about a home not yet built, and answering questions with “I don’t know yet.”

It is in this space where hope springs eternal I am told.  It is here where that magical moment before dawn resides.  The edge of becoming where possibility dwells. The day before the birthday.  The waiting in traffic.  Any type of waiting.  It is in this waiting place that nostalgia sneaks in.  Hope and wait are the same word in Spanish.   Our mind wanders and we would like to be in any place but this place of anticipation.

I sink into a place where even my children or my husband can’t come or have visited, a secret place of motherhood past – a place where I tell myself that I did the best I could even when I know I didn’t.  This is the secret in-between place of motherhood – a place between guilt and acceptance.  It is a place I find myself more and more as my children grow older.  As we wait to see what’s around the corner for all of us, as we wait for the time we have to say goodbye to each other and to this place and this time, I wait and hope.

Maybe this is the problem with waxing nostalgic.  You always end up waiting.  You end up tricking yourself that those days will come again soon even if it looks like something different and you will get through this middle.  Hope is waiting for something to come around the corner that will save you from this middle.  But it always takes you away from HERE. The middle part.  The transition from arrival to departure to arrival.  It is only in this middle place where I am saved – the awareness that it is always the middle where life thrives.  In the thick.  In the juiciest part.  It is here, in this place of infinite potential that I can appreciate it all.  The past.  The present.  The yet to be.

My second daughter bought fully bloomed peonies at the farmer’s market today.  She bought half a dozen for $10 of her hard-earned cash.  She took the bouquet, closed her eyes, and inhaled the scent of them.  The farmer gave her an extra one.  I think he saw what I saw – a perfect example of the glorification of NOW.  She spent an hour’s worth of babysitting on impermanent beauty.  The flowers will probably last another day or two but that expression on her face, that will be with me forever.





I will be holding one last Book of Hours Workshop before we leave for Costa Rica in October.  And I will be beginning another 100 Day Project soon.  Stay tuned for details…





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