On Repeat

I have been listening to Ed Sheeran a lot recently. I became aware of him a while ago, Chris first introduced me to his music when we watched a recording of his performance at Wembley Stadium. When ÷ came out last year I immediately downloaded the entire album. I listened to a song here or there for a few weeks and then put it away. But then on my solitary trip to the Wild Hare 50k in November, I played the album on repeat throughout the 5 hour drive each way. The ebb and flow, the highs and lows, each song burned into my brain. And while some songs did not reach me at first, by the end of the weekend I had fallen in love with every nuance, every detail, every rise and fall, the journey of the album as a whole.

I am not the type of person who keeps music constant in the background. I am perfectly comfortable with silence. I write in silence, I work in silence, I run in silence, I cook and clean and go about life largely in silence. Silence is comforting to me, it is peaceful. And yet, sometimes the strongest form of silence is that in the middle of a crowd, tucked in the corner of a coffee shop as the hum of voices fades into nothing, soothed by the footfalls of others as we run stride for stride, words unspoken. These are the places I typically feel most at home. Silence outside to balance the noise inside my head.

I suppose that has been the largest challenge in parenting for me. The constant noise, the constant chatter, the inability to disappear into silence on my own terms. I love my son, I love hearing about his day, learning what is going on in his head, listening to the sweetness of his voice, memorizing the sound of his breath. But I cannot control the silence anymore, it is no longer mine to claim when I wish. It has gotten easier as he has aged, with school and activities taking large chunks of the day. He is busier, he is gone more, and I find my silence more readily, but still on his schedule. The crazy thing is now I have more access to my solace, my time alone, my quiet, I find I miss the baby, I miss the constant togetherness, I miss the noise. Such is the fleeting nature of life I guess, you can’t miss it until it’s gone.

And that brings me back to Ed Sheeran. For such a relatively young singer, his lyrics hit so deep. I was shocked to learn I am more than 10 years his senior. How can someone so young write with such an old soul? The mix of pain and joy wound deep into his songs is overpowering at times. He is unapologetic in his truth and in his perceptions. And he touches upon the beauty that is bound to the trauma of life so inexplicably and so well. I have now listened to all his albums, cover to cover, if that is the correct term. And while individual songs stand out to me in + and X, ÷ resonates in its entirety. The album is a journey, from pain through love, to joy, and back again. The songs rise and fall, ebb and flow, never leaving you high or low for too long. But he starts and ends with pain, while the beauty falls between. You can hear he has grown in this album, he has found bits of himself he hadn’t known were lost. He returns to his roots openly in “Castle on the Hill,” but more quietly in songs about his grandparents and love. The anger in X has tempered, it is deeper in some ways, but more settled, a part of him, reforming him, and making him stronger and wiser. He is not the same now, and his songs are better for it.

Ed Sheeran still plays on repeat in my car. Mostly ÷, although sometimes a few of my favorites from earlier years. I know all the lyrics by heart, and as a visual learner who does not learn songs by ear easily, that tells you something. Life is beauty, but it is also pain. Raising a child, shaping a marriage, sorting out who you are and who you were meant to be, it all comes with a price. In the end, life isn’t about avoiding pain, it is about learning to find joy in the struggle. Ed Sheeran may not have known all the life experiences I have faced to date, and I may have skipped many of the paths he has traveled. But to me, his music paints the perfect ebb and flow, truly touching upon the poignant balance of pain and joy that makes up life. And so his songs play again, replacing the silence I used to crave, on repeat.

Anniversary Musings

Today is our anniversary. 14 years ago we committed to love and honor and cherish each other until death do us part. 14 years ago we celebrated with friends and family, buoyed on a sense of destiny and rightness. 14 years ago we set down the road of marital bliss, convinced we knew better than anyone else how this thing called love should work.

We, as a society, go into marriage with a sense of certainty: this person, this time, this place, all of it was meant to be. We see everything in life as leading up to that moment, spend entire paychecks on a ring, months or even years planning everything to perfection, and then celebrate with an ornate ceremony and massive party. But the everydayness of life is what makes a marriage. The ins and outs of each morning and night, the little kindnesses, the small moments, the tiny generosities of spirit that make up a happy life-long bond. The constant turning toward each other, choosing each other that keeps love alive through all the daily stresses that batter us down. As so many have said before, marriage is not a destination, it is a journey.

I am no novice to a journey. Really, an ultramarathon is just that, a journey. A journey that many find unfathomable, that’s true. But all it requires is one foot and then the other, over and over, moving as best as you can with as much energy and positivity as you can find in that moment, and not accepting a way out as the answer. And when you do reach the finish line, you find it wasn’t really about the destination all along.  It was always about the highs and lows, the times you felt you couldn’t continue one more step and somehow found a way, the times the struggle gave way to a euphoria so high it erased all pain, it was always about the transforming power of the journey.

14 years later we have journeyed far. We’ve changed jobs and houses, buried grandparents and watched our parents age. We have celebrated with friends as they married, and watched helpless as they drifted apart. We have travelled for work (too much) and for pleasure (never quite enough). We supported each other as we forged through graduate degrees, each in our turn. We struggled through 3 miscarriages, to find the euphoria of having our son. We faced my post-partum depression, to find the intimacy of a marriage rebuilt out of pain. We felt the lethargy of a relationship adrift in a sea of schedules and plans, goals and busyness and the disconnect of dreams not completely shared. We have experienced the passion of finding each other again, learning we were there for each other all along. At times it has felt too much, too hard to push forward. But we committed 14 years ago to never accept a way out. And so we continue, one foot in front of the other, together.

Marriage is a journey, and it has its highs and lows. It is not about the end destination, it is about the transformation we undergo as we move through life together. My husband and I have had our fights, we have had our times we pull away, when we wonder “if.” But 14 years ago we committed to love each other, no matter what. And so we turn toward each other again, we work our way back to each other. We give kindness, we find generosity. There is passion, oh yes. But at the end of the day, it is intimacy that keeps us strong. The intimacy of knowing a person sees you completely, all your faults and your strengths, and still loves you. The peace of knowing you can let down the armor your put on each day to face the world. The comfort of knowing no matter how ugly life gets, the other person will be there with you, beside you, holding your hand.

Marriage, like an ultramarathon, ebbs and flows. At times you don’t know how you will keep moving. But if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, the pain will fade, replaced by beauty and joy. You can never hang onto the highs, they will always fade to a new low. But if you keep moving forward, the highs will come again, and again, until you look back and see more beauty than pain.

Tomorrow we celebrate 14 years, years that have brought us more joy, and more pain, than I could have imagined in that church so long ago. But I still turn toward him, lean into him, love him, more today than the day before. Love him more because of the journey, not in spite of it. The journey has changed us, its true. We are neither one the person that the other married. We are transformed by our shared experiences. We have evolved through our struggles, our reaction to pain. We have turned away, only to come rushing back to each other, pushing ever forward, together. I know our years together are a drop in the bucket to some. That we will look back in another 14 years and see how much further we have come. But I also know that as long as we keep turning toward each other, moving forward together, choosing “us” together, we will find the joy is not in the destination. It is the journey.

Packing Away the Pumpkins

Last night was Halloween. The seventh Halloween to trick or treat with my son. I remember for the first several years, I had complete control over his costume. A baby monkey, Dobby the House Elf. It wasn’t until he was almost 3 that he had any opinion on the matter. I relished those years, orchestrating our costumes to fit my fantasies of a family Halloween. Even as he began to pick his costume, I still had sway: Super Why, X-Wing Pilot, Hiro, and a Pokemon trainer.

This year the obsession has been Harry Potter, and I am delighted. I have hoped for the day when he would love the world of Hogwarts as much as me since I first saw his blip on the sonogram. Discovering the Wizarding World of J.K. Rowling through his eyes is even more magical than reading the books for the first time myself. And ever marching to his own drum, my little man chose Ron Weasley, not the famous Harry, as his hero to emulate. With a robe, a wand and a rat, this Halloween promised to be the best yet.

Halloween usually drapes us in a family theme. My husband and I have been everything from super heroes to Pikachu and Charmander. At first, this year was no different. As Hermione in the flesh, my choice was a given, and one of our Master’s graduation robes would work sufficiently to transform Dad into a Hogwart’s professor. But as planning continued, my son made it quite clear that he wanted us to be the Weasley family. Specifically, he wanted his parents to be Arthur and Molly Weasley. I resisted, partly because I didn’t own anything remotely similar to Molly’s wardrobe and refused to spend a fortune on a costume I would wear once. But in all honesty, I was also questioning and confused by us playing such a large and rambunctious family, when our family is a relatively quiet and calm total of three. Why did he want us to be the Weasley’s? Does he long for a large family with many siblings? After several miscarriages and struggles both pre- and post-partum, my husband and I are content and happy with our small family. But does our decision mean that our son feels he is missing out? Is there a reason he is drawn to the goofy, youngest son of a family of 7 children, when he himself is largely immersed in the adult world of an only child? Or, more likely, am I reading too much into costume planning? Does he simply relish Ron’s sense of humor, and like that he doesn’t have to wear glasses?

Halloween night came, and I still had not committed to a costume. Much too late to plan a Weasley family outing, my husband and I chose comfort over fashion, while our little Ron eagerly raced around the house counting down the minutes until we would meet our friends for trick or treating. At the last second I remembered to pull out his plush pumpkin bag, embroidered with his name, that he has used since his very first candy gathering experience at 10 months old. After a mere six uses, it still looks perfectly new, but is filled with memories of all his past treating adventures. But seeing the bag, my son’s face freezes and then falls, a mixture of hesitation and disappointment. He doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t need to. I can see in his eyes this bag is too juvenile now, he doesn’t want to carry it when trick or treating with his friends. But he doesn’t want to disappointment me, and so says nothing. Achingly, I place the pumpkin back into storage, pulling out a plastic bucket he acquired somewhere last year. I don’t do the best job of hiding my tears, but we hug and move on. Within minutes he is running down the streets with friends, everything forgotten.

Such a simple thing, growing past a pumpkin. Such a small mark of childhood. But it leaves me reeling. He is growing up too fast, and he is the only. Time is moving and he is growing, and this is it. Each Halloween, each costume, I can’t get that back. I suppose you never can, no matter how many children you costume.  Holidays come and go, our heads buried in the execution of perfect memories. And yet, one day we look up from our plans and the childhood we strove to create is gone, a pumpkin bag packed away in a box of keepsakes.

My son is still young. We have many more Halloween’s to revel in. He started planning next year’s family costumes as soon as his head hit the pillow last night. We will have more trick or treating, more pumpkin carving, more candy highs. We may have packed away a small part of childhood, but so much remains. New adventures await. I know that.

And yet, today a little piece of my heart was packed in a box and placed on a shelf. A piece of childhood filed away, misted in memory. He left for school this morning, holding my hand, hugs, kisses, and ugga muggas. I hold each one in my mind, packing them away. Someday those too will be filed in the past. But not today.