Monday, August 22, 2016

Love Yourself More



This morning I opened my inbox to find an email that had a list of three things.

Dear Noelle,
Make your list and stay strong
You are a strong woman who can do anything.
Love yourself more.

I had written it to myself right before I went to bed.   The situation looked like any ordinary evening. I had cleaned the kitchen, said goodnight to the two older boys (who I know stay up much later than they want me to believe). Kissed the two younger boys and burrito tucked them into bed, and let our dog out one more time. My husband is a teacher, and he has been spending late nights at school, getting it ready for the first day of school next week.

The house was soundless, which feels foreboding. As I washed my the face, I felt myself unravelling.  Everything I had experienced the previous week was starting to systematically come flooding into my mind all at once.  Like my inbox after I send an email out to a listserv.  One thing after another just kept coming.

Things I hadn't dealt with fully.  Last week we attended a funeral for a friend.  His wife, who is also our friend is going through hell right now.  And I have this image of her waking up in the morning, walking into the kitchen and finding everything exactly as she had left it.   And it breaks my heart.

One of the main disagreements Don and I have is that I like a clean kitchen when I wake up. No matter how late it is, I will make sure there are no dishes in the sink; it's like waking up to a clean slate.  He, however, goes to bed later sometimes and dumps any dishes he may use, or cups he finds in the boy's rooms or random bowls he discovers in the basement and piles them in a stack, so when I wake up, it looks like the tower of Piza has erected itself in my sink.

One of the reasons I am so exhausted at 10:00 at night is because I wake up extremely early.  My favorite part of the day is going to work out in the morning, driving on empty streets and seeing the city dust sleep out of its eyes.   So even if his intention was to "clean it in the morning" it always fails because I will see it first.  And it pisses me off.

For the record…

There are a ton of things that piss me off about my spouse. Dear Lord, I could write a list that could fill this page and I'm sure he could name enough annoyances of mine that could fill the entire internet.  But as I stood there washing my face, knowing he was going to be lying in bed next to me that night, I felt an overwhelming sadness. Becuase I realize that all those things that annoy the crap out of me, are probably the things that my friend will miss most about her husband.

Which brings me to the list.

As I sat in bed scrolling the feed on my phone, looking mindlessly at the pictures of friends, political stories, and dog memes, I felt an overwhelming sense of weakness.  I'm not even sure where it came from. The thought of the impending first week of school.  A workload that seems to increase by the day, and this recording in my brain that keeps whispering, telling me "you can't do it, you are not strong enough"

The voice also tells me things like "the only thing that will make you feel better is ice cream..." But I know that voice is full of shit.  So why should I believe the other things I'm telling myself?

*note- I did eat the rest of my son's M&;M blizzard he had put in the freezer for the next day. And I will say, it didn't make me feel ANY better. And I hate having to explain to my son  that, yet again it freakishly melted.

Every single time I start believing the thoughts that I can't do something, it always comes true. On the day I tell myself that   "I can't possibly get this writing deadline done today," I find myself on Facebook or Twitter wasting the precious time comparing myself to other people who I don't even know.

So that is where item one on my list, to make a list, and stay strong comes from.  To help me stay on task and remind me that it takes a lot of mental strength to do so.

The second item that I am strong and can do anything is me trying to apply the law of attraction.  If everything negative I seem to believe comes to fruition, then I might as well use it to my advantage and create something positive. And I am pretty damn strong (at least physically).

And the third item came out of nowhere. I don't really remember writing it.  Perhaps it was the voice in my head that I had muted for so long.  Love Yourself More.

Did I mean to love myself more than I love others? Doubtful.  If anything it is a gentle nudge to stop beating myself up. Stop looking to others to validate my love ticket. I can validate myself.

So in the effort of loving myself, I'm going to make or send myself a note or every day about just how awesome I am. Because nobody will believe it, unless I do too.

And if there is one thing, you got out of reading this random post that is free flowing from my chaotic  brain through my fingers and onto this page, it is to Love Yourself More today. Whatever that means to you. For me, I spent a little extra more time with my dog, Wally. Because he sees something in me that is irresistible, and he knows how to show it no matter what the circumstances. I wish I could see me through his colorblind eyes.

 If you don't have a dog,  just be nice to yourself,  and know that a little kindness can go a long way.




SaveSave

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What is a Mamalogue anyway?



If you are my friend or follow me on social media, you may have heard this word a lot lately. Mamalogue.  Pronounced Mama- log.  Not to be confused with Mammogram-ologue. It is a creative play on the word Monologue which is a speech given by an actor on stage or screen.
With that said, I cannot take full credit for coming up with the word Mamalogue.  A dear friend of mine suggested it, and surprisingly he is a guy, and I went with it.
A few years ago I had dinner with some girlfriends, and we were all sharing stories about motherhood. Hysterical, raw stories about this job we have taken on and were not prepared for despite thinking we were.  I also thought of the times when I had been in down, feeling overwhelmed and when I felt like I couldn't do it anymore.  I turned to my girlfriends then too.  Even friends who didn't  have kids were a great support.
On my ride home, I thought about how my friend had told a story so hilarious that I wanted to call all my friends and tell them, I wanted to put it on Facebook, Twitter, my blog, bathroom stalls.  But it wasn't my story to tell. It was hers.  But I wanted EVERYONE to hear it because it filled me with tremendous joy. But I knew I couldn't possibly share it with the same flare as she did.
And that is when the concept of the Mamalogues was born.  The very next day I called my friends, and asked (ok told) them that I needed them to participate in a project I was doing. They agreed not knowing what they were getting into.  I found a venue to perform, asked my friends to write out a story. I probably should have considered that most of them weren't writers or actors, and some of them weren't even mothers, but I was on a mission.  I didn't ask for a specific topic; my only stipulation was that it was true and came from the heart.  Then I told them that they would be performing (reading) it in front of an audience.
Did you notice I left that audience part out until they agreed?  My friends were trepidatious, to say the least.  They asked if they could self-medicate or consume large amounts of alcohol prior. I, of course, said,"yes" and "yes".
Within in one week of putting tickets up for sale, we had sold out.  To be honest, I wasn't even going to charge at first, but I needed to cover the cost of the venue.  We not only sold out, but we also sold way out, like out of the venue, we had to add additional seats.

As we sat backstage the night of the first performance, I looked around at these women who were willing to put themselves out there and be vulnerable in front of strangers just because I asked them to.  I was overwhelmed with gratitude and realized that as women, we often put ourselves out there to help, not only our family but our friends as well. The original cast will always hold a special place in my heart.

You never know how your story may impact another person until you share it. Most women don't have a platform to share their stories, so I created one.

I gave mamas a microphone. And amazing things have happened since.

Needless to say, it was an enormous success.  Before I could think, I was asked when the next one was.  So ten months to the day we had our second one.  Remember the girl who told the funny story? Her name is Kate, and she is now the producer. We believe so much in the power of the spoken word that we collaborated to make this Mamalogues even more spectacular.  We changed the cast to offer other women a chance to share their stories. We have a few from the previous cast only because they add an element of entertainment that we couldn't go without. (Thieneman sisters)

You may have an idea of what to expect, but  I can assure you it is so much more. And its not just for women. I know several....ok three men who went to the last one and enjoyed it too. And the fact that they were our husband's is inconsequential.

The popularity and venue have increased with each passing year. Tickets for all four years have sold out within weeks of going on sale. And in 2016 we trademarked the show.

Every year we choose a charity to donate a portion of the proceeds and this year we are giving to the JWAS Foundation.

The next Mamalogues is on July 5 at The Brick, South Bend, Indiana.

Original cast.

2013 Cast
Alyson Herzig, Julie Flory,  Jessi Loyd,  Kate Knopick Coates,  Maria McKenna,  Becky Cressy, 
Josi Doyle,  Sarah Jollay, Amy Atkinson, Noelle Elliott

2014 Cast  
Sandra Cho, Aimee Carlson, Kate Knopick Coates, Jenn Lechtanski, Steph Patka, Priscilla Jamora, Kelly Blair, Laura Ambrose, Colleen Spano, Carolyn Hunt, Maria McKenna, Sarah Jollay, Megan Michele,  Martha Thieneman, Noelle Elliott

2015 Cast 
Kate Knopick Coates, Alyson Herzig, Beth Ferlic, Becky Cressy,  Robyn Welling, Priscilla Jamora, Elizabeth Carris, Sandy Cho, Martha Theineman, Maria McKenna, Sarah Jollay
Aimee Carlson, Ceci Redmond, Jill Straub , Amy Rasler, Noelle Elliott.

2016 Cast
 Lisa Anderson, Laura Williamson Ambrose,  Leah Badertscher, Aimee Carlson,  Becky Cressy,
Kate Knopick Coates,  Sandy Cho,  Jenny Finley,  Alyson Herzig, Maria McKenna,
Amy Rasler.  Ceci Redmond, Christine Rutherford,
 Sherry Swank,  Martha Theineman, Noelle Elliott.
  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

One Tough Mudder


On Saturday,  I kissed my husband and boys goodbye and told them I was off to run a race called the Tough Mudder.  No matter where I go, it is always hard to leave. I know they can take care of themselves but I made sure to make healthy meals for breakfast lunch and dinner, (which they won't eat) but I do it anyway.  I  arranged rides to and from, practices, dances and birthday parties and I was only going to be gone for 24 hours.  I even attempted to mandate a man-date for Don with one of his buddies.

My role as their mom is the one I take most seriously above all else.  And leaving them is difficult. Mostly for me, okay all for me and the last thing Oscar said as he shut the door was, "Win it, mommy".

"Ha!", I thought,  I couldn't promise I was going to win anything. I just wanted to stay alive. I mean, I'm not a long distance runner.  And this was a very long distance, and with 24 obstacles in between. I appreciated that he thought winning was even an option.

My group consisted of four guys and me.  It felt  just like home.  As we put on our matching t-shirts and they wrote my number on my arm,  it became very clear that I was just one of the guys. This may sound like it's a good thing, but later I would have wished for a little special treatment.  Maybe, just a little.

The Tough Mudder honors wounded warriors, the men and women who have sacrificed so much more that we could ever know. Military men and women were all around us cheering us on.  As we ran our first mile, I thought about what one of the motivational speakers had said during the warm up.

When was the last time you have done something for the first time?

It occurred to me that in the past year I have done several things for the first time. Most noteworthy was flying to France alone. Most crazy was clearly this.

I really had no idea what I was in for.  But as we approached each obstacle,  I wasn't allowed to hesitate. Nobody thought that because I was a woman I couldn't do what they were doing.  Everyone did the same thing and helped each other out.

One of my team members tore his bicep tendon and still finished, meaning I couldn't complain about the nail I had just broken without sounding pathetic. As we dredged forward  I was reminded on more than one occasion of my three of my biggest fears.

1. heights
2. drowning
3. leaving my children motherless

I faced all of them head on. And obviously, I didn't die.   I knew there was always someone waiting for me on the other side of the wall, or swamp or mud pit or ice water enema, (yes, it's really called that) and for very good reason.

I may be the only one that would ever compare the Tough Mudder to parenting, but it really isn't all that different.  In the beginning, you think it is a good idea, but you really don't have any idea of  what you're really getting in to until it's too late. You imagine it, or hope it goes a certain way, but you don't know until you are totally submerged in it to get the true idea of how brutal it is.  But for some crazy reason, you go for it anyway, and you don't give up. You realize that it's going to get dirty, messy,  and scary. But at the same time it is fun, exasperatingly painful and you love every moment of it.

Like life,  you face obstacles that you had no idea were coming or what to expect.  Maybe your dad falls and is paralyzed, maybe you lose a friend to cancer,  maybe you unexpectedly lose your baby at 17 weeks, maybe your mom dies, maybe your spouse leaves you.  In any of life's challanges, you don't just turn around and go home.  You could, but the race continues and you either join it, or you don't.  And It is crucial to realize you cannot do it alone. You  have accept help from friends to get you through it.

The hardest challenge I faced was a slick angled wall that we had to climb.  My team laid belly down, stood on each others shoulders until they formed a human ladder. And I climbed them. Apologizing the entire way up for stepping on their shoulders, or grabbing their butts or pulling their hair. I swear that was not intentional.  Then one of my friends told me to shut up, stop saying sorry and just carry on.  It's kind of a good lesson in general don't you think?

As we approached our last obstacle as much as I wanted it to end, I didn't.  Partly because I didn't want to get electric shocked, but also because for a brief moment, I didn't recognize myself. Who was this 39 year old woman  kicking ass in a way that I didn't know was physically possible?

When you are completely exhausted and are wet covered in mud, you don't see each others flaws.  You look exactly the same as the person next to you who in that moment you have more things in common than differences, regardless of your gender, race, age or occupation.  You aren't a label. You are just a hot mess.

Immediately after we crossed the finish line, we headed over to have a free beer, sit down and laugh about whatever the hell we just did.  I don't think any of us stopped smiling until we got home.

As I drove, I thought about that question again. "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" And I made a promise to continually drag myself out of my comfort zone and get muddy once in awhile. For me, the alternative is far scarier.

When I arrived back home, there was a note on our chalk board.  It read "Congrats to our tough mudder".  Oscar asked me what I had won.  I showed him my orange headband and he thought it was the coolest thing ever.  Then he followed me into the bathroom,  sat on the floor next to my heap of dirty clothes and read me his favorite book as I took a shower.

Almost every parent I know wants to be strong for their kids. Strength can be shown in so many different ways. Mine are just a bit extreme.  I'll never know what they see when they look at me, but at least they know that I can simultaneously take care of myself and let them feel taken care of at the same time. 

I never want them to see me give up on anything, whatever it is, but especially them.

And that is why I am one Tough Mudder.












Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Navigating the Choppy Teen Waters


My best friend and I wanted to take a small sailboat off the coast of Hamilton Island in Australia to go sailing. There was a long line of tourist waiting to do the mandatory training before they were given a boat to take out. But my best friend knew that my patience level had just about exceeded it's five-minute limit. I mean, the conditions were deplorable,  white sand, crystal blue water. So she marched her little self up to the guide and said she was an experienced sailor (not really but it sounded good.) And he believed her. Next thing I know, she and I were out in the shark infested ocean sailing.

As the waves crashed into us she thought it would be a good time to tell me that she hadn't exactly been on this type of boat before.  And she was going to need my help because we were drifting out to the middle of nowhere and soon one of us would have to kill the other to eat in order to not to starve to death.  I wasn't much help because I get motion sick and have a tendency to laugh hysterically in these situations, not a pretty combination if you can imagine. Eventually, I helped turn the boat around and we ended up back at shore safely, and in time for lunch.

In between laughing and trying not to puke, I asked her why she said she could sail when she hadn't in a long time, and why she would put our lives in jeopardy.  She said she knew a little bit about it and knew she would just figure it out. Fake it till you make it.  And we were just fine.

That was six years ago and I think about that story often as I navigate the choppy water of raising a teen boy.  He has only been a teen for six weeks, but I recently weathered my first storm.

The first thing I needed to admit was that I know absolutely nothing about teen boys.  I mean, I thought I knew things about teen boys, but I was wrong. Every stereotypical notion I created when I was growing up needed to be thrown out the window.  For example, all the days my 13-year-old self doodled my name with a boy's last name and thought he was doing the same was a big huge misconception.  I know this, because, on the long list of things my son thinks about, I can confidently say marriage hasn't even made it on the paper.  Which coincidentally was the same case for his father until he turned 29.

Last Thursday night, my son suddenly became ill with an acute stomach pain. He is rarely sick, so I was not surprised when he woke up on Friday, that he was still suffering.  My husband wasn't buying it,  and told him that it was a remarkable coincidence that he was sick on the day he was to present a project that he hadn't prepared for at school.

Another thing I admit to knowing absolutely nothing about is men.  I couldn't believe how insensitive he was acting towards our beloved first born!  I reminded Don about the one time he had an acute stomach pain and ended up having an emergency appendectomy.

(Then I made the motion of dropping the mic.)

My mom stayed with my son while I took his brother's to school and when I returned home, he had seemed to have made a miraculous recovery in the twenty minutes I was gone.

It then occurred to me... I had been punked. Totally punked, and it pissed me off.  I told him to get his clothes on and that we were going to school.  He begged and pleaded with me to let him stay home.  His stomach pain had returned and he now thought he may die.  If I do anything, he suggested I take him to a hospital.

But I didn't budge. I made him get in the car and I drove him to school.
He was very very unhappy with this. He was yelling and crying and dry heaving.  All while asking me how I could do this to him. But I kept on driving.

I had never been in this situation before.   I was angry that my husband was right, angry that my son had lied to me and angry at myself for not knowing if what I was doing was the right thing.

I have anxiety.  At times, it has been severe, so I know how a mental worry can manifest to your gut and make you feel like you are going to implode.

Up until this point, I had done whatever it was to protect him from pain. I thought about the old guy who watched me trying to teach Parker to swim in a hotel pool when he was a year old. "Just throw him in, that will teach him," he said with confidence.  Little did he know that very image would keep me up at night. But I knew I could never do that. Ever.

Yet, here I was. My son was in pain, whether it was mental or physical and I was forcing him to do something he didn't want to do. I was throwing him in the water.

I tried to assure him that he was going to be okay. That he shouldn't believe what a classmate told him.  He was not stupid.  What he was, was ill-prepared and there is a big difference.

When we arrived at school, we sat in the parking lot.  I watched as he took off his glasses, wiped the tears from his face. Straightened is tie and shirt and smoothed his hair back to a pompadour.

He looked at me and what I anticipated was another plea to go back home, but instead he said: " Let's go" as he opened the door.

We walked into the school and I watched as he joined his friends. You would never know that he and I had just almost capsized.

I needed a minute to breathe because truthfully I hadn't been.  Another thing I didn't know.. how scary these situations can be.

I ducked into the teachers lounge with his teacher who is also a friend of mine.  I closed the door behind us and almost burst into tears, wondering if I had been too harsh, I was shaking inside.  He put his hand on my shoulder and told me I had done the right thing.  Not that I needed that assurance, but okay.. I totally did and I wanted to curl up in a ball and cry right there.  But I didn't.

I had just faked it until I made it.

I sat and watched the presentations and had a hard time believing that I had just earned my sea legs in the choppy teen waters.

Later after dinner as I was washing the dishes, Parker put his arm around me and thanked me for making him go to school, flashed his signature smile and went on his way.  Nothing more.

We both had held on tight and weathered it,  navigating this unexpected tidal wave.  But we did together.

At least when the next wave hits, I will know we will make it safely back to shore, despite not knowing what the hell we are doing.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Write On

I haven't been able to write as much lately.   This makes me quite sad because writing is what I do to clear the storms of my head.  So when I don't do it, my brain gets cloudy and end up making really dumb mistakes.  Like sending an email to my boss and others with the word boner in it.

Writing is how I discover things about myself.   Rereading journals is one of the ways I keep from making the same mistake twice, or in some cases, three times.  Sure, I always think that cutting my hair all off is a fantastic idea, until I go back to my tear soaked pages of my journal and remember how it wasn't.   If you think that sounds petty it's not.   Nothing is too petty to write it out.

Clearly American's need to re-read some history books before the election in November.. I digress.

In 1996, I wrote six pages about a guy who never called me back.  I  came up with all sorts of reasons, but the main one was that I had just cut off all my hair.  After three days, I discovered that he had mono. Had I not been lost in the clouds of my self doubt I probably would have just called him. It would have saved me a lot of angst.  But at least I can reflect back on my overreaction with fondness.

Self-doubt is the ultimate severe weather storm.  And it serves as much purpose as going out in the rain with a broken umbrella.

But it occupies so much of everything I do, and because I haven't been writing it made it's way to the surface. Which means Don had our familiar "Come to Jesus" conversation that goes down like this.

Don: What is wrong, you seem quiet?
Me: Do I? I didn't think you would notice because you never listen to me.
Don: Well, I'm listening now. Whats wrong?
Me:  (Deep breath) followed by tears and inaudible blubbering about everything I'm not doing right.

What sparked this was a rug.  We have had the same rug in our living room since we moved into the house fifteen years ago.  I got tired of it.  So I got a new one, and when the rest of the family was gone, I rolled up the old one and layed down the new one.  You would have thought I replaced it with a carpet made of hair from the bathroom floor or something.   They all hated it.  Like, adamantly hated it.  Oscar clung to the old rolled up rug and cried. Literally cried.

The entire family ganged up on me and each voiced their opinion about how much they disliked the new rug.  I pride myself in my interior decor choices, so this hurt me and made me question everything.

Then I realized something.   That rug was all they had ever known.  All of them at some point laid belly down on it before they could learn to roll over. Numerous things have been spilled on that rug. Including popcorn when we would camp out laying on the floor watching movies.  At one point it was used as the Land of Sodor.  Or the ground for numerous forts. It is in the background of all their baby pictures.

What the real issue was, is that they didn't want change. Change is scary. Even if it is in the form of a rug.

If there is one ray of the sun in this cloudy mess of a brain I have, it's that I am a creature of habit and routine.   To a disturbing, and (maybe annoying to some people) level.   My day is so habitual that I see other habitual people at the same place each and every day.  I drive down the street and see the same cars, pass the same pedestrians and dogs getting their daily walk.  I work out with the same people, and each day we say the same thing.

Each of the boys has a day of the week which they get to choose the music choice for our commute.   And on Wednesday, we really get tired of Jack's selection of Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal, but we go along with it, because it is Wednesday, and that is what we do.

I get a morning text from my mom. An encouraging text from another friend telling me I'm beautiful. I get a Friday funny text from a good friend. These things are simple, but  I have come to expect and enjoy them and  they make me feel really good.  They are things that I rely on. Much like a familiar old rug.

I have always thought this OCD routine trait of mine, made me vanilla.  But to my boys, it makes me a person who they can always count on.   Much like my writing is to me.  Like an honest friend,  it puts things in black and white. It helps me realize that I may not be as big of a loser making horrible choices and doing everything wrong.  Sure, I sent the word boner to several male co-workers, sure I made a rug choice on a whim, sure I may have said something too harsh to my 6-year-old when I was tired.

But despite all of those things, life keeps going. Even when the rug is ripped out from under us.

That broken umbrella I mentioned earlier, I was caught under it with a friend laughing hysterically. We laughed so hard, that tears were running down my face.   If I focus on everything that is going wrong, it's impossible to see what is going right.  I encourage any friend of mine going through any challenge to write out their feelings.   Even if they look like this:




It helps clear the clouds and lets light back in.

And for the record, the boys are slowly starting to accept the rug.  Or at least realize that all their complaining isn't going to bring the old rug back.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I see France



Once you have children, traveling becomes either very difficult or extremely difficult. I have seen families on planes, and the only thing I can think is that they must be hired by the airlines. A model family traveling, behaving well to show other people that traveling with kids is possible, and we should spend $15,000 to fly our entire family to Europe.  Well, I'm on to them.

So we end up driving everywhere. Which admittedly isn't easier but, at least, we can pull over the car, step outside and scream, or cry depending on the situation. On a plane, you just can't do that. 
I received an invitation to spend a week in France with my brother. Two days before I was supposed to go. So naturally I said, maybe, then no, then yes.

I explained to the boys that I was going to France and their reaction was unenthusiastic, to say the least. I mean who would make their beloved lunches?  They said that they too wanted to go to France, and my response was, that there was no way on Earth that was going to happen, at least not this trip.
When Oscar burst into tears, I reminded him that his birthday was coming up, (in a month) and that seemed to distract him long enough for me to pack.

What do you pack for a place you have never been? Apparently a lot of black clothing, black pants that will be uncomfortably snug upon your return home, along with a few white unassuming shirts, and only the most uncomfortable shoes I could find in my closet.   Along with a chunky necklace that will cause panic and delay at the airport security line, and after wearing it for 20 plus hours will feel like a Heretic's Fork.

I don't sleep on planes because I want to know if we are in eminent danger by watching the flight attendants expressions at all times.  It is a thankless job, especially to the French man with delicate hands who sat next to me on the plane. He must be part camel because despite drinking a lot, the man never got up once.  He also slept so soundly thanks to the warm resting place his elbow had in my rib cage.

When I did arrive, I was met by a driver that my brother hired to pick me up. He spoke about as much English as I spoke French, so it was a lively confusing conversation to our destination. I ended up falling asleep in the car and woke up just as we were passing a McDonalds.  I had to wonder if they were as insulted by French fries as I was.

When we pulled up to the place I was staying, I was in awe of it's beauty.  It was in a small village called Seine-Port where the streets are tiny, and the homes are old and charming.  For someone who had never been to France, this was more beautiful than  I could have imagined. Structures that have been around for hundreds of years, and people who care enough to keep the integrity and history of each home alive and well. 

I was greeted with fantastic fresh food and wine and conversation. Thankfully, the person's house we were staying is Canadian, so we spoke English most of the time.  They had local friends over for dinner, and I love listening to them speak, and kicked myself for not trying harder in my grade school French class.

We went to an antique market the next day, and if I had more money and a freight ship, I would have taken all of it home with me.   I could have purchased the entire market and decorated my house better than the faux French decor Pottery Barn tries to sell you.

I found French people to be extremely friendly. With that said, I only had two experiences that were negative.  A French countryman was trying to explain a book I was holding at the market when I looked at him and had no idea how to respond, other than say, "I don't speak French" to which he put his hand on his hip and mimicked me and said in a very poor and high pitched shrill English dialect " I don't speak French."

The other time is when a woman at a bakery wouldn't take my money, but took my friend's money.  It took all I had not to return to her bakery holding several baguettes from her competitor and holding them up like Julie Robert's did in Pretty Woman when she returned to the snobby store that wouldn't let her shop there. "Big mistake, Huge!". But since I couldn't say it in French I didn't.

We went to Paris one day and wandered the streets and ate escargot and oysters, coffee and chocolate crepes.  My brother insisted that I at least try and speak French when ordering. He quickly changed his mind when I began answering questions in Spanish. My only reasoning for this is that the foreign language ignited a part of my brain that hadn't been used since high school. Since the only language in that part of my brain is Spanish, that is what came out. Leaving the waiter confused as well as everyone else in my company.
I found the women in France to be unbelievably tall.  Not to mention unimaginably beautiful.   Like they just rolled out of bed, wandered into the street and look like they belonged in Vogue. Then there was me.  The only thing French about me is my name. I'm a short mother of four whose hair exploded in the rain and wore the wrong shoes hobbling around the street with her brother. Trying to take a selfie with the Eifel tower that doesn't make my cheese chins show. I didn't have cheese chins before going to France,  but after consuming massive amounts of cheese I now have an extra chin as a souvenir.

Strangely however, people asked me for directions.   I must look like I know where I'm going and I clearly don't. This is the case even in my home town.  In fact, I almost died in Paris, but thanks to my brother throwing his arm in front of me I didn't get hit by the speeding bus. 

The week was filled with creativity and beauty and my claim to fame was that I had four children, all of which were boys. This seemed to be a hot party discussion and quickly became my identity. Kind of like a freak show. I wanted so much to be noticed for other things, like my writing or my classic American beauty.  I quickly learned the words maman and quatre because it meant they were talking about me.

The more I was away from the boys, the more I missed them.  And my husband. Nothing like being in the most romantic city in the world with your brother.

The benefit of being with my brother was that he still treats me like his little sister.  There was a little decorative marionette that I found particularly spooky. So my brother made sure to place it in various places in my bedroom. Like, under the pillow, or behind the curtain or in my suitcase.

Despite sleeping with one eye open, it was an incredible trip.  I was able to have a little time to myself without others needing me. This is a really weird sensation. I felt like I had double of the amount of time do every day tasks, like take a shower or walk out the door. It allowed me to   explore without hesitation and to be in the presence of rampant creativity and loveliness.

I was sad to go.  The week away reminded me of what it felt like before I had the title of mommy or wife.  And back to my roots, of just a little sister. 

Upon the 9.5-hour return flight home, as I devoured the chocolate I had gotten my family for souvenirs that they will never receive,  I let the word Maman roll off my tongue and float around in my head.  

I may have wanted the people I met to perceive me as a writer, or at least pretty, and something other than just a mom. But no matter how hard I tried, my motherly aura just followed me across the ocean.  And people saw it and thought that it was beautiful, it made me instinctively trustworthy, warm and approachable. 

That isn't something to be ashamed of.

The excitement I felt upon returning home was a reflection of that.  My friends told me that I would come back feeling recharged were wrong because I'm more tired than ever.

It also reminded me that life before I received the title of Mommy or wife wasn't nearly as fun.





Thursday, March 3, 2016

Fear


In the last two days, three of my closest friends have had to deal with the F word.  I don't think any of them knew at the time that is what they were dealing with, but since fear is an old friend of mine, I recognized it's presence immediately.

I experience different types of fear on a daily basis. There is the fear when one of the boys jumps out and startles me. There is also the super creepy fear when Oscar stands in my bedroom doorway at 3 in the morning with his deep voice slowly whispering "Mooooommmmyyyyy" and when I answer him he doesn't answer because he is sleep walking.  The constant fear of sounding stupid.  Which I already know, sounds stupid.

But the fear I'm referring to is a little different.

One of my friends had a job interview that could have changed their life.  Another friend had to face the reality that a close friend of hers might by dying.  Another friend is moving to a different state.

Anything that takes us out of our comfort zone is scary.

While some of those things sound amazing, there is a tremendous amount of fear that runs as an undercurrent to anything new.

As much as I hate fear, it has always been present in some of the most important moments of my life.

Fear of telling someone I loved them.

Fear of watching someone die.

When Don asked me to marry him....well, I was mostly fearful for him. I know my family is a bit crazy, but did he really know? And yes he did, and still asked and they love him.

When I found out, I was pregnant with my first son.  I told Don, and we both just stared at each other speechless in shock. Fear was certainly there.

When I submitted my first piece of writing.

Anytime I have stepped on stage.

Fear of saying something hurtful out of pain and losing someone I love.

But sometimes you just have to jump into it, even though it feels paralyzing.

My ability to generate fear is somewhat of a love/hate relationship I have with myself.  I love it because whenever I'm scared about something, it almost always means I'm on the brink of something amazing.  Hate, that it makes me hesitant.  Love, that it protects me from certain dangers. Hate, that it shines a bright spotlight on my insecurities.

I'm going to France tomorrow.  I didn't know I was going to France two days ago, but the opportunity has presented itself.  When I got the invitation, I immediately started typing out my excuses. As I began to do this, I realized that not one of them was valid.  But I usually don't  decline invitations with complete honesty because you guessed it, fear.

I'm sorry I can't come to France for this amazing opportunity because I have to make my son's lunches.  Or, I'm sorry I can't come to France because I'm afraid that the plane is going to crash.  

Which brings me to my absolute biggest most humongous fear in the entire world.  Flying.

I'm the girl on the plane that doesn't sleep. I have the look of panic almost the entire time.  In college, I had a panic attack in turbulence and cried. People thought it was a baby, nope it was a 21 year old woman in the back row with flight attendants holding ice packs to her neck.  The last trip I was on with the family I was convinced there was a terrorist on it and begged Don to let us leave the plane immediately.  Obviously, we arrived in Tucson just fine and were enjoying margaritas soon after we touched down.

So I was explaining this to a friend this morning, and he asked me what I was afraid of. I honestly thought it was kind of a dumb question. But he isn't a dumb person, so I told him that it was because I didn't want to die.  "Why?" he asked.  I had to think about it. I mean, I do believe in God,  but more of the actual terror right before it happened.  "If it is going to happen, you won't be able to do anything about it, so why have fear be the last thing you feel?"

I just love it when someone says something so brutally honest like that. It hits me in the face. I'm a thinker.  I love it when someone challenges me to dig deep for an answer.

I paused and let that thought resonate and, I said without thinking, I'm afraid that my boys would be mad at me.

And with that answer, I pretty much summed up every fear I have ever had.  Underneath it all, I'm afraid to disappoint the people I love the most.

Unless I was doing something really stupid, like playing in traffic, or jumping off a bridge, why would anyone be mad at me for dying?

So I'm facing fear in the face and going to France, to unplug, write,  have fun and take a step outside my normal roles in a beautiful and safe setting.

But before I go,  I have been texting and telling people I love them.  Yes, I know, it's almost as creepy as Oscar standing in my doorway, to get a text from me, or even worse, tell you in person that I love you and that if I die, I am grateful for the time we spent together on this Earth. Or to get a hug from me that lasts just a little too long.

The truth is, that if you are reading this, I want to tell you anyway, I have just been too afraid.



Saturday, February 27, 2016

Get My Freak On



I will never forget my first meal after giving birth to my first son. It was 4 a.m. and the nurse brought be a package of Graham crackers and a small container of peanut butter. I hadn't eaten in 22 hours, and anything I had eaten previously had been thrown up. 

I ripped open the package and devoured it, dropping little crumbs all over my newborn's head.  I then ate the peanut butter like it was going out of style, even using my finger to scrape out the tiny bit I couldn't reach with my knife, or truth be told, my tongue. It was so graceful to watch; I'm sure.

When my blood sugar finally leveled out, I began to try and feed my son for the 3rd time since he was born. It wasn't easy, he knew what he was supposed to do, but I was still trying to figure it out.  I had to put my nipple in his mouth, and I used my finger to get his tongue down so I could put it in there.

He too ate like he had never eaten before, come to think of it, he hadn't. When he finally finished, the nurse came in to take him to the nursery so I could rest.   Don left to take a shower at home, and I began to fall asleep until I was hit in the face with a punch called worry.  It occurred to me that my baby could be allergic to peanuts, and I had just poisoned him.

I frantically hit the call button for the nurse, called my husband, mom, sister, anyone and told them what I had done. Mind you, I had absolutely no basis to think that he was allergic to peanuts.  

By the time the nurse arrived, I had already gotten my freak on, and she assured me that Parker was just fine.  And he was. Looking back, I created something to worry about because everything just felt too perfect.

I may also mention that I have a major issue with anxiety. And I'm a little bit of a freak.

Fast forward 12 years to last week after Parker had a horrible night at lacrosse practice.  I had been working late all that week, and I already felt like I had been neglecting my children. He asked to speak to me in our bedroom, and as soon as I shut the door he fell to the bed sobbing.  I tried to figure it out, but I didn't know what was wrong. I asked if someone had said something to him that made him feel so terrible.  

I could here the bass start in my heart to Missy Elliott's song "Get UR Freak on."

Watching your child in emotional pain, may be one of the worst feelings ever imaginable. It's a punch in the heart that you can't stop and with every beat, it hurts just a little bit more.  He couldn't articulate why he was so distraught. So just like I freaked when I thought I had accidently killed him with peanut butter, I went into freak mode. If I had a transcript of all the texts I sent in the next 5 minutes, it would be amusing, to say the least.  I contacted his coach, my friend who is a father and familiar with lacrosse, my brother and that was just the first minute.  I wanted to know if anyone knew what was said to him to make him feel this way.  And more importantly, what I could do to fix it.

We sat on the bed and although since his birth he has gained 110 lbs. I still held him like he was that 9 lb. baby.

When he calmed down, he finally explained that he was the worst on the team and that he wanted to quit. 

Oh God, haven't we all been there.  I have wanted to quit so many times, but not with anything athletic; it is always with something academic.  When I don't feel like I'm smart enough, or I don't want to embarrass myself in front of a group of people with my lack of knowledge of things that I should just know.

But one thing I will never even think of quitting is being his mom.  And biologically it isn't an option, but metaphorically, mother's quit on their children all the time.

I wanted so badly to ease his pain and tell him it was okay to quit. That I'm fine with his quitting, but I couldn't do it.   These painful moments are what are going to make him a stronger kid, a stronger man, and stronger person.  I can't let him see me give up on him.  So I told him that wasn't an option.

I then shared that I took my college Algebra class 3 times before I finally passed. 

I don't know if he was listening, but through his puffy eyes, he told me he was going to go upstairs to his bedroom. But before he did, I read him a few of the texts I had gotten back from the people I had text ambushed.  When I finished,  he had already fallen fast asleep.

I may suck at math, but we all have things we are good at, for me, it is freaking out. 

The next morning I found him at the breakfast table, hair a mess, eating a bagel with peanut butter ironically.  I hesitated to bring it up, but I asked him if he was okay. He glanced up with sleep eyes and asked what I was talking about.   I reminded him of our conversation, and he said, "Oh that? Yeah, I think I was just super tired."

He was just tired.  And now I was because I didn't sleep well because I was too busy getting my freak on. But not a good kind of getting my freak on, the bad mother kind.

He had already moved on, or if he hadn't, he was choosing to power through and for that, I was as proud of him. Almost as I proud as the first time he figured out how to eat, even that took us a few times to figure it out.

I will gladly rip myself into heart shaped pieces if it helps makes him feel whole.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Just Show Up


I have a confession.  I don't have a high opinion of myself.  Sure there are a lot of things I think I do pretty well.  I'm not naive enough to think that I'm the best at anything, but I'm all right with that.   For a long time, I had this recording running in my head that would always be in the background.  But on some occasions it would get so loud I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing.

The recording was a collection of all the not-enough's.  The you're not smart, tall, pretty, talented, coordinated, thin enough's.  Then I became a mom, and the recording now had a second track called who are you fooling, you don't know how to, discipline, raise, feed, care for kids. Creating a familiar harmony of doubt in my head  no matter what I was doing.

I looked to other people to make me feel capable of any of those things listed above. Especially my mom.  And the only thing I realized is that there is a boat load of people doing the same thing.  How many likes does a post get, how many people notice my outfit?  How many letters can I get after my name?  (For the record,  I only have two and B.A. can stand for Bad Ass too.)  But when you work in academia, it's a big deal.

But when you go to bed at night, alone or with someone, none of those things matter.   When I'm laying in my cozy bed with my warm husband to my left, and each of my boys mummy tucked, and their cute, healthy bodies are cooking under the heat of three blankets and flannel jammies, while my dog is in the corner snoring louder than my husband, nobody cares or will remember how I made a typo in sending out a mass email.  Or how I accidentally slammed my son's foot in the door because he wasn't moving fast enough.  So why should I?

When I lay my head down at night, I take an inventory of the way I feel and if I did all I could do that day to make someone feel loved.

That is the one thing I am really good at.

I have one huge empathetic muscle, and it didn't become strong by sitting at home on my couch watching Netflix.  Although, at times that sounded more appealing.

After my Dad's accident, I had hundreds of people tell me they were praying for him.  I would say thank you and go about my day.  But it wasn't until recently that I realized that I hadn't prayed for him.  Not once.  I was overcome with guilt and thought, how awful, that I hadn't stopped to pray for my own dad.

Before I could add that to the long list of things that make me less than everyone else around me.  I realized my prayer was done by showing up.   Prayer to me is an action.

Showing up isn't hard, you just knock on someone's door, and say, I'm here.  I don't have any reason to be here, but here I am.  You don't have to have a prerequisite to show up.  So, okay maybe it is hard. Maybe you feel like you are imposing or that you will look like an idiot.  But that is when you have just to turn down the volume of your doubts.  Or bring wine, that is always a good idea too.

I suffered from severe postpartum depression and people unexpectantly knocking on my door kept me alive.  And that isn't an exaggeration, it's the truth.  Had they called ahead of time I would have told them I was fine, so I'm glad they didn't.

What I learned from that experience is that sometimes you need a depression ambusher.

I have had four close friends lose one of their parents this past month.  I thought about calling or even texting, but I couldn't come up with the right thing to say, so I showed up and sat with all of them.  Or if I couldn't go to their house, I just listened to them.

In their time of grief, I never heard any of them say,  that her mom didn't allow her to get a toy, or that his mom lost her temper once and said things she didn't mean. Or that her dad grounded her for talking back. What I did hear is that they wanted just one more day with them. Just one more hour, or minute, just to tell them that one thing that needed to tell them.  But now they can't.

But they can tell me, and I'll listen, because that is what I'm good at, and that is why I just show up.  Have you ever noticed that dogs do that?  When you are feeling down, they just walk over and sit at your feet, not saying a word. Dogs know the healing power of sitting in silence together.  Obviously they can't talk, but sometimes I think people should take note that words can get in the way.

I feel so blessed to have my parents.  Back in November, I wasn't so sure I was going to have both of them for long.  I was scared and didn't know what to do, so I just showed up and had some of the best silent conversations I have ever had with my family.

You learn so much about people when you step outside of yourself and your insecurities and just listen.  Listen with your soul, not just your ears.

What I know is that there are no words that are going to make anyone feel better when they lose someone, face a tragedy or are drowning in depression.  So why even try?  The best thing you can say to someone is nothing, just show up, extend your arms for a hug and allow what happens in the silence. It can be more comforting than any words ever could be.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Love Ferociously

If you have been following my writing or know me personally, you know that the past couple months have been rough but gentle, tiresome yet uplifting. Full of fear yet tremendous courage.  I have witnessed my dad fight to regain his mobility after an accident left him paralyzed.   He chose fight over flight.  There were dark days, though.  Those nights when you are left alone with your thoughts and fighting just seems too hard. In those crucial moments you must decide what it is you want to live for. 

At 79, he could have easily cashed in his chips and still made out a winner.  It was an option for sure. But he didn't. He threw down his cards and said hit me.

This experience cracked open all the solid people in my life.  It exposed our weaknesses.   It left us sitting there, vulnerable and with little or no energy left to try and hide them.   And a crazy thing happened, our weaknesses are what gave us strength.   The tremendous amount of energy that was spent attempting to hide things was desperately needed in other areas, and slowly our perceived weaknesses began to stand out.  

What I considered a weakness in myself is what I believe maybe..possibly was my strength.

I had a close friend tell me that one of my strengths is that I give myself completely when I'm with someone.  Making them feel that they are the most important person in the world.   I had people tell me that before, but this time, I let it sink in and heard it.

Alongside my brother's weakness of being unwavering, my sister's inability to accept no for an answer and my mother's stubborn Irish determination to never leave my dad's side,  I sat with my enormous ability to love ferociously.    All my dad had to do was the excruciatingly hard work to stand, and we were going to catch him.  And he did.


What I decided was that I don't need to hide who or what or when I love someone or something. I'm like a Care Bear when they do their stare.  I don't have to cover it up or tone it down for fear that I am coming on too strong. In this case, my strength was needed. And who doesn't like a bunch or rainbows bursting out of your belly?

In 2016, I decided to tell people I love them when I feel it. To give them a long bear hug when I think they need it and to be completely present when I'm with them. 

Since deciding this, I have sent several texts to friends.   For example, my coach who I work out with received a text that I think he is awesome, and I'm happy he is in my life.   A friend I hadn't seen in awhile received a text that she makes me laugh, and I love her. A friend who just lost his mother received me on his doorstep and a healthy dose of what it feels like to lose at the game of Cards Against Humanity. I told an acquaintance that I think she is beautiful.   I have celebrating birthdays and attending parties like it's 1999, but its 2016 and time is crucial. 

I tell my husband what I love about him and share dreams that I was too scared to mention out of fear.  Oh, and then there are my boys. The only four souls on the planet who, if were oranges would have been juice by now.  I just can't squeeze them hard enough.  In fact, Oscar asked me to stop saying "I love you" because he is tired of hearing it. To which I said, "never" and squeezed him even harder.

People have always said that love hurts, and I too went along with that, but I don't think they have tried loving people ferociously because it feels fucking awesome.

I was talking to my brother yesterday. We now talk every single day, instead of just texting, and I dared to say that this accident was kind of, in a weird way, a blessing at least for us.  Because now I say what is on my mind, even if it sounds mushy or harsh. But he agreed and told me he loved me because my flaw of loving too much has worn off on him and his flaw of being unwavering has worn off on me.

My dad has always found unconventional ways to teach his children life lessons, and this is, albeit a very dramatic way, but nonetheless a lesson about love and strength. It's not too often you get a second chance to say what you really feel to the people you love. 


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Feminine Fuel



When I was in second grade, I met Kristen. I loved everything about her. She was a gymnast, and we would spend our days playing on the school field. She would do back handsprings, and I would skip along side her. We had our own special language; we liked the same sandwich, (peanut butter). She was my first girlfriend.  Up until this point, I had spent a lot of time in the dirt boys. Until one day, she just stopped. She became mean. I would try and talk to her, and she would ignore me.  I couldn't understand how she could turn so quickly.   I remember the feeling of my heart dropping to my stomach when she said she didn't want to be my friend anymore. She moved the next year. Thankfully within a year or so  I met a new best friend whom I am still very close.

What the experience with Kristen created in me is a fear of intimate relationships with women.  I didn't allow a lot of women in my life despite many trying.  I was fine with men. I get men.  Even being a woman, I don't get women, I don't even get myself half the time. In high school and college I picked up a few girlfriends that I remain close with, but more guy friends by far.

Then almost everyone my age got married.  I don't know many women who are okay with their husbands having friendships with other women.  It's confusing; I mean "why would she want to be friends with a married man?"  they ask themselves. Well, because I'm married too, and so the romantic portion of the relationship is spoken for. That doesn't work the same way when guys aren't married.  Needless to say, this hasn't helped my ability to maintain friendships with men or women for that matter.  It left me feeling lonely.

Other than Don, my closest male friendship is with my brother.  Men are a solid yet a soft place to fall into when you need to talk. Throw in a handful of close guy friends and that was my social circle. (I'm still recovering from all of that ESPN exposure.)

But about five years ago I felt like  a crucial substance in my life was missing.  I made an intention to foster more female friendships.  I joined a book club, I created a show that centered around women, I accepted invitations to dinner or drinks with women.  I went on a trip to Australia and met extraordinary women. I read books written by women, watched movies directed by women, went to symphonies conducted by women. I created space in my soul to allow women in.

And something amazing happened.

My feminine fuel was ignited.   Feminine fuel is a fire that women keep lit deep within themselves.  It's a light, that if you are open to it, will guide you when you are weak. Will warm you when you are cold.  Good female friendships will burn together, and the power of collective flames is something you can't extinguish.

There is an indomitable energy when a group of women gathers together.

As most of you know, my family had a tragic accident that rocked our world for the last six weeks.  Which you can read about here. I'm happy to say that things are healing, but there were a few moments where we felt helpless.  This is where the female fire begins to spread.

When another woman is suffering, there is an unvoiced hum that calls out for help, and we answer it.  It as if women weave together and create a tightly woven basket that can surround you and hold you tight, and carry you along as long as you need to be held.

And nothing is too heavy.

I could not have remained as strong as I have without my girlfriends.  What I have learned is that with any intimate friendship, you are a reflection of each other. The highlights and the shadows.  What you admire in the other person are probably thing things you like about yourself.  The faults you see in other's are usually things you can also see in yourself.  That is true with men and women. What I did at a very young age is put a wall between myself and other women to protect me from getting hurt.

I soon realized that there isn't a wall a woman can't climb or bust through to help a friend.
Men can be great listeners when you share things and they and will try their hardest to solve your problems and ease your pain.  But women, we have a way of hearing what is unspoken, and will sit still with you in your pain, and supporting you because deep down, they know you will be able to handle it yourself.




Sunday, November 29, 2015

Where Strength is Found

When I was a little girl, my Dad took me to the campus of Notre Dame right around this time of year.  He and I would occasionally go on little excursions.  My mom was a stay at home mom, maybe he was taking me off of her hands for a bit, admittedly I was a handful.  Or maybe he genuinely liked spending time with me. I like to think the latter.  I remember walking down the sidewalk by the Hesburgh library right as the sun was setting and our shadows grew taller as we walked.  I let go of his hand and jumped on his shadow. He fell over in pain like he could feel it.   I did it again and again... and again. Each time his reaction was greater and more dramatic.  I began to wonder if I was actually hurting him, so I stopped.   It was then that he began laughing, scooped me up and put me on his shoulders. He pointed to our shadow, "Look, we're a giant!"  he said.  Now nobody can hurt us; we are unstoppable.

I have never forgotten that.  I work on the same campus, and whenever I walk by the library, I always think of that moment when my Dad and I were one big shadow giant.  Most daughters think their Dad is the strongest man in the world, I knew mine was.

As I grew up, I realized that physical strength is a genetic trait that I was blessed with from both sides.  Crazy strong women who liked getting dirty doing what was considered a man's work.  And the men in our lives have always stepped aside and let us do it, even celebrated it.  Don loves the fact that he doesn't have to call another guy to help him carry a refrigerator into the garage.  Just let me put down that baby, and I'll get it.

After my Dad had an accident about a month ago, he has been mostly paralyzed.  We had to move him to a rehabilitation center in Chicago that specialize spinal cord injuries.  Everyone tells me he is making huge strides.  He can move his right arm now. He can also move his left foot, which is a huge improvement from not being able to move at all.  But what he can't do is swallow, eat, walk, jump, sit up, move his hands... hug.

You don't realize how much you miss something as simple as a hug until you lean in to get one and feel nothing in return.

This is the man who carried me on his shoulders.  This is the man who could do anything and now is left laying in a bed doing nothing.   Even if I were to jump on his shadow, he wouldn't be able to feel it.  All I have left to do is just watch and cry.

But that is not what strong women do, at least not this one.   It took me a couple of weeks to understand that no amount of will or determination was going to make him walk again. At least not right now.

My mom has not left his side.  She is his muscle for now.  But don't get me wrong, he works hard.  Every day he is in physical therapy the same amount of time as my sons are in school .  He has never worked harder in his life for something that used to be done without thought.  The next time you brush your teeth, know that my Dad has been working countless hours to do that same thing and has failed.

So when all of your physical strength is gone, where does the strength come from?   I was right about my Dad; he is the strongest man I know, emotionally and even physically.  My strength, on the other hand,  has atrophied right along with his body, at least my emotional muscle.  But it's not because of lack of use. I have stretched my emotional integrity to its limit.

This kind of situation is hard on a family. When your foundation has a crack in it, the house begins to fall.  One by one my siblings and I have hit our low point.  Outside pressures and elements only add to the crash.  We still have jobs; we still have families to take care of. We still have people who love us that we hope to God forgive us for being "off" the last couple of weeks.   The truth is, when your foundation is cracked, you will do anything you can to fix it because your entire house needs it.

There are several things that lead to emotional strength depletion.  It can be heartbreak. The kind of heartbreak that hurts so deeply that it feels like your heart has been cracked open and exposed for the cold air to fill it and you are so chilled to the core that you don't think it's possible to ever feel the warmth of love again.

There is the death of a loved one.  There is frustration.  There is hopelessness.  Very different situations but all leave you feeling empty.

Not having control of this situation has at one point made me feel all of those things.   One of the things I love to do is exercise and not just a little thirty-minute cardio session.  Like my Grandmother liked to get her tiny hands dirty, I too like to work hard.   The tension and pain  I feel on the outside temporarily alleviates the pain I feel inside.  After one particular workout, I went to my car and cried, so gutturally that my throat hurt. On a different occasion, I went into my co-workers office, shut the door and collapsed into tears.

This was when I realized that I had been successful in letting everything out, but hadn't let anything in.  Friends had offered help, and I hadn't taken it.  I didn't want to admit I was weak.  But the truth was, I was emotionally dehydrated, and I needed to accept help.

Previously I had always relied on my mother or my husband for help, but they are in the same familial house that's foundation is cracked, and they are trying  just as hard not to fall too.

So I decided to lean in.  Accept invitations to go for a run, or have dinner made for us.  To go for a drink or get a coffee or to spend the day after Thanksgiving with people other than family.  It was the first time we had ever done that, and admittedly, I was hesitant.  I doubted why anyone would want to include an additional six people around the table.   But we went.   We played a football game and within moments each of our four boys had fought, cried, gotten hurt and stormed off.   It was just like we were home. I slowly began to feel stronger.

So to answer my question as to where strength can be found when you feel like you are completely out, it is found in friendship. True friendship that doesn't have to be pretty or funny all the time.  Friends that just show up, and lift that burden off your shoulders and carry it for a little while, even if the moment is brief.  Then you realize that when you put it back on your own shoulders, it doesn't feel as heavy.

In fact, if you were to take a walk with that burden on your shoulder's and look at your shadow you might even see an unstoppable giant that can face anything.

Strength is found in family and friends who will let you fall, but help you stand back up when you are ready.







Monday, November 9, 2015

Sometimes We Fall


My Dad broke his neck.   Obviously we hadn't anticipated this happening.  Although I will say, that when life seems too good to be true, I have a bad habit of waiting for something bad lurking around the corner.  I could have never thought it would be something like this.

He fell off of his deck and landed on his head. I received a call from my mom that they were in the emergency room.   I quickly crossed over a single bridge to the hospital, the one that I was born in, the one all of my boys were born in and the one that if I stood on the roof of my house I could see if I wanted to.  I always have joked that I didn't travel too far in life if I can see the hospital where I took my first breath from my house.

When you see someone you love in pain, a shock comes over you, when you see a parent, specifically one whom you have always viewed as the strongest person you have ever known in pain, your world shifts.

He could talk, which was a good thing.  My first instinct was to make a joke, to make them laugh. That is my role in my family. When things get too serious, I make a joke.  There was absolutely nothing funny about this. Nothing. My mom began to cry, and I choked back tears as I asked my Dad what I could do. He told me to hold his hand.  I picked his limp, bloody hand into the mine and held it.  Annoyed, he told me to hold his hand. I told him that I was, and I looked at my mom and quickly realized he couldn't feel it.  I didn't believe him, I dug my nails into his palm, but he felt nothing. That is when it sunk in.  He can't feel anything.

At that moment, all the acting I have ever done came into play.  Their youngest child was going to be the strong one.  I wasn't going to let him see the fear I felt.

The hardest part was seeing him realize this too. He is an artist.  He paints beautiful landscapes and has sculpted things out of clay and plaster that have won awards and sit in people's homes.  How cruel is this?

The next day they did surgery and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit.  This is the floor that people go to when things are really bad.  Only two visitors are allowed in the room at a time, but we stretched the rules on a few occasions because I knew one of the nurses, and strangely my dad wanted a picture of the family.   My mom was the common denominator in the room.  The numerator changed, between first, second and me, third born. And fourth if you count my husband.  When my mom left to use the bathroom or go home for a quick shower, I became the denominator.

The ICU is a place that is hard to remain positive.  The pain of family members is palpable. I sat in the waiting room when things got too personal with my dad. Like when they had to insert a catheter, or change him.  He didn't want me in there, and I didn't want to be in there either.  I observed other people at their lowest.  In situations far worse than ours.  A young girl in a car accident who after a day of her family holding out hope while she was in a coma didn't make it.  Two older gentlemen on either side of my father's room died.   That is pretty common I think. Just three years ago I sat in an ICU when my uncle died.

But. We. Are. Not. Going. To. Go. There.  Nope, we are not.  My brother arrived at 2 a.m.  walked off the stage of an opera in Dallas,  and arrived at the hospital exactly 3 hours later.   There is something about our family that when we are all together we are a force.   We set our differences aside, because really, nothing else matters.

You learn a lot about yourself when you are sitting in a dark hospital room without any windows.   My dad is on morphine, so he is pretty drugged, which shouldn't be funny, but it is.   He had been sleeping, and I was curled up in the tiny recliner in the corner of the room surprised that this position was comfortable to someone who is as inflexible as I am. Out of the blue, he said that he would be able to braid my hair again when he regained feeling in his hands.   He hasn't braided my hair in 30 years. But when you are his age, 30 years can feel like 30 minutes. Especially when your mind is under the influence of major drugs.

To be honest, I had forgotten that he used to braid my hair. I mean, I remember it now, but that was probably the last thought on my mind. Sure I want him to regain his strength, but for practical purposes, like eating. But somehow his mind brought him to a place where I was a child, and he was a father, braiding his daughter's hair.  The next day when I worked out, I wore my hair in a braid just because.

When you get older, you have the general notion that you will be taking care of your parents when they get older, but until you are faced with it, it doesn't seem real.  Last week, he was raking leaves in his massive yard, and today he wouldn't even be able to pick up a leaf.

In the past week, I have done things that I never thought I would do or could do.  I have witnessed the pain of a loved one both emotionally and physically.  And I have also spent hours alone with my Dad because we refuse to leave him alone.  The only regret has been that I can't say that I have spent hours alone with my dad like this in at least a decade.

What is more important in life than really spending time with the people you love?  How in the world could I have been so busy that I couldn't spend just an hour sitting with him, or taking a walk or going for a Sunday drive, or just eating dinner without interruptions?

But as I write this, I have just finished feeding him ice cream, and we sit listening to a classical playlist my brother made for him on his iPad.  The sound of Vivaldi, Beethoven, and my brother's CD mixed in there, in an effort to be funny. At least I hope he was trying to be funny. Maybe not, he just knew what our Dad liked.

Strangely for a few minutes we were at peace.  My Dad has absolutely no concept of time and doesn't know if it's night or day. To be honest, I'm kind of having trouble remembering too.

For someone like me, who likes to be in control of everything I have had to relinquish that.   The only thing we know right now is that we don't know what the future holds for my Dad's mobility.  But what I do know for sure is that you cannot begin to realize the power of the love of friends and family.   The people who have prayed for us, or made us dinner.  Or taken the boys for the night.  That have just given me a hug or words of encouragement.  Friends telling us they love us. I can't think of a better gift of knowing that over the years we have surrounded ourselves with such generous and good people.

And it has taught me about my husband.  I have always known of his big heartedness, but little did I know that when he told me he loved my parents, he really meant it.  He has stepped up and taken care of their home, and our home, spoon fed my Dad when I needed a break and watched me cry without telling me it was okay.  My love for him too has grown.

Despite the bad, there is always good if you are willing to look for it.

When you marry someone, you say the vows in sickness and in health but it is said so often that you don't consider the sickness part. At least I didn't.   My parents are living out that vow at this very moment. And their three kids have the privilege to witness it.

As I have been typing, my Dad asked me if I was writing out my thoughts.  I said yes, hoping this wouldn't be too personal to share.   He said "Good for you, write out your thoughts, you have always been good at that." Always a cheerleader.

It's an uphill battle, but I have no doubt that with time we will be taking his Audi TT convertible out for a ride up to New Buffalo to Oink's  and get some real ice cream, not the crappy hospital kind. And Maybe I'll wear my hair in a braid just because, and maybe this time he will finally let me drive.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Calm Before the Sh*t Storm

My day had started out with a really nice workout.  I was using an Indo balance board. It looks like a flat wooden sled on top of a foam cylinder.  From what I understand, the idea is to stand on it and not fall on your face.  After several tries, and almost ripping my trainer's thumb off, I got it.  There was a very brief moment when I was balancing when I was completely calm, almost zen-like, and the angels sang and I thought I had found the secret of inner peace that people who meditate brag about all the time. It lasted almost 2 seconds.

I left the gym feeling a bit cocky of the inner peace I had discovered.  I opened the windows and felt the air and thought, today is the day. The day that I can share the love and inner peace with my family and friends.

When I entered the house, I found a child trying to climb out of the refrigerator holding a gallon of milk. My kung-fu-panda-self-caught him just before he and the milk crashed to the floor.  I saw that Don had made coffee, and it was brewing.  There is something about a man who knows exactly what his wife is going to need, and I appreciated that mine knew I needed coffee.  I took a shower and fantasized about wrapping my hands around that warm mug filled with godlike aromatic substance.

I asked the boys to get ready and surprisingly they listened. I was convinced that it was my inner calm was projecting onto my children  and they appeared to have turned into perfect cherubs.
And then... a tidal wave of crap hit. Of course, I'm speaking metaphorically..mostly.

You see, last night my two oldest were playing the longest game of Monopoly ever played.  I'm pretty confident that they choose this game for the specific reason that it was going to prolong bedtime. When they finally made it upstairs to bed, they agreed to finish the game the next day. As I was wrapping myself in a towel,  I heard an argument brewing and by the time I had reached them my oldest son had flipped the board and all the monopoly money on the floor.  As I watched the houses and every other piece fly up into the air, it was only a matter of time before it came to fisticuffs.

Fin threw the first punch; then Parker did a cross right back at him.  I thought a few things.  First, I hope I don't step on a game piece because I'm not wearing shoes. Second, how can nobody even notice I'm only in a towel and dripping wet standing in the middle of the living room? Next, where did they learn to box like that, and lastly,  haven't we explained a million times that they should not hit each other? Clearly, they have been hitting each other for some time because it came about so organically.

By the time I broke it up, there were two ring side assistants commentating.  All of this commotion was upstaged by Wally, who couldn't take the stress and puked up his entire breakfast at that very moment.
Everything stopped, and each of my sons ran to Wally's aid.  They were so concerned, but not concerned enough to clean it up.

I told everyone to get in the car, and I would be there after through on some clothes, slapped some make up on my face and most importantly, I got my solace coffee, my one saving grace to reverse the negativity that had just been thrown at me.  As they made their way out to the garage, I made my way to the coffee.  It was then that I discovered that Don had taken all of it, leaving me a thimble amount to last me the rest of the day.

Trying very hard to not from completely lose my shit, I comforted my bruised soul with the promise of buying myself a coffee once I got to work because I certainly deserved it.  Except, I couldn't find my purse.  I frantically texted Don to 1. thank him for drinking all the coffee and 2. ask him where my purse was.

The boys have now been sitting in the car for 5 minutes when I discover that half of their backpacks were still in the house, and the reason I could see this was because all of the freaking lights were on.  My husband, the one that was on the top of my list had now made his way to the very bottom. I think it would be faster to crawl to his place of work, scratch a message in the sand and wait for him to stumble upon it than to receive a text from him.

I got in the car and said to my oldest heavy-weight champion, that I didn't appreciate the fact that he didn't turn the lights off upstairs.  To which he responded, "that is not my job, it's yours."  And this around the time that any calm or inner peace I may have earned in the morning, was gone and possibly never coming back.

I lost it. Put the car in park, turned off the engine and decided to wait there until someone, anyone, apologized.   The younger boys didn't know what to do, except repent for anything they have done wrong in their life.  "I'm sorry I dropped your toothbrush on the floor," said Oscar.  Wait, when?  Jack chimed in an apologized that he didn't buckle his seat belt. Finegan apologized for winning Monopoly and finally Parker apologized for being born.

I accepted their apologies, turned the car on and began our commute to school.   Yes, even Parker's because he is 12, and he thinks he can shock me, but he has no idea. I can't be shocked.

Once they were all out of the car, and on their way to Grandparents day at school I watched them as they walked into school. You would never know that they almost killed each other this morning.  They looked like they were eager to go to school and move on.

I don't know if it's kids or men, or just not me; that can move over a hurdle and not look back. Don and I can have an argument in the morning and at 5:15 PM I haven't missed a beat and will continue the argument like we hadn't had an 8 hours in between. He won't even know what I'm talking about. In this situation he will pick me up.  Literally. He does that when I'm getting negative-heavy and my emotions start weighing me down. He lifts me off my feet and it's impossible not to laugh.  The boys are used to it, I guess he does it a lot.  He lifted me in the checkout line at Costco once and it was very embarrassing.  But it worked.

There I was, in my car, feeling the aftershocks of anger despite everyone else involved in the exact same situation had clearly moved on.  Clearly there are things to be learned from our children. In this case, the tsunami had hit, washed away all the damage and by all accounts the sea was calm again.  Except within me. Everyone knows in a tsunami, you try and make it to higher ground, to save yourself from being swept away.  I had to make my way up to the higher part of myself that could see past the horrific morning.

Right before I got out of the car, I received a text.  I have friends that will just text a simple Good morning, and rather than responding with a list of why it wasn't, I took inventory as to why it was.  I mean, before it went bad, it was actually quite good. This text was my chance.  I could respond with a generic emoji smiley face or I could respond back with all honesty.  I typed back, Good morning and I decided at that moment to believe it.