As expected…

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As expected…

Well folks, it’s time to get back on track with blogging. I know that the “new year” is a contrived starting point for renewing my life, but a contrived starting point is probably better than no starting point at all. In the past, I’ve ranted about the disappointment (at best) and the sadness (at worst) over holidays. Valentine’s Day can suck a rotten egg, for sure. I even breathe a sigh of relief when Christmas is passed now. New Years is no different, big expectations, look over the past year, reset for the new year. Blah. Blah. Blah. Sit on the sofa and watch your dog sleep.
In recent years I’ve chosen to sleep through the revelry, the ball drop. Avoid the risks of driving after celebrating and opt to stay home. Holidays are a natural opponent of mine, simply because it feels like a cultural demand to have a good time, celebrate, remember, reflect, honor the past and set expectations for the future. I effing hate demands, even the useful ones, like keeping my dog on a leash or pants. But I acquiesce, I use the leash, I wear the pants, I honor the holiday.
So, this is the obligatory New Years post, last year was…this year I will…
But last year, like all the years for all the people, was full of struggle and loss and full of grace and love. And next year will be the same….I, like you, know the fallacy of resolutions, the limited effectiveness of starting out new. Yet we collectively (more or less) agree this moment has some power, some specialness.
So here’s my thought…my resolution, of sorts…this year I will just BE more. Not in an altogether passive way, but certainly in a more still way. I will listen, not so much to the nagging, critical voice, but to the gentle voice of truth. If it feels wrong-stop it, if it heals-continue it. I will not vow to lose weight, or even quit unhealthy habits, but I will commit to listening to what makes me mistreat my body, to not care for the vessel that makes it possible to move through the world. I won’t declare my intentions to improve my relationships. I will look on the people I love, and listen, be with them. Be with them in the sense of simply sitting with them. I cannot promise to make my world a better place. Instead I will continue to look strangers in the eyes. I will remind myself that there is inherent worth and dignity in all people…that includes a lot of people that I have blocked on Facebook. My world is broken, our world is broken, it needs healing and attention. I refuse to insist I be a better person this year, but I will forgive myself when I falter, and challenge myself to return to balance.
But my biggest challenge is to let go of expectation…expectations especially of how days should be, or how people should react, respond, feel. Holidays are just days, and days are unpredictable. People too. My challenge is to accept the days as they are, let go of the expectation that they will be harsh reminders of what I have lost, or grand celebrations that are a reward for good behavior. This day just is.

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Grief hidden in the fourth

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Grief hidden in the fourth

Oddly, the Fourth of July is the holiday that always seems to sneak up on me. Unlike the wedding anniversary, that did not always bring the required reverence and gratitude for having accomplished staying together another year. There was the year I bought an antique bookshelf as a gift. Antique bookshelf to me, wobbly problem to him. His birthday was often his least favorite day of the year. Christmases were too often littered with withdrawn sighs of disappointment over missed cues about gifts, or worse, having to work on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I was never a fan of New Years or Valentine’s day, so these days never held the sadness of the other holidays. I’ve reconciled the anniversary of his death as an opportunity to rejoice over the idea that he is finally at peace. Or at least it doesn’t sneak up on me, it seems like an appropriate day to grieve. Father’s Day we celebrate with the things he would enjoy, namely, Mentos geysers. These holidays all seem to have found a groove that feels like it fits the pain, let’s the grief breathe, wears the discomfort less uncomfortably.
After nearly four years, most holidays seem more manageable. Meaning, I’ve figured out how to prepare, where to categorize them. It wasn’t until nearly two o’clock today, after thrashing around in the bed for hours, forcing myself up to make lunch, sweep the floor only to find myself back in bed. Groggy, I wondered what is wrong with me. Everyone is out at parties, BBQing, enjoying the beautiful day, and all I feel like doing is drawing the shades, pulling the covers over my head and going back to sleep. Why?
Because this was our good holiday. And we didn’t have many “good” holidays, if I’m being honest. And I forget that until I try to make a plan for the 4th or get out of bed before noon.
The first July 4th after Chris died, I found myself unable to make a choice about where we would go to watch the fireworks, because we had always watched them from our own living room. Chris enjoyed the Fourth of July and it was one of the rare occasions that we invited people over. The big house on the hill had a particularly amazing view of the fireworks, and air conditioning. Kids twirled sparklers in the yard, Chris grilled and laughed. I could recall that he had a sharp wit, and a way with cooking raw meat over an open flame. He liked fire, and especially explosions. We had good times throughout our marriage, but I never remember a bad Fourth of July.
The year M turned one, we drove to Gettysburg, where unbeknownst to us there was a annual reenactment of the civil war battle that took place there. There was a cannon blast that scared M so badly that she cried and her face turned all red, and we took pictures of her and laughed lovingly? at her.
Our first year in Roanoke, before we moved to the big house on the hill, we spent a very warm and humid night spread out on a towel near Victory Stadium. S slept and M covered her ears and hid under the blanket. We drank contraband beer and laughed lovingly? at M. One year when we opened up our grill to cook our Fourth of July fare, we discovered a mommy mouse nursing her babies. We laughed, and ate, and drank, and enjoyed the company of friends. Chris was better in the summer, when the days were longer and he got to see the sun more. And Chris loved the controlled chaos of a fireworks display, the excuse to relax, and the ability to be away from the stressors of work.
My time with Chris was frequently chaotic, sometimes difficult and almost always complex. But it was my life, for over a decade. And the times that were relaxed and happy were both rare and cherished. Mostly holidays intensified many of the things that made our relationship chaotic, difficult and complex. Holidays underscored the resources that were strained, namely time and emotional resources. But the fourth did not, it was a time that we could enjoy each other, enjoy the life that Chris’s hard work had provided us, enjoy the company of friends, and enjoy the view from our home. It was a nice holiday. And to honest, we didn’t have that many nice holidays.

The opposite of everything

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The opposite of everything

I’ve just returned from a week long vacation in Costa Rica with my three daughters and a family friend, who came along to provide additional adult support. I can’t really remember what it is like to travel as a traditional family (meaning two adults in a committed relationship and children). I’ve seen travel brochures, those people seem ridiculously happy, and I can’t help but fantasize about that brochure vacation…
Everyone’s smiling and eating mangos, our perfectly tanned, beautiful bodies are laying poolside as an equally happy waiter serves my charming husband and I fruity adult beverages. The children laugh and frolic in ocean waves, or slide down pristine slides. The weather is a delightful 80 degrees, even the birds seem happy just to fly through the air that we breathe. Later, the children urge my husband and I to take a walk on the beach as the sunsets. We dance and laugh in the waves. Everything is perfect. Absolutely perfect.
There are no meltdowns, no bee stings, no budget concerns, no tears, no moping, no sun-screened eyeballs, no fights over restaurants, no rationalizing the cost of a bottle of water, no bargaining for alone time, no messy bathrooms, or clogged toilets, or stomach viruses. There are no impoverished neighborhoods as you drive out of town, no stray dogs, no trash, no rainy days and no single parents.
There is certainly a gap between fantasy and reality, for all of us. Vacations (like holidays) hold a lot of pressure, because you are SUPPOSED to be having fun, frolicking, smiling and laughing. And you’ve invested a fair amount of money ( as well as taking time to plan and taking time away from work and household duties) to ENSURE that everyone is having a fun, PERFECT time. But life goes on whether you are at home or abroad. People get tired and grumpy and irritated. You can leave your home behind, but not your idiosyncrasies, your dysfunctions, your communication issues.
I’m fortunate. I can choose to go on vacation. I can afford to take all three of my daughters and we have a lot of choice in what we do. We can eat delicious food and see monkeys up close and I can send my daughter to zip line through the rain forest. And we make memories, some of them involve bee stings and sickness and crying and some of them involve the generosity of strangers and the kindness of siblings and the laughter we generate over sliding on a tile floor in my frictionless flip flops. These are our stories.
I doubt I will ever have the kind of vacation that brochures are made of, nor will most of us. But the opposite of everything, isn’t nothing. It’s something. Something that is beautiful in its imperfections, it’s struggles, it’s messiness. It’s something that whether I am in my own home or across the equator I get to keep. It is my beautiful, broken, dysfunctional family. I don’t love every minute, but I do love the whole thing.

Kites, shoe strings and stars: or the secret to why my Dad rocks

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Kites, shoe strings and stars: or the secret to why my Dad rocks

When I was about four years old, my dad took me out one afternoon to a nearby park. We flew kites that day. The sky was blue and the wind speed just right. My parents both worked a lot, in order to help make ends meet. So a day together was important. I said, ” I’ll remember this day forever.” Well, I have remembered it for nearly forty years, which I’m sure is much longer than “forever” was to a four year old.
My dad taught me how to ride a bike, and tie my shoes. He taught me my multiplication tables (or tried to in one marathon session the night before I started third grade and we realized I needed to already know them). He taught me to drive, which only now that I have my own teenage daughter to teach, do I understand what an accomplishment of patience this was. He showed me constellations and plants and birds and flowers. He explained inert gases and chaotic molecules. He demonstrated how to make chemical reactions, and safe, colorful fire. He taught me to be thrifty with my money, to work hard, to save. Dad encouraged me to be independent and have hobbies and skills and always seek to learn more. By example, he taught me how to be punny, and is largely responsible for my own dry sense of humor. He inspired me to be well balanced, and to never burn bridges (particularly with employers, ’cause you just never know when you might need them), to consider my choices, and to speak boldly when necessary.
Perhaps, most importantly, he taught me that I was important and worth his time. For all the material that he shared with me, the real lesson was that I mattered. I’m glad I learned long division and difference between a male, a female and a juvenile bird, but really what I learned was how to be a good parent and a good person. Because the best gift my dad gave me was being there. He taught me that the real trick is to simply be present, to feel the wind on our faces, the warmth of the sun on our backs and to take time to watch kites fly.

Why I am not afraid of lightening: A tribute to my mom

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Why I am not afraid of lightening:  A tribute to my mom

During hurricane Hugo, my Mom and I lived in Rock Hill, SC. My Dad had taken a job at the newly opened Governor’s School for Science and Math in Hartsville, SC. There were terrific storms all throughout South Carolina, tornados and high winds even into the mountains and foothills. But as we climbed into bed that night we had no idea that would be the case.
I was 17 years old at the time, and must have been pretty terrified, because my mom let me sleep in the bed with her. She was already asleep, while I watched with horror when the newscast faded to static as the Charleston affiliate lost it’s connection. My mom slept quietly as I listened to branches crashing against the window and the wind and rain howling outside.
My mom had brought a kitchen timer into the bedroom and set it one hour at a time, so that if the power went out she would still get up for work. This should tell you at least two things about my Mom, she did NOT miss work ( not if she was sick, and not if a hurricane came through town) and she was clever. No power, no problem.
We made it through the night, we did lose power, for a week, and water for several days as well. There was no work the next day or the next as our neighborhood was completely blocked in by fallen trees. But if at any time my Mom was scared, she never let on.
Several years before, during a much different storm, I remember my mom sitting beside me looking up at the striking lightening with a look of sheer wonder and delight. I was terrified of the lightening as it popped right over head. My mom assured me we were fine, encouraged me to enjoy the electricity and to relax, because storms that strong could never last long. It was too difficult to sustain that kind of chaos.
That advice not only led me to enjoy the storms that nature has shared with me over the years, but to be reassured that the storms that life brings will not last. Chaos can’t last. So I just set my timer one hour at the time and get up in the morning, survey the damage and clear out the debris.
Thank you Mom, for all the things you have taught me, to be independent, to be the life of the party, to be honest, to be responsible, to never give up, to be a good writer, a good friend and an incredible mom and of course, to weather the storms. I love you.

“Bottles, knives, guns”

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“Bottles, knives, guns”

Have you seen the video taken during the recent unrest in Baltimore of the angry mother repeatedly striking her son? Have you read the comments that follow the video? I’d say about a 50/50 split of (generally) ” no wonder these kids are violent, look at how they are being treated” and “you go Mama, I’d do the same thing”.
I don’t get to corner the market on worrying about my kids. As far as I’ve experienced, every parent worries. In fact I think we are the generation of most worried parents. Not only do we have the inter webs, with their predators and pedaphiles, corporations creeping around every billboard, sporting event and school cafeteria, but there are more books, articles and advice about how to be a parent than there have been in any other generation. Throw in some competing theories on vaccines, Facebook armchair parents, public vs private education, and deciding whether you are a helicopter parent or a not present enough parent and you’ve got a nice recipe for parental anxiety. And sorry ’bout it dads, but most of the guilt (though not all) is reserved for Momma.
What is a conscientious parent to do? Involve your kids in sports, but be sure to talk to them both about bullying and being bullied, how dangerous sports drinks are, and subliminal marketing. Send your kids to a public/private hybrid school that embraces diversity and uses test scores only to emphasize your child’s potential. Grow your own organic heirloom tomatoes for your family salsa making nights.
Or let them go play on the concrete foundation of the rusty, bacteria covered swing set, then come home when the street lights come on. Let them make their own lunches and walk themselves to school long after you have already gone to work. Let them watch MASH (reruns) or Scandal while eating TV dinners on TV trays in the living room. Let them do their homework on the bus, while trying to ignore the kid in the back seat that is coming down off a bad LSD trip. Learn about sex from their older friends, who may or may not be making everything up, either way, it sounds (hopefully) like a disgusting act that they would never willingly involve themselves in.
Now, I’m not literally suggesting we drive to the beach while the driver and passenger chain smoke and we keep the windows up even in the back seat because the A/C is on or that we embrace co-ed sleepovers just because, hey! it’s old school to think of relationships as only occurring between a boy and a girl, but sometimes I wish the lines were clearer. I suppose really what I wish is that I didn’t feel so obligated to pay so much attention to the lines and constantly adjust my definition of good, better, best.
Modern parenting is harder than it has to be and we all have these extra layers of worries. Divorce, death, dire economic circumstances, abuse, exposure to so many things via the internet, capitalist corporations with only their bottom line as a moral barometer, and our own over exposure to the misguided idea that there is, in fact, “A” right way to raise your kids.
Single parents, divorced parents, gay parents, foster parents, grandparents, let us boycott the onslaught of parenting advice that tries to pigeonhole us into a hierarchy of parenting success. The idea of perfect parents is a myth. We are doing our best, struggling and making mistakes. Right? Without compromising what you’ve developed as your recipe for parenting success don’t forget to be compassionate about the parents around you.
Would I throw punches at my hypothetical son if he was walking across police lines? Honestly, I don’t know. But I think I understand why, in that moment, that momma made that choice. Whether you parent with “Love and Logic” or by the seat of your pants, most parents want the same end result: to have our kids grow up safe, happy and successful.

Spoiler alert: you own your joy

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Spoiler alert: you own your joy

Well, I had a relatively quiet couple of months. The butterflies have launched, the play has closed and I’m back to managing three-ish jobs with moderate success. And then blam-o, the calendar reminds me that Mother’s Day is upon us with Father’s Day close behind.
Mother’s Day is the parenting equivalent of Valentines Day. Moms need and deserve a day. We (all) bust our butts for a reward that is a long time coming, if it comes at all. These days, with single moms being held responsible for a plethora of social ills, from lashing out in school to rioting, it’s hard to keep your head up. And my day to day, is still, well, embarrassing. I spend uncountable hours performing glamorous tasks like, cleaning up dog feces and looking for lost shoes and pieces of paper. Added to the mix is my own second (er, third) adolescence. I made toast this morning and felt pretty proud of myself. This month all the bills were paid basically on time, I only forgot one RSVP and I kept up with the various other appointments, well mostly. I made attempts to create quality time, to be patient, to be compassionate, to be quiet. I did my best, with varying results.
My point being, Mother’s Day can feel like an F-U. It can be the grim remembrance of who you are not, or who you have lost. I’m lucky to have a mom, to be able to call her, to be able to send her a gift. And I’m fairly certain my mother is racked with guilt and feelings of inadequacy that no card or bouquet of flowers can ever repair. I know because now I get to live on the other side of that equation too. Then of course, there’s the folks that fall into the categories of having lost their mother, being estranged from their mother, or just having a complicated relationship with their mother. See, it’s valentines day for parenting.
Being a mom is simultaneously the most difficult and the most rewarding accomplishment of my life. So, Mother’s Day is our day dammit! Moms, we earned this day. Daughters and sons, you earned this day to honor or remember or even be thankful that you live across the country from your mom. But we each get to decide what this day means and how we want to honor, or ignore it. But it is a choice. Confidentially i have set aside some sad sacking time on Saturday explicitly for moaning and feeling sorry for myself, for lamenting the mom I cannot be on my own and the husband that left me to do just that. But then I have a new plan. I say, If you’re feeling left out of the holiday send someone flowers, anyone who cares for you without demand, send your daughter flowers, or the old lady at the convince store that always calls you, ” honey!” . Send a card to the secretary at church, buy lunch for the waitress. Mow the lawn of an elderly neighbor, buy yourself a latte and a cupcake, You can honor anyone you want and I guarantee you’ll make the day of whomever you gift with your thoughts, because that’s often what being a mother is about: caring for someone else, taking care of the village.

Without pants

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Without pants

My nine year old is yelling at me from downstairs insisting that all of her clothes are too small, she needs new clothes. A part of me believes there are numerous pants of the correct size strewn about her cluttered floor. The sofa alone houses nearly 9,000 mismatched pairs of socks at this moment. But she is growing and one complication of transformation is not fitting into the old things, the comfortable things, the available things.
Growth is hard, ask a seed. It utterly destroys you. I think that’s part of why we avoid change so desperately, even in the face of powerful evidence that staying complacent in slowly killing us. How many people can we all wisely observe from afar and discern that they are all making tremendous mistakes in their relationships, in their lives. Why do they stay? We would never do that. Compromise myself ? Pish.
Obviously I joke, it’s one of the many tactics I employ for avoiding change. Do you suppose the seed feels complacent while roots and stems are bursting through it’s hard outer shell? Perhaps the butterfly holds tight to its legs, having wings will just be too terrifying. But for the seed, or the butterfly avoiding change means to actually cease to exist. We don’t have the luxury of forced transformation. We can choose to stay in our comfortable cocoon forever. Stagnation carries it’s own pain though, and there is a price to pay for sitting still. Can’t go around it. Have to go through it, painful and uncomfortable though it may be. The good news is there is a reason to push forward, endure the transformation and reap the rewards: authenticity.
She found pants. They make her legs itch. Horribly itch. Itch with the fire of a thousand flames. Holding on to the old pants has become too painful. Only one thing left to do, change.

Transformation #375

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Transformation #375

Once, as a child, I made a bad choice and was sent to my room for an hour. At the end of the hour, my mother opened my door and said that I could come out. My response? ” it’s already been an hour!” I was in the midst of playing something that involved an old zip up suitcase and my play sized kitchen sink. My imagination was my best friend, I preferred it over most humans for many years to come.
I am a fiercely independent only child and survivor of many things. I have numerous friends, and have entertained (hopefully) many people. I adore making people laugh, I delight in the stories that people share, I enjoy the buzz of parties and I am more comfortable on a stage in front of a sold out house than most any place.
I am happy eating alone, watching a movie alone, spending the day alone. I have traveled throughout the United States, Amsterdam and Germany alone. I have bought cars, and houses, drawn up wills and settled estates alone. I have raised my daughters virtually alone, not every moment, but the majority of the day in and day out, the midnight terrors, the early morning breakdowns, the fears, the hopes, the disappointments.
I have done some of it by choice, somethings by necessity, some by habit. I have taken pride in some of it, responsibility for most of it and when things failed, I have taken it hard. I have actively avoided help, slyly ignored offers, purposely pushed people away. Not always because it was best, but because it felt the safest. I made bad choices that made good relationships hard and worse choices that made bad relationships easier. Being fiercely independent, is the opposite of being vulnerable.
That fierce independence has served me well though. It has protected me in the worst of times and kept me in the survivor column. But it has also caused me to miss out on real opportunities for real love. It has left voids where deep friendships and connectedness should be. There are many ways to be alone, closing yourself off to deep connection is only one way.
Fifteen years ago I flung myself into the fire, with an openness to love and a deep desire to be a mother and a wife. I wasn’t as careful as I needed to be, I didn’t keep my eyes open. I loved boldly, though. I earned that deep connection.
And the time has come to love boldly again, to be vulnerable to the other honest-hearted souls, to love fearlessly, but wisely. I’ve grown and I’ve sheltered, I’ve healed and I’m healing. And the time has come to open up, loosen my heart, feel the warmth of intimacy, the comforting embrace of another. To give.
And I’ve taken my first baby step, by being vulnerable to each of you.

Careful what you wish for

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Careful what you wish for

I believe in karma. Meaning, I believe what you give out to the universe, is what you get back. Maybe that’s not karma exactly, but it’s the word I’m going with, much like alanis mortisette’s use of the word “ironic”.
So I am fairly careful about what I specifically wish for, I think the universe has a way of allowing you to learn your lessons the hardest ways possible, so you don’t forget. I suppose I imagine the personified version of the universe much like the cigar smoking uncle in the Christmas Vacation movies with Chevy Chase. “Ok, you want a date that’s footloose and charming well here’s your philandering pharmacist, stupid. ”
The trouble is, thinking you know what you want, and not REALLY knowing. The universe is happy to oblige by sending you what you asked for, but seems remarkably absent when you try to return said request when it implodes in your face. Like rubbing a magic lamp, better be sure of what you wish for.
So what do I REALLY want? I want what I believe we all want: to be happy. So what does that look for me? I think this is where things get sticky. I had a very specific version of happiness, or at least I thought so. I met, fell in love with, married and had three beautiful, smart daughters, with a brilliant, successful, kind-hearted man. Who wouldn’t be happy!?
Of course, Chris was more complicated than that short list of adjectives and the challenges came in the spaces in between all of that. But I believed that was ALL I needed. So coming up with a NEW list, feels terrifying. What if I don’t know what I need to be happy, or worse, what if I don’t trust that I know what will make me happy?
Before I go too much further I believe it’s important to clarify, I am happy. I am human, I am struggling at times, I am healing, but I am happy. And I love to say to my girls, “No one can MAKE you anything.” But there are people who come into our lives that make it easier to choose to be happy and people who make it harder to choose to be happy. So what I’m really asking for is a partner who will make choosing to be happy easier. And I think the real challenge for me still, is trusting what I feel when I meet that person.
It’s a little like buying a car…you make a list of features you’d like, you save your money and you shop. You’ll like some cars, some would do fine, but one day you find the quirky, little, blue Mini Cooper and you just know that you’d be heart broken if you came back and it wasn’t in the lot anymore. Buying cars is easier than trusting my heart still, but as I keep saying, I’m learning.