Changing seasons

Posted on March 30, 2023

I used to believe that autumn held new beginnings. Seventeen Magazine promised I’d look like Jennifer Connelly if I bought the right corduroy jacket and loafers. My school schedule would open new friendships and a school year where I wasn’t a misfit. Instead of longing for recess to be recess again, I’d understand how to traverse the coquettishness of the girls and their lunging toward the unknown that smelled of sweat and Irish Spring. I believed in it all, year after year, of it not being true.

I’d walk to school, and the crispy leaves that had framed the magazine spreads were, in my reality, sopping layers of soil and yard waste piled like dirty laundry in corners of the sidewalk. The back-to-school outfit goals I’d taped to my walls were always out of reach; my young mind not understanding the number of handlers outside the frame, the pinning of the sweater, and the editing of the models’ faces.

Thirty-five years later, it’s watching the snow melt and understanding how winter hides secrets. The short days and cold air keep us inside, our hurt and anger muffled by the tv. We move slowly behind curtains, backlit, longing for spring, all the while grateful for this time to step away from pretending. We pack away hard pants and lean into comfort, hiding. We burrow beneath blankets, binge shows, and permit ourselves to opt out of dinner and plans of dressing up or being hopeful. It’s too cold; we can do it in the spring. Let’s snuggle in away from it all for a bit longer.

The head of a bristle brush peeks out from melting snow.

The snow is melting, and I used to crank the wheel to get the car to make the circle without scraping against the packed snow; I can ease up. The rhododendron, the bits that have survived the winter grazing by the deer, springs out. I step out of the car, and the snow is spotty; the head of a brush peeks out between roots and the handle, Goody printed in metallic gold, glints in the morning sun. I can’t remember if anyone asked where the brush was. Did we worry about it?

Guess we didn’t give up after all; the brush was a survivor from a harried morning racing to beat the school bell, hair still knotted, but the will to try to break through the snarls and lay flat before the many faces of the day won out.

Even if autumn was a lie, maybe spring is a promise.

Shame and love during COVID

Posted on February 1, 2022

COVID hasn’t made anything easy. Things that we used to be able to crave—feeling attractive or desirable, cutting through responsibility with a spontaneous act, diving headlong into anonymity through travel, all seem too selfish.  And yet, it’s almost more essential now.

Our washing machine has been inoperable, with a one-week exception, since October. We are caught in a limbo of protection plan contractor requirements, labor shortages, and supply chain gaps. The girls and I had COVID over the holidays—we sweat through our clothes and bedding. The laundry piled up, tainted by the virus we had so assiduously avoided for two years. I’ve gone back and forth between doing laundry in the bathtub and taking it to a wash and fold place in town. I recognize our good fortune of working cars and healthy bank accounts that allow us to find solutions. Still, the relentless powerlessness saps my strength and, worse, my confidence.

One of the lowest points of quarantine was wanting not just to leave the house, but to crawl out of my own skin. There was nowhere to go and no one to become. Forgiveness, patience, and grace, things I’ve easily told other people to have for themselves were a lie when I said them to myself. The monotony of being home was nothing compared to the repetition of my inner monologue. I learned to tread carefully with myself, like sneaking down a hallway. Avoid the mirror, stand up a little straighter, think a good thought.

Sometime last year I found this photo on my phone. I put it here to write about marriage, parenting, work, and personal time. I never wrote anything. I can chalk that up to the pandemic and sheepishness that people don’t want to read about some random iPhone picture. Yet, I still feel that same pull to write. When I began blogging it was all about pregnancy and motherhood. I’d spend hours at the keyboard with a nursing baby or a sleeping baby. I wept, quested, searched, and felt a profound connection through the act of writing. Or was it sharing? In the early days no one was reading it, maybe Sean. Over time I found other people and in their words, whether comments on my blog or posts on their own sites, I began discovering a place where I belonged.

My daughters are still here, defining a huge part of who I am. And while they don’t begrudge me the stories I’ve told, things are different.

I’ve kept the image on my phone because there is so much wrapped up in it that reminds me of things I’ve done right.

Let’s start with the belt. I bought the belt for work after Briar was born. I loved the width of the leather, actually filling denim belt loops. The gold buckle, which you can see is rubbing off, helped me feel pulled together. I always lose earrings, I look like a horror movie victim in lipstick, and I don’t know, the belt made me feel less like a mess. When Ave was three she put a red sticker on the inside, “Mama, if’n you look inside your belt I’ll always be right there in that heart loving you.” That sticker held on for about 5 years. The belt accommodated my body through post-partum shapes and the up and down trends of mid-rise, low-rise, high-rise jeans.

The jeans are a departure from skinny jeans. I wore a pair of Sean’s jeans to work in the yard one day and Briar said, “Loving the fit, mom.” The blouse is uncharacteristically feminine for me. I bought it and second-guessed it, but once again, seen through the eyes of my girls, I came to love it. “Mom, you look so pretty in that shirt,” Finley said running her finger along the fluttery short sleeves.


Woman lies on a bed with a tiny bit of midriff showing. A man has a couple of fingers looped in the waist of her jeans. They are comfortable together.

 

The thing that really gets me is the skin. His hand tucked into my jeans, my blouse riding up. Just out of the frame his hand is on my knee. I’ve watched his hands cut the umbilical cord, tend to scraped knees, and untangle my necklaces. He had arranged for a quick overnight in Vermont. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt free of worry. Letting the bed hold me up, I set the worry down in a way that I no longer had to bear its weight. He probably leaned into me, pressing his lips into my hair and murmuring, “Manda-bear.” I felt beautiful, looking at this photo I still feel beautiful. But during the past couple of years, my relationship with myself and my desires has gone to a dark place.

It has to stop. The pursuit of joy or distraction is not criminal. There’s really no telling how long COVID will be around, there is certain to be another thing that comes along that influences our ability to carry on what we think of as a normal life.

I say none of this to be dramatic. I want us to understand that we can still yearn for and work toward feelings. We should look forward to things—baking a cake, planting seeds for a summer that will eventually come, slow dancing in the kitchen, or dressing up just because. It will be work, a deliberate decision to carve out time for something beyond worry and resentment. The laundry will keep, we don’t need a vegetable at every meal, wear the damn dress, write the song, throw out the mug you always hated.

Remembering back to that trip, something big came up. We hadn’t been there an hour and we were huddled over my phone, our heads touching, trying to get reception in the room as we discussed something with our partners. They were very apologetic. It was ok. Seems like we set these measurements for things, from productivity to personal improvements, that are categorically impossible. You cannot completely unplug just like you cannot be entirely tuned in. We aren’t built that way. I am learning not to let uncertainty steal my joy.

The real question: Are you ok?

Acknowledging Fear and Modeling Courage

Posted on September 13, 2020

The girls went back to school this week. Wednesday, they woke quickly, one even before her alarm. The energy of getting ready to leave was familiar, welcome even, but it also crackled with anxiety. We took turns asking questions and spontaneously saying, “I love you.” Still, we’d agreed as a family to give it a go, and the girls were ready. Avery is a freshman this year, and Briar was excited to have her at the high school. They walked in together, masks on, and plans to manage what the day might bring.

Two high school girls walk away from the camera toward a brick school building. The sky overhead is blue.

We had about 45 minutes to burn before it was time to drop Finley at the middle school. We drove to a nearby coffee shop and ordered drinks and breakfast. We sat together outside.

“Are you nervous?” I asked her.

She giggled and moved her legs, “I have caterpillars. I mean butterflies. Ha! I have like super-strong butterflies.”

I looked at her face and tried to read it. She was joyous and nervous. Her hair has grown, and her face has changed. The leggings and graphic tees of last year are gone. She is lovely.

She caught me studying her face. I laughed, “I have them too!” She turned inward, and I let her. We each drifted off on thoughts of our own until she said, “We better go. I don’t want to be late.”

We waited outside the school as she walked in, and I snapped a picture. “You ok, mama?” Sean asked softly.

“No. But it’s ok, she is.”

 

A student walks across a school crosswalk, a woman's reflection is shown in the side mirror of a truck, she is taking a photo of the student.

Sean and I drove home without talking much. We walked into the house, and the dogs greeted us with barks. The cats circled our legs. We settled into our office in the dining room—the animals following at our heels.

“Feels weird without them here,” Sean said.

It did feel weird—six months of being in the house together, over like that. I struggled to concentrate. My mind wasn’t going to where they were or what they were doing. It was going to tomorrow, November, and next year. Parenting has taught me a hundred times over that there are things out of my control, but somehow my spirit or stubbornness keeps that fact from sticking. I was thinking about the future and how little I can control. More than ever, it will be perspective and determination that influence our lives.

These last few weeks have been loaded with anticipation—school, COVID, lobbying for a puppy, planning my campaign, discussing the November election. The girls look to one another for ideas and opinions, sometimes leaning into one another’s perspective, other times forming their own slightly different take on something. It is glorious to watch, and it’s pushing me to make sure that I create the space for identities outside of being my daughter or being their mom.

The decision to run for Queensbury Town Board was one that we made as a family. I’ve been in the position as an appointee since the end of June. We installed a landline, and everyone knows that if it rings, it’s time to be serious, “Hello, this is the Magee residence. How may I help you?” The girls came up with the script on their own and used it every call. Sometimes it’s telemarketers, but they treat them each as if they were a constituent with a concern.

I didn’t know what to expect of the position, so I operated as I would with family or work, taking my time to listen and assess. Stepping up to the responsibilities has been easy. I have felt the potential of having an impact and after years of finding my voice, this feels like a logical next step. Campaigning? That’s something else.

I’ll confess that knocking on doors is intimidating. I want to be good enough, I want to have the right answers, I want them to support me. It emphatically presses my insecurity buttons. Then, of course, there is a competitive side. I don’t want to lose.

A few nights ago we ventured out to knock on doors. I had a stack of palm cards, Finley pedaled a bike with a wagon attached, inside she’d assembled about 20 signs. We spent about 2 hours walking through the neighborhood. I would knock or ring the bell and then step back. I was wearing a mask, beneath it I smiled. Some people didn’t answer the door, others said no to a sign. Then there were the people who wanted to talk. I spent 20 minutes with 4 different houses—listening, explaining, commiserating, and laughing. Through it all, FIn and Sean were with me. Avery and Briar want to come next time. We are all moving through our fears and excitement bravely.


A woman walks down a residential street as her daughter rides a bike beside her. The sun is setting ahead of them and a white dog can be seen following them.

 

The other night we received word of 2 confirmed COVID cases at the elementary school. My competitors’ signs are popping up throughout my ward. There are pitches to do for work and more neighborhoods to canvas. The girls are starting an Etsy shop. It is a time of uncertainty, but also new beginnings.

 

Thank you for being with me all these years, and for caring about the girls. What are you up to? Have you seen this about voting from my friend Asha Dornfest? Are you interested in helping people vote? You can find out more about my campaign here. I have shirts, pins, and yard signs if you are interested please let me know. I’ll post the Etsy shop when it’s live.

 

Not so silent

Posted on June 12, 2020

Hello old friends.

Time has been moving in slow-motion with a finger not my own holding down the fast forward button. I can’t keep up and the days never end fast enough. Pip died. The vet asked me after 4 visits, “Do you think it’s time?”

I shattered, the only thing that remained whole were my arms. I looked at Pip, tiny in the yellow blanket. I dangled in the massive space between wanting his pain to end and owning the words, “It’s time.” I pulled him to me and looked at Sean and the vet.

His body felt like nothing, weightless, the blanket sticking to my arms. We were standing in the parking lot, hidden from view of the other masked people there with their creatures. The parking lot backs up to a field, it was filled with birds and the sky overhead was a perfect blue. The sun was hot an unfamiliar and my skin pricked with sweat. I hadn’t been outside or in public in months, the last two nights I’d slept in the dark basement with Pip. He looked up at me.

I squinted my eyes, wiped the tears into the blanket. Murmured his name and then said, “Yes.”

A woman and three teenage girls sit in a circle around a sick tabby cat.

I have not wanted to do or say much since. I have not been here, but I have been working—on my business, on my marriage, on my parenting, on my role in the world. I don’t want my silence here to be interpreted as not participating in what is happening in our country.

Our country is a racist as Pippin is dead.

Anything less than acknowledging that Black Lives Matter is unacceptable to me.

Denying transwomen inclusion is unacceptable to me.

I have been expanding who I follow, amplify, buy from, and support. Get over to Black Vibe Tribe and support a young, black woman who is doing amazing things. She started the company at 14, she is now 17. Her merchandise is beautifully designed and the garments are of the highest quality. Finley is currently learning who Sojourner, Shirley, Daisy, Harriet, Assata, and Septima are.

A black teacher with the names Sojourner, Shirley, Daisy, Harriet, Assata, and Septima with resist spelled out.

 

Our company posted signs.

A building with a #BLM sign in the window.

Photo Credit: Small Town Street Life https://www.smalltownstreetlife.com

 

We’ll be offering to match donations that people make to organizations that support the Black or LGBTQIA+ communities up to $2,000. We will use the blog at Trampoline to highlight these organizations.

 

Double Your Donation

 

I submitted my name for consideration for a vacant seat on the Queensbury Town Board.

We walked as a family during the local Black Lives Matter march.

I’m not done. I never will be. Grief continues, but so does hope.

Please be a part of hope, change, and shattering the silence.

Can I bake the mailman cookies?

Posted on May 14, 2020

We have left cookies in the mailbox for our mailman. We say mailman because he is indeed a man. His name is Bill. Finley has a keen understanding of the extra lengths he goes to to take care of us. Since moving to this a few years ago, she has noticed that Bill often drives down our long driveway to leave things on our stoop.

“Can I bake the mailman cookies?” she asked the other day.

 

“I don’t know if that is the best idea,” I said.

 

“Too big a mess,” she asked.

 

I laughed. “No, it’s more about the fact that people are super worried about germs and he may not want to eat food that we give him.” She nodded dramatically and made a sound of understanding.

 

“I think maybe a gift card would be better,” I said.

 

“Great! I just got three for my birthday. I’ll give him one!” She ran away and I googled “gifts for mail carriers.” I found a site that said carriers cannot accept gift valued over more than $20. After she breathlessly handed me a gift card, we went online and purchased a $20 gift card to be safe.

 

Shows a handwritten letter with a $25 gift card for the mailman

The letter says:

Dear Bill, 

If you don’t already know the person that has been writing you thank you letters and baking you treats is me, Finley. I’m the baby of the family. I want to thank you for doing all of the things that you’ve been doing during this time. You go all around town giving people mail when you could be safe at home. And even though you clearly know we have a mailbox you go down the driveway just to put it on our doorstep.

Sincerely, 

Finley Magee :)

P.S. If you’re not Bill. I’m sorry. Please give this to Bill and tell me your name and I will make you something too.

I was going to bake you something, but with everything going on I decided a gift card would be best. 

 

Finley taped the envelope to our stoop and sure enough, Bill drove down the driveway, delivered a stack of mail held together with a rubber band, and knelt down to pick up the envelope addressed to him. Two days later there was a letter waiting in the mailbox for Finley.

A handwritten note from the mailman thanking Finley for her thoughtfulness.

It read:

 

Finley,

Thank you for the gift card and kind words. Your thoughtfulness of others is a great character in a person.

Your kindness is truly appreciated and heartfelt.

Bill

the mailman

 

A friend once wrote that I could write about a trip to the mailbox and make people cry. Funny the power and tenderness wrapped up in mail and the care it represents.