The Land of the Living

posted in: Life, Motherhood 87 comments

I’ve been reading books about death and dying recently in quick succession (Me Before You, The Book Thief, The Fault In Our Stars, One Last Thing Before I Go, The Woman Who Could Not Forget) – not that I was in a dark mood, they just happened to be books I’d planned to read. All were beautifully written, I loved them, they made me feel all the feelings, brought me to the depths of despair (yes, I know, 4 out of 5 of these are fiction, and real people did not die in them, but real people die every day, don’t they?), and made me gasp for breath. 

And I run back to the land of living. The land of my husband, my children, my friends. I feel the warm sun coming through our windows, its glare blinding. I look at my toddler, ‘driving’ his Hot Wheels across the floor, the clattering sound and his voice singing out the colours of all his cars, welcome sounds to my ears. I watch my oldest son quietly drawing in his sketch book, face intent, profile looking just like mine. I think about my husband, out working on a Saturday, grateful for his dedication and commitment to our family.

Thornton Wilder quote on life and living

I look at my little one’s mass of unruly curls at the back of his head, so unlike his brother’s thick head of straight hair. I run my fingers through them, untangling hair and feelings, thinking, child, when did you get so big? 

I thread fingers with my oldest, remembering how tiny they were when my little finger was larger than his entire hand. And I hoped that in the fours years of being his mother, I’d thought to live a little, soaked in the moments, celebrated the small things. I swallow a lump of regret for the times I’ve not always been kind to him, where my voice raised unnecessarily, and my tone harsh, my mothering not a soft landing place for him as it should ALWAYS be. 

Which then got me to thinking about the two hours I just spent in their room, while they fall asleep (and stay asleep). So many things I could be doing instead (like read another book) – but there I was, lying in the dark, dozing off here and there, watching my boys and their even breathing, their chests rising and falling, the particular way my oldest likes to swing his leg over the side of the bed while he sleeps, quietly treasuring the arm my youngest has casually thrown over my own. Yes, I could be doing all those other things outside of spending two hours getting them to sleep, then staying there long enough that neither sees me walk out and wakes up crying. But it was a moment of living, one that feels like many nights these days, but will soon fade to nothing as they grow up. 

And so I treasure all the noises of little boys, and the quiet of night time sleep, because they draw me back to the warmth of the living.

Also, I probably need to read a different kind of book.

Alison Lee is a former PR and marketing professional turned work-at-home mother. After a 10-year career in various PR agencies, and of the worldโ€™s biggest sports brands, Alison traded in product launches and world travel, for sippy cups, diapers, and breastfeeding. Alison's writing has been featured on Mamalode, On Parenting at The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Everyday Family, Scary Mommy, and She is one of 35 essayists in the anthology, My Other Ex: Womenโ€™s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. In 2012, she founded Little Love Media, a social media consultancy specializing in blog book tours, and because she doesnโ€™t sleep, is an editor at BonBon Break, an online magazine. Alison lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with her husband and four children (two boys and boy/ girl twins).

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  • February 24, 2014 Angela Youngblood

    This is so beautifully written. I totally get those moments where you see it all, you feel it all and you just soak it all up…all the life, the love and the grattitude.
    While those moments are good and important, you are right you might want to pick up a different kind of book just for a break. Maybe a light little romance novel? ๐Ÿ™‚
    Angela Youngblood recently wrote…Tough Times & What I Know For SureMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I read The Rosie Project and The Night Circus afterwards – the did help!

  • February 24, 2014 angela

    I love this postโ€ฆ there’s something about those books that pulls at our hearts to get us in the right place to appreciate what we have.

    But if you want something else? I’ve got looooottttssss of suggestions ๐Ÿ™‚
    angela recently wrote…GlimpsesMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      PLEASE give me those suggestions!! (I’ve already got the ones you reviewed on your blog)

  • February 24, 2014 Rea

    This is so beautiful. Your feelings and emotions are all on your writing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Thank you, Rea.

  • February 24, 2014 Lisa

    So beautifully written and I needed to read it tonight. It’s been a rough weekend around here full of grumpy moods and frustrations. All of us have forgotten to cherish those little moments that make life so worth living. Thanks for the reminder!
    Lisa recently wrote…My Weird FeetMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      It’s easy to forget sometimes. Totally human. And thank you.

  • February 24, 2014 Kerstin

    You just made me gasp for breath – so beautifully written, my friend.
    I have been thinking a lot lately about just “being” and treasuring the moments more. I might have something to do with my daughter starting to drive (yes, I mean an actual car. Hold me)
    Kerstin recently wrote…Bundt Cake – German StyleMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Thank you, Kerstin, that is very kind of you.
      When my children start driving, I’m not sure I will know how to feel. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 24, 2014 Tamara

    Oh. Yes. I just read three of those and I’m wrecked. Checked out “Beauty Queen” from the library after posting a plea on Facebook for recommendations for something light. I forgot to pick it up from reserve so now I have to wait again.
    In the meantime, I started “The Light Between Oceans” which is NOT light-hearted at all. I think death comes to the first page or two.
    I love your land of the living. I love mine two.
    And I so get that about my parenting not being the soft landing place it should always be for my girl. We bicker a lot.
    Tamara recently wrote…In Which Des Takes Over My Ask Away Friday.My Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I have The Light Between The Oceans and I haven’t read it. I can’t. Not just yet. Maybe in a couple of years?
      Oh yes, we bicker too. Sigh.

  • February 24, 2014 Mirjam

    I know that feeling, when a book takes you to another place and time, and your everyday life suddenly seams surreal but also fragile and precious at the same time.
    I have been reading a lot of books as well lately.
    Mirjam recently wrote…Wordless Wednesday.My Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      You said it perfectly, Mirjam.

  • February 24, 2014 tracy

    I can never get those losses out of my mind. Maybe I need to stop reading too… xo
    tracy recently wrote…When I Grow Up..My Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Or read some sappy romance. xo

  • February 24, 2014 Shannon

    First of all, I went into the ugly cry at the end of three of those books.
    Secondly, this is a beautiful post, Alison. I remember watching them sleep when they were little. That doesn’t happen anymore, as they are often up later than me (two of them, at least). But I do catch myself often lately just gazing at them and wondering how this happened. I’m still completely in awe of them.
    Shannon recently wrote…Five Bad, Ten GoodMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Oh, teenagers. I can’t even. Sigh.

  • February 24, 2014 Clare at CatsEatDogs

    Lovely post Alison, I have read some of the books you listed, but the Woman Who Can’t Forget sounds fascinating, so I have ordered it from the library! Thanks for the recommendation.
    I am looking forward to Thursday’s photo this week. Clare x
    Clare at CatsEatDogs recently wrote…Six Word SaturdayMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Let me know how you like the book.
      Can’t wait to see your photo!

  • February 24, 2014 Shana Norris

    Oh, Alison, I cannot imagine reading even two of these – Me Before You and The Book Thief – in quick succession, let alone all of them. I’m skipping a book club meeting this week just because I couldn’t read The Fault in Our Stars after Me Before You … and I read Me Before You over a month ago!

    I still remember those nights of getting my oldest to sleep … she’s almost 20 now … getting ready to go to Kenya on Friday … so grown up. And yes, I wish I’d held a little more tightly to those bedtime hours and so many others.

    On a positive note, I’m reading a book now that is so funny I’ll think about a passage an hour or so later and start laughing. It’s crude in many ways, though. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. He just has a great wry sense of humor that is so. funny.
    Shana Norris recently wrote…The Weekly Goals that Didn’t Happen and a Little Gratitude Instead.My Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Good luck to your daughter – KENYA, that’s huge!!
      I’ll take your suggestion on that book, thank you.

  • February 25, 2014 Lady Jennie

    Despite your unintentional death focus in literature, this post was so full of life and light and beauty.

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      “Unintentional death focus” – hah! And thank you.

  • February 25, 2014 Kristin

    We are having some sleep challenges with my almost-3-year-old and I can’t tell you how your post helped a bit of me unclench. Because I stay in there with my kid for a long time too, and I always think, I’m doing this wrong, what am I doing wrong? Thank you!!
    Kristin recently wrote…The World Closes InMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      You’re not doing anything wrong, Kristin! Kids that age just go through this weird sleep phase. That too, shall pass. Hang on in there!

  • February 25, 2014 Allie

    I get that way when I read sad books too. Definitely run for a frothy Chick Lit tittle after something dark. I want to read Fault in Our Stars, never heard a bad thing about that book, but I’m scared!
    Allie recently wrote…Novel Spotlight: Private Air by Billie BatesMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Don’t be scared! It really is a great book, read it.

  • February 25, 2014 Ann

    I’ve been in that place too lately; my mom is not doing well and sometimes its all I can think about (losing her). Like you though, I’ve been trying to focus on the here and now–seeing the life in front of me and living in the present space, instead of “what comes next.”
    I haven’t been able to read much, but did get to The Book Thief; the others are also on my list but right now I’m not looking forward to reading about sorrow and loss. I need laughter and noise around me.
    Thank you for a beautiful picture.
    Ann recently wrote…Bittersweet Treats in PasadenaMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I’m sorry, I hope your mom gets better soon.
      I need laughter and noise too – which is why I read The Rosie Project after that ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 25, 2014 Nicole

    OK, this will make me rethink ‘Me Before You’ when it finally becomes available on my library’s waiting list. The Fault in Our Stars just about did me in.

    I love your description of your boys and how you just stayed in the room, watching them sleep. One of my favorite times on the weekend is putting my little one down for a nap, rocking her until she falls asleep, often nodding off myself. Yes, there are so many other things I could/should be doing, but I want to drag out those precious moments as long as possible.

    This is just beautiful, Alison.
    Nicole recently wrote…PRO Compression Marathon Sock Review and GiveawayMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      There is only so many times that they will let us rock them to sleep ๐Ÿ™‚
      Do read Me Before You – just be prepared with tissues!

  • February 25, 2014 Allie

    I can relate. Sometimes I get so immersed in a book that I think about it TOO much and it can mess with my mood. I’m grateful every day for my boys and the time I have with them because it’s passing far too quicklyโ€ฆeven the bad times. I know, someday, I’ll wish for even the bad times back.
    Allie recently wrote…The Rundown – Vermont Ski WeekMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      They are only the age they are once right?

  • February 25, 2014 Tracie

    I’ve been reading some heavy books lately, too.

    It is wonderful to be able to rejoin the land of the living when the pages close, and soak up the mundane (but special) moments with my kid.
    Tracie recently wrote…Don’t Trap Me In A Glass BoxMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Yes, exactly!!
      Time for lighter reads?

  • February 25, 2014 Katie

    I have read a lot of books like this too (Fault, Perks of Being a Wall Flower, and now I am reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time). They are beautiful, but yes…it tends to take a toll. Pick up something funny by Jen Lancaster or Laurie Notaro. good times.
    Katie recently wrote…Church on SundayMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I will!! I really need some funny and light.

  • February 25, 2014 Rebeccafaith

    There’s nothing like death to remind you of the things you live for. I have found myself many a time holding onto a sleeping Dylan and wanting the whole world to stop while I absorb the moment in hopes of holding onto it forever. Those perfect moments usually occur when there are a million other things I should be doing…but I don’t let them past.
    Rebeccafaith recently wrote…My Nephew, the ChampionMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Because they are only small once. Sigh.

  • February 25, 2014 Rorybore

    Most be something about this time of year, because I have read a few heavier tomes as well.

    But I did read one just before Christmas that I loved even though it is somewhat “heavy” too. but in a different way, and ultimately I found it very life affirming and uplifting. An incredible journey – literally, as well as internally. which just sounded/felt so much like motherhood to me. It’s called “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

    Love that you shared this beautiful moment with your boys with us. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Rorybore recently wrote…Monday’s Music Moves Me: The Writer’s PlaylistMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I read Wild a year ago. It was incredible. Have you read her other books? Tiny Beautiful Things is AMAZING.

  • February 25, 2014 AwesomelyOZ

    Reading a different, less morbid, book might be the best idea. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love watching my son sleep too and the act of putting him to bed – reading a book, tucking them in, kisses and love – because one day they won’t need us ๐Ÿ™ Enjoy it! -Iva
    AwesomelyOZ recently wrote…GTFO: The Four SeasonsMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      And that time will come sooner than we think, sigh.

  • February 25, 2014 Amber

    I read a lot of those books too. I cried. A lot. Especially with Me Before You. My husband asked what was wrong with my face since I am an ugly crier.
    Amber recently wrote…I Tried The New Marshmallow Crispy and Cookie Dough Oreos!My Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Hah! Oh dear. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 25, 2014 Robin

    We are somehow, miraculously, past the point where I have to stay in the room for them to fall asleep (which is not to say we won’t end up back there at some point) but sitting there in the dark (and quiet) while they sleep is one of my favourite things to do.
    Robin recently wrote…The Red ButtonMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      We are sort of past that for the most part – it was a weekend when my husband worked late and wasn’t home to put them to bed. They stay in bed for him ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 25, 2014 Ilene

    Ah, yes. I too spend an hour or two in a room with my kids before they fall asleep. And while sometimes, there is a part of my that wants that time back – that is the time that I’m truly living. One day, that’s the time I’ll miss the most.
    Ilene recently wrote…Maybe This Could Be BigMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I know. Sigh. Time just whizzes by.

  • February 25, 2014 Galit Breen

    Lovely. Absolutely lovely.

    (I feel books like this, too. It’s perfect in a heart breaking way, yes?)
    Galit Breen recently wrote…Confessions of a {Non-Volunteering} MomMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Oh yes, perfect heartbreaking way, absolutely.

  • This was lovely to read. I needed this today. Thank you.
    Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes recently wrote…I doMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Thank YOU.

  • February 25, 2014 Kim

    I love the way you describe your land of the living – those moments are so grounding and help me find my footing again when I need it.
    I find it so hard to read sad books. My favourite books are all happy or thoughtful or adventurous or inspiring or funny. I am like that with movies and TV shows too. The sad and depressing stays with me and I have a hard time letting go of that feeling.
    Kim recently wrote…A Small LifeMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I find myself drawn to the heavy, I just need to lighten up in between. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 26, 2014 Tina

    Cheers to being present. I do enjoy an honest bittersweet book about life… but maybe it is time for something more celebratory.
    Tina recently wrote…Food I Love: New Southern, Artisan Cheese & Gluten FreeMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Yes! I read The Rosie Project after all that, and it was just the right antidote.

  • February 26, 2014 Greta

    I hear you, loud and clear. But man…those kinds of books, where all of the feelings are felt, can be just. so. good. Just maybe read a chick lit or romance in between. ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Greta recently wrote…The Fault In Our Stars: A Book Review #momsreadingMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Yeah, dude, absolutely. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 26, 2014 Elizabeth

    Beautifully written, Alison. I’ve needed a break from the heavy books for a while now. I enjoyed Jenny Lawson’s “Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” and Mindy Kaling’s “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns)”. Humor and non-fiction has been my go-tos as of late.

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I’ve read those, they were hilarious!

  • February 26, 2014 My Inner Chick

    **Running back to the living.”

    Gorgeous, Stunning, Inspiring Post.

    I LOVED every single word, Alison Lee.
    My Inner Chick recently wrote…A Beautiful ResurrectionMy Profile

    • February 26, 2014 My Inner Chick

      OOO, I just finished The Fault of the Stars.

      LOoooove it. Gorgeously, hilariously, heartbreakingly, literarily written! xx
      My Inner Chick recently wrote…A Beautiful ResurrectionMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Thank you, my dear Kim! xoxo

  • February 26, 2014 Keely

    Semi-related? P.J. HATES it when I read a bunch of romance novels in rapid succession. He feels that he can’t possibly compete with my now-impossible standards.
    Keely recently wrote…Sex Ed Scare Tactics (And Some Cute Baby Pictures).My Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Hah! I think he’s doing pretty well. A year of dates? That’s hard to beat.

  • February 26, 2014 MomWithaDot

    I hear ya girl! I’ve been consciously lowering my voice these days too. Recently, my daughter’s teacher who I volunteer to help with in class remarked that I am very good with kids. It made me realize how kind and patient I am, in dealing with other’s kids. Asked myself why I thought my kids deserved any lesser, considering they are better behaved in most cases. Yes, we do tend to overlook these things oftentimes.

    On the books, YES!! I suggest you start reading something more happy ๐Ÿ™‚
    MomWithaDot recently wrote…Readers BlockMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Yes, we should definitely extend our own children the same courtesy and patience we do with other people. After all, they are the most important people in our lives.

  • February 26, 2014 Tricia

    So lovely. I’ve been having moments like these over the past day or two, content to just be living in the moment with my little ones. It doesn’t always come naturally but when it does it’s beautiful n
    Tricia recently wrote…Naptime superstitionsMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      It is indeed, Tricia.

  • February 26, 2014 Elaine A.

    The title of this post, ah, so good. I do love when we are reminded to cherish the good and amazing things and people in our lives. ๐Ÿ™‚


    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      Aw, thank you, Elaine. xo

  • February 26, 2014 Natalie

    I have read three of those books and totally get what you are saying! It’s amazing to look at these boys that we’ve created how much they grow and learn each day. Glad you were soaking in those precious moments!
    Natalie recently wrote…The Perfect SundayMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I’m still in awe of them (the boys). ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 27, 2014 Sarah

    I loved reading this! And I bet you will love looking back at it even more when a few years have passed and your little ones don’t need you to lie next to them as they fall asleep. And can I recommend The Rosie Project as a totally fun, quick read?
    Sarah recently wrote…Sam at 7 monthsMy Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      I actually did read that right after I wrote this post ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 27, 2014 Marta

    So beautiful. Between this and Jenni’s post I know I need to take a technology timeout. I can’t remember when I last enjoyed a moment like that. To breathe their breaths, to feel their heart beats. To not just be rushing to the very next thing.
    Marta recently wrote…The Emotional Side of Dieting.My Profile

    • February 27, 2014 Alison

      It’s always good to take a breather, get back into real life. Do it!

  • February 27, 2014 Charlotte

    I love this, Alison. And you? Are a wonderful momma. I think that every mother goes through moments when they say things that are unkind and reacts out of frustration. It’s normal. I guess because I’m not yet a mommy, I thought of my relationship to my own mom while reading this. And I don’t remember those times. I remember when she came to my ballet rehearsals and how she would sing me to sleep and let me stay up a little longer sometimes if I was good and how Muppets were an event on Friday nights (cousins and aunts were there, too).

    These are the moments you are savoring with your own children and it’s beautiful to witness.

    Also, at least three of those books are on my reading list, too ๐Ÿ™‚
    Charlotte recently wrote…Amtrak unveils writing residenciesรขย€ย”and I want to get on boardMy Profile

    • February 28, 2014 Alison

      Thank you, Charlotte. It is comforting to hear from a child’s perspective, what they remember of the early days. I truly hope that I am giving my children good memories.
      Enjoy those books! Just be prepared to have your heart ripped out ๐Ÿ™‚

  • February 28, 2014 Andrea

    Books have a way of deeply influencing emotions, don’t they? Movies have the same effect on me, too. It’s why I tend to choose novels and dramas or comedies over murder mysteries or horror stories.
    Andrea recently wrote…Math WhizMy Profile

    • February 28, 2014 Alison

      I just can’t help myself with the deeply emotional books, sigh.

  • March 1, 2014 Christine

    Oh yes, that last bit about staying with them and living in that moment. I’ve been feeling a lot of that lately too, just want to be with and near them, stay with them while they fall asleep and stay asleep. It does past by so quickly (and they’re so darn cute when they are sleeping!)
    Christine recently wrote…Friday Round-Up: Out-Doing OurselvesMy Profile

    • March 2, 2014 Alison

      Sleeping faces are the best. SOOO cute. Time does pass quickly. They’re just almost big boys now, sigh.

  • March 2, 2014 allison

    I grapple with this all the time. (And PS- do not start The Goldfinch) With tragedy all around, death there, it is hard to forget to remember how amazing it is. I think I wrote about this, too, since it is so important to cherish what we have. Beautifully written.
    allison recently wrote…The most unexpected thing about being a grown up is…My Profile

    • March 3, 2014 Alison

      Thank you, Allison. Thank you for the warning about The Goldfinch, I’ve almost picked it up at the book store several times! (I’ll read it eventually, just not so soon after all these other books)

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