Thursday, March 23, 2017

No Filter

I asked my husband to change the light bulb in our bathroom because it had gone out. He has a fascination with light bulbs, always searching for the most energy efficient one he can find.  When I returned to the bathroom, there was nothing efficient about this one, other than the fact it was scorching my retinas.  I needed sunglasses it was so bright. We live in a house that was built in 1941, and whatever light bulb he screwed in was making a buzzing sound.

There in front of me was a woman who is about to turn 40.   I immediately closed my eyes, one because it was bright, and two because I was nervous.   Do I have the courage to really examine this face under the harsh reality of this light?

What I have noticed lately, especially on social media, is the filters.  I have an iPhone, but a friend told me that the Android phone has an app that can make your skin look flawless and even slim it.   There is a filter for everything.  I'm sure iPhone has it, but beyond Instagram, I'm clueless about these.

I recently had head shots done with a fantastic creative photographer. He used natural light and sent me the proofs the same day.  I wondered how he could edit them so quickly and he told me that he hadn't.   This scared me.

In the past month, I have had two incidents that I'm afraid to look at my own face.  What am I afraid of?  If I can't look at my face just the way it is, how can I be confident for anyone else would want to?

I took a deep breath and looked in the mirror.   I have dark spots on my face, not from sun damage, but from a condition called melasma that sometimes goes away after pregnancy, mine stuck. Since I don't have stretch marks on my face,  I apparently needed a facial reminder of the kids I have carried.  I see a few lines around my eyes. A few hairs that shouldn't be there.  Eyebrows that are unruly.  I see a chicken pox scar that has been in every single one of my school photos since I was seven years old.  I also see the face that my boys see when they look at me.   The same face that my youngest touches constantly, so much so, that sometimes I don't even notice.   Just like when I look at my mom,  I see beauty even when she doesn't.

My oldest son is about to turn 14 and told me that he prefers when I don't wear makeup. Not because he thinks I look beautiful without it, but because he thinks I don't look like myself with it.

What if you could post a picture of yourself the way your children see you?   Sure, I'm not about to stop wearing makeup because truthfully, I prefer the way I look with it.  But I don't want to get to the point that I will stop doing things I love if I don't have access to it.

I love working out, that is not a secret.  The people I work out with are some of my best friends. There is no filter.  There are no flattering lights in the gym. There isn't a slimming mirror.  At times, I have sweat dripping everywhere, my clothes are stuck to me, I probably don't smell great, my hair that was in a tight ponytail is now half loose.  At times I have snot running down my lip and calluses bleeding on my hands.  It may not sound pretty, but it is when I feel the most beautiful.

Life doesn't happen in aesthetically pleasing filters. Beauty is found in reality.  It's found in the middle of the night when I hear one of the boys have a nightmare and my face is what gives them comfort.   I remember talking to a friend who was upset and crying and I thought to myself that she had never looked more raw, real or more beautiful.

Why filter out the good stuff?

So the next time I think I should add a filter to my Instagram post, I'm going to ask myself, what I'm trying to hide?  Is it the things that make me, me? The things that make the people I hold closest to my heart love me?

I had coffee with a friend of mine (who also is my trainer) yesterday and was voicing my concerns about my body. Specifically, the amount of time that I spend in the gym and that I don't think my body reflects that.  He asked me what I was comparing myself to.  I told him I would think about that, but the truth is, I knew, I just wasn't willing to admit it.

I was comparing myself to something that doesn't exist.  A time filtered image of myself, 20 years younger.   A version of myself that was great, but was just getting started.  Just like our house, the imperfections are what make it a home.

And the truth is, I want to look like I have lived because the last 20 years I have.. and then some. Even if I did try and hide that, if someone saw me in real life it would be very obvious.   I saw a woman whom I'm friends with on social media at a meeting, and I couldn't believe how different she looked. Not bad, just different than what I see in her posts.  I don't want that.  I want to look like me.

Today I had one of the most challenging workouts I have ever done.  It was more mentally challenging than physical. And my friend just kept talking to me, telling me not to stop, not to worry about the people around me, or my body that was telling me to quit.  He encouraged me to just keep going because he knew I could do it.  And I did.  And I felt amazing.

I went home and put my phone on the table and returned to mommy mode. While I was making eggs, I casually mentioned that I did 210 burpees to my boys and Jack wanted to give me a hug.  Because I snap photos of everything, Oscar took a picture.   Sure, I could look at it and see the sweat, the rolls, the dark spots, but instead I will choose to look at the arms around my neck.  A hug is a way of telling me "good job."  And his expression shows it.

The best filter you can add is life.  Even if you have been through hell and back, it looks so much better than a life-less air-brushed face.

As I approach my 40th trip around the sun, I'm going to try and see myself as I am, not as I was, not as someone else. No filter. Just me.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

Making a Choice to Jump

When I was ten years old, I waited until the very last day of summer camp to jump off of the high dive.  The camp was in Michigan on a beautiful lake.  I can't tell you exactly how high the high dive was, but to me, it seems like it must have reached the clouds.
I remember everything about the moment right before I jumped.  Climbing the stairs, the wind, the lifeguards, my cabin mates cheering me on, my worn out swimsuit that had pilling all over the butt and was giving me a massive wedgie, I remember it all. 

I lunged forward at least three times before I actually made the jump.  I didn't look down.  Finally, the whistle blew, and I had to do it.  I just made the choice that I was going to do it, and I might die in the process, but I had mustered up the courage all week. This was the craziest thing I had done in my decade of life. When I stepped off, I regretted the decision immediately.  The 2-second drop felt like it took an hour and when I finally hit the water with my feet, it stung like a mofo.
This was the 80's, and John Mellencamp's song Hurt So Good was popular, and I thought that this is what this song was about.  It hurt, but at the same time, it felt so good.   I was on a high dive high for at least a day, possibly the next decade.

Last Sunday I was in the grocery store picking up stuff I had forgotten to get the other four times I was there that weekend when a woman standing behind me asked if I worked at Notre Dame.  I looked down to make sure I wasn't still wearing my name tag and said yes, I do.  "You're the marcher".  And she laughed. I had no idea what she meant, I mean I work in music, but I don't march.   We chatted, and she told me that she works in housekeeping in the business school, and every day she sees me at the same time, with headphones one "marching" through her building.  She said it's funny because she knows it's me by my heels, and I look like I'm having fun.

This is not the first time someone has told me I am heavy on my heels.  When my dad was in the hospital, he said he knew I was coming because he could hear me walking down the hall. 

What the housekeeper must be referring to is the fact that I always have ear buds in my ears. I felt bad for not noticing her when clearly she was noticing me.   It isn't that I'm trying to avoid the reality around me by drowning everyone out. It is that I'm making a choice.

I have mentioned this before, but I have a playlist for almost every occasion.  Before I step out of my car in the parking lot at work, I select my playlist.  It helps motivate me to start my work day, and it makes the 15-minute walk more fun.  What is on my playlist may surprise some people. I know it mortified Parker when he learned that  his mom could recite every word of Caroline by Amine.  More urgently, why the hell does he know that song?  The nastier the gangster rap, the better. No joke.

This is a choice I make.  Yes, there are days when I don't want to do things.  Like, go to work.  But I make a choice to make it enjoyable, like blasting inappropriate raunchy ass music as I pass a campus chapel. It makes me feel rebellious and wild, even though I just dropped off my boys at school, gave them all a kiss and said something like, "Mommy loves you and knows you are going to have a great day!" while giving them lunches in bento boxes with the crusts cut off, and baby carrots for a snack.

There are also times where my husband and I have been having the same argument for the past month and I finally just make a choice to wave the white flag because it doesn't matter who is right or wrong. I'm choosing to live the rest of my life with this person; I might as well make it enjoyable. That is an adult example of hurting so good.  Thanks, John Mellencamp.

By shifting my thought process, I can make a choice to love rather than dislike.  And trust me, there have been several times this year that hate or self-doubt has crept in and I have to hit it like a wack a mole and send it back down. And it will keep popping up, trust me.  But I have the power because I have the mallet.

As I'm walking into work listening to music that I should have a hard time relating too, but somehow can manage to make it about my life,  I see my reflection in a window.  I see a professional-ish woman in heels, with her hair tied back in a bun because she didn't have time to dry it.  Whose make up is the best she could do with drug store concealer and lip gloss. Who is carrying the same Kate Spade messenger bag her parents bought her for college.  Who looks pretty damn good for what she has been through already this morning.   But when I look closely, I still see that little blond girl on the highdive.  Eager to jump, but scared. In retrospect, I love that little tomboy.   I don't want to ever lose sight of her when I see my reflection.

Some days I do, and those are the hardest days. I have to make a choice to reconnect with who I am.  At the very core of myself, I choose not to let that little version of me slip away. Some days it is harder to see her,  buried under all the adulting I have to do, or have chosen to do. But beneath the mortgage, bills, marriage, parenthood,  she is the one who holds the key to what truly makes me happy.   And today, what makes me happy is gangsta rap.

That ten year old version of myself  is the one who will remind me to take a leap of faith into the unknown every single time.

I gaze a bit longer at my reflection- not long enough to find faults in my hips but long enough to find the beauty that every child has, and every adult has if they allow themselves to see it.

Our kid spirit and drive never leave us, they are still there.  We just have to make a choice to see them.

Monday, January 23, 2017

You Are Not the Boss of My Talent

Weekday mornings in my home are peaceful, and rather quiet until five minutes before we need to leave. It is then that everyone feels like I have somehow deceived them and I'm leading them down the path to Satan by telling them it's time to go.   Even though it is the same time every day.  Someone doesn't have their clothes on; another just remembered an assignment is due.  Inevitably someone has to go poop.  Or has forgotten to eat breakfast. Yet all of them are angry that I would have the nerve to suggest that we need to leave the house.
To give you perspective, I work out, return from working out, make breakfast, clean up breakfast, take a shower, get ready for work in the time it takes for Oscar to put on one sock.  Socks are his nemesis.
It is the same conversation most mornings.  Don leaves before us, and can't be interrupted from the conversation he is having with Alexa.
"Alexa, what time are the Steelers playing the Blah blahs?"
" I do not understand the question."
So he says it louder. She does not respond.  Then he calls her a bad name, and I stand up for her because we women have to stick together. And he knows that the only way he can call a woman a name in front of me is if she is a cylinder audio system. Eventually, he leaves without his answer, and I'm left to get everyone to school on time.

 I have heard that it is hard to wrangle cats, but I think those people have never tried to wrangle sloths.  It is much harder. Especially when two of the sloths weigh more than I do.
I had finally gotten the majority of them out the door when I couldn't find Oscar.   The only time he is quiet is when I'm looking for him. When I finally found him, he was playing Minecraft and crying.  The thought of playing Minecraft makes me cry too, but for different reasons.
He was upset because he couldn't make it past a level that all his brother's, and apparently every US citizen can.  (His words, not mine.)  I told him to turn the tablet off and get his other sock on and get in the car.  He didn't listen, so naturally, I got louder.
I read an article recently about how there is a way to get your kids to do what you want them to without yelling. And its a scam.  My voice is at an octave that is unheard unless I yell.  As I crammed his Fred Flintstone foot into a sock I told him that he lost his Minecraft privilege until further notice.   Then he said, "You are not the boss of my talent."
Before I went into an orbit of anger about how he shouldn't be talking to me like that, or that Minecraft wasn't a talent, I thought about what he said.
Sometimes kids say things that are completely nonsensical. Like when he told me that he had seen a racoon eat a frog.  But this, this made sense!
You are not the boss of my talent.
It was exactly what I needed to hear at that very moment. Nobody is the boss of your talent.  That is what is so fantastic about a talent.  You are the boss of it.
In my career, I have had some pretty awful bosses.  I have had some good ones too, though. But the horrible ones leave scars.  Scars that make me doubt I'm competent or capable.  Those rackets sometimes come up when I have a tough day (like last week.)
But what no boss or person can tell me, is how to do my talent.  I'm the only one. And if I view it as my talent, it's not subjective. 
One talent that I have is persistence. It starts as an idea, and until I get what I want, I keep trying.
Example: Four boys.
Did I give up when I didn't have a girl? No, but I did when I realized my body had produced enough healthy babies in this lifetime.
This past weekend, as a friend and I were making posters for the women's march, she said, "Noelle, you are a boss woman." I didn't know exactly what that meant, I mean, I do have a tendency to be bossy, yet, I have never actually been the boss of anyone. But just that night, this came across my Instagram feed.

Well hot damn, I guess I am a boss woman! (At least I try to be on most days.) Thankfully I surround myself with other boss women, and men for that matter.   I recently found out that a woman said some nasty things about me. Not the good Nasty, the bad kind. And she is now on my list of women who I do not want to be associated with.  Unless she changes directions and can support women as a whole and not tear them down.  If she does this, then I will make space for her at my table, but until then, I'm not holding up dinner for her. 

The truth is, we all have talents, some people hide them (lame) others put them out into the universe.  If they make you happy, then it can only be right. You may paint or do pottery, do you like it? Good. Nobody else needs to.
My dad is a phenomenal artist, and won't sell his art. Rather, he gifts it to people because nobody is the boss of his talent.
Just remember what a wise 6-year-old said during his sock resistance, next time you doubt yourself.

Nobody is the boss of your talent.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Heartbreak and Jedi training

I was talking to a friend of mine about our past.  He was saying that it would be so great to go back in time and do things differently.  He said he would go back to high school and not give a f*c# about what anyone said or did.  I get that.  But junior high and high school are what taught me about emotions, or more importantly how to handle them, or even more crucial, how to not handle them.

I was 15 when I had my first heartbreak.  I remember the day that my boyfriend told me it was over.  More than heartbreak, my body felt broken. In that very moment, everything hurt.  Like my heart sent out a panic button to my brain that I must shut down. I couldn't even cry. I was so shocked and just terribly sad.  I couldn't sleep, and I couldn't eat.  All I could do was write.

I can look back on that and think it was overly dramatic, but at the time, it felt so real. 

I still have those journals; tucked away in a closet.  A few years ago I pulled them out and read a few pages.   If there was ever a time when I wanted to go back, it would be then. I want to shake myself and say "It will be okay, it is not the end of the world!" but, even if I did that, my 15-year old self wouldn't have been able to hear it.

What I think about looking back now, isn't so much about the boy because like an old cologne or perfume, as soon as you smell it, it takes you back to that person, or moment in your life without any effort.  I have a strong emotional memory and I can feel, albeit dull and diluted, the same pain all over again.

But what I can see even more clearly now than I did then,  is my Mom.  How she didn't tell me to get over it.  She sat at the end of my bed.  She bought several boxes of tissues without prompting. She listened... and listened... and listened.  As I fell apart into tiny teen pieces.  Of course, she had a million other things to do that I, as her daughter, didn't even notice. She let me work through it.  She didn't try and fix me.

She is such a strong woman, she must have known this was just a test in my strong woman Jedi training.

On Monday I found myself in a similar situation, but now the roles had reversed.  I was sitting with my son, and he has just told me that he broke up with his girlfriend. Now, I realize he is 13 and that this relationship is as complicated as a stoplight, but to him, it was his first girlfriend, and to me, it was my first experience on this side.

How wonderful that I have this opportunity to influence a boy to see the girl's side of things.
Not shocking in 2017,  he had done this over text,  and I tried to explain that he should have at least done it over Facetime, or God forbid a phone call. But I had to remember that almost their entire relationship was over text, so I refrained from being too judgemental.
I just told him that whatever he texted, would probably be read to her friends and analyzed by her.  I also explained that she would wonder what is wrong with her.  I know I'm thinking for a 13-year-old girl, and I really don't know for sure, but I sure as hell know that when I feel rejected, even as a 39-year-old woman, I still wonder what is wrong with me.

I told him to be a gentleman. To be honest, kind and respectful.

It was interesting to see the other side of things. The boy side.  Now, I can't speak for my boyfriend who broke up with me, but there isn't nearly as much complexity that I thought there was back in 1993.  My son said, he just wasn't having fun anymore.  Nothing is wrong with her, he doesn't think she is ugly; there is nobody else.  He was just bored. And I don't blame him! How much fun can texting be after 6 months?  I'm sure my boyfriend's feelings were probably the same thing, but he didn't tell me that. And I spent a long time (that I don't regret) processing those feelings of rejection.

What I really wanted was for my son to have a foundation to build on that he may reflect on in the future when his heart gets broken someday.  Because it will.  If he is anything of an empath like his mother is, he is guaranteed too.

When I was done talking to him I called my Mom.  She is the first person I want to bounce ideas off of, who I want to know if I'm doing the right thing, or if I'm totally screwing up.  She listened...and listened... and listened.  If she knew how to order tissues over Amazon Prime, she would have sent them across the country in an instant.

She let me work through it.  I could almost hear a sense of pride in her voice. It wasn't just about my son, I went on to discuss what is wrong with the world, and how hard it is going to be to raise gentleman, and on and on. Because if there is one thing I am good at, it's snowballing worries from every minuscule aspect of not only my life, but my friend's lives, and stranger's lives.

She just listened. And by the end of the conversation, I felt better.

I'm far from completing my strong woman Jedi training. But I think I may have just gotten to a new level.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I have Confidence

When I was in second grade, my music teacher, Ms. Bellsauce assigned songs from the movie Sound of Music for us to learn.  I sat in the music room eagerly waiting for my turn. My friends and I wanted to sing "Favorite Things" together.  My second choice was the "So long, Farewell" song.  But, when she got to me, she said "Noelle you will be singing  I Have Confidence".  I was devastated.  Not only did I not get a cool song, I got the one song I had no idea what it meant.  I didn't want to sing alone either. 

She sang each of the songs for us, and then we left with the sheet music to learn.  I remember practicing with my mom and brother in the car.    I began to like the song and when it was time to sing it in music class, I nailed it.  Not Tony award worthy, but for an eight-year-old I did pretty well.

That song is on my favorite playlist on Spotify.  When it's not on a loop in my head, it is playing in the background.   I met with Ms. Bellsauce for coffee a couple years ago.  I reached out to her because she was still teaching at my elementary school, and I needed to ask her a few questions relating to my current job.    I told her how much singing that song had influenced my life and how crazy it was that a random decision could mean so much to a kid.  30 years later and she told me there was nothing random about that decision.  She chose the song for me because I lacked... confidence. 

Confidence is something I have had to work on very hard.  It does not come easy.  Early on, I discovered that I had physical confidence.  There wasn't a sport I didn't try, or that I didn't excel.  Being athletic gave me body confidence.  I celebrated what my body could do.  Of course, when I got to high school there was a brief moment when I thought girls shouldn't beat boys at soccer and I would act shy, and not run after the ball. But then I woke up once I discovered that was idiotic, and not nearly as much fun.

The confidence I had in my athletic ability, unfortunately, didn't carry over to other aspects of my life.  

I'm an extremely slow learner.  I can read things to learn, but I can understand things much better if someone explains it to me.  Or if I ask questions.  Sometimes the same question, again and again.   So I would do this in class and kids began to notice.   I quickly earned a reputation for being stupid.   Now, I admit, I can be a bit ditzy at times, but it is only because I have about ten things going on in my mind at once.

Once you get a reputation its kind of  hard to shake. And I began to believe it.   And once you form an opinion about something, no matter what it is, you will continue to believe it until you are shown something different.

It seemed that the older I got, the less confident I was becoming.

The first time I recall singing I have confidence was on my way to my an interview for an internship with a production company in California. I got it.

The next time was drumming up the courage to kiss a handsome guy sitting on the bar stool next to me at Harvell's on 4th Street in Santa Monica. He kissed me back.

I had to work really hard to graduate from high school.  Doubly hard in college. I recall singing I have confidence on my way to my last final exam in college.  I passed.

I hummed it right before I walked down the aisle to marry the guy from the bar.

I blared it in my car on my way to my first post-college interview at a radio station and I got that too.

I have confidence the world can all be mine, I have to agree, I have confidence in me

It sounds silly, but that song has given me such courage when I have lacked it. My brain is telling me, I'm stupid, not pretty enough, not thin enough, not smart enough, not funny enough,  not ___________ enough.

I just applied for grad school.  During the entire process, I found reasons why this was a horrible idea. I'm almost 40. I have been working for the past 15 years in the field, what more could I learn? I have four young kids and a mortgage and a million other adult expenses.   Plus, I'm a slow learner, I'm lucky to have just gotten out of college in five years. Plus I had to get my transcripts and ask people for recommendation letters. Who the hell is going to recommend me?

But I just did it, stopped making excuses and just applied, and after what felt like an eternity (2 weeks) I was accepted.  Somewhere in the acceptance letter it said that Me, Mommy, was going to be going to graduate school, not only that, they WANTED me.  Had I listened to my doubts instead of my recording of Julie Andrews, I may have never applied.

The courage to serve them with reliance,
Face my mistakes without defiance.
Show them I'm worthy
And while I show them
I'll show me!

I created the Mamalogues out of a crazy idea I had one night. Had I just left it on the table, and never followed through,  it would have never existed. And what is the purpose of our staged show? To give women a voice, to give them a platform and get this.. to give them confidence.

I see so many great things in other people, but I am blind to seeing those things in myself. 

But for whatever reason, this letter of acceptance, it meant a lot to me.  Not for the degree, but for the crazy notion that I believed that this stupid girl who failed algebra two, four times could even have a chance.

Whenever I feel defeated or scared I call my mom. I think she has a list stored in her phone of all my " adult milestones" that she recites in an effort to remind me of everything I have done with my life.
"You graduated college with honors" she still says it with a bit of shock in her voice.
I reply " But it took me five years!"
"You had four babies"
I reply " But I had c-sections"
"You got married"
I reply " Because I gave him an ultimatum" Not really, but I did mention that I wasn't going to wait forever.. ( I was 24 when we got married)

"But" I begin, and she always stops me because she already knows that I'm going to go into a rant about someone else, who has had five babies, and has three PhD's and makes 5 million dollars and has not only a husband but a boyfriend too and... (Just kidding on that part).

I begin to lack confidence most when I start comparing myself to others.  If someone is beautiful, does that make me less pretty? If someone is intelligent, does that make me stupid? If someone appears to have all their shit together does that mean I don't? 

I have a friend who in an artist and lives in Santa Fe. She didn't finish college, she doesn't have children and isn't married. But she is the most bad ass cool, independent, wonderfully happy, radiant woman I know.  She is so cool that she doesn't even have a Facebook account.  And sure, she is wonderfully confident in her life and her career. 

Her confidence in just being who she is, not trying to impress anyone or one up anyone. She just creates, and exists and is perfectly content.  What she creates is one of a kind.  What I create is one of a kind, what anyone creates is unique and can't be compared, especially if it is original.

Ms. Bellsauce knew this, even in a class of 2nd graders.  Confidence should come from within. I'm almost 40 and still learning this, and it isn't something that a degree will give me, I have to figure it out on my own.

Yesterday morning as I left a particularly difficult workout I started to tell myself untruths.  I was cursing myself for eating like crap over break, for drinking too much, for not sleeping enough.  Then I literally stopped.  It was an effort to calibrate.  Instead of adding to my list of gripes that I was lame for putting myself down, I decided to think something positive.

I'm here. I'm healthy. I'm breathing. I'm loved. My car is going to start. And I took a step.

With each step I occupied my thoughts with something, anything, as long as it wasn't negative.

By the time I got home I had already built my confidence to a acceptable level to face a day of work, and I did it all without calling my mom. Which I'm sure she is grateful considering she is on West coast time.

All I trust I leave my heart to,
All I trust becomes my own!
I have confidence in confidence alone.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Out of Body Parenting

I have played soccer most of my life. It has always been my go-to sport when I feel like I need to have my butt handed to me. Or when I want to meet new friends.  When I returned to soccer after my first son was born it was almost as painful as the birth itself.

I was on a co-ed team that wasn't exactly thrilled that a new mom who was postpartum just 8 weeks decided it was a good idea to play soccer while nursing.  I missed many passes because I was trying to decipher if my son's cry was a hungry, poopy or tired cry. I would look to my husband to see if he was giving me the sign that I needed to get off the field to feed our baby.

Yesterday I sat in the very same building, but now I am on the sidelines, and the baby that I nursed is on the field.  He is 13.  For a moment I had a complete out of body experience. The kind you have when you are floating above your body and can see everything from a bird's eye view.   I don't look that old, do I? I mean, yes, my son is taller than me,  but I would swear I know exactly what it felt like to hold him in my arms.

How in the hell did I get here?  I really don't feel that so many years can pass by so quickly when  Monday afternoon feels like an eternity.   He was staring at me from across the field. He made some kind of tackle or something. Whatever it was, it must have been big because he was looking to me to give him the thumbs up.  Which I frantically did,  which caused him to be mortified and then act like he didn't know who I was.

So, I folded my hands in my lap and acted like a good mom should.  I reached  in my purse to down a bottle of water because I had unintentionally drank a little too much the night before. I mean, nowadays its never intentional.  The days of trying to get drunk on purpose are long past.  I can still be that fun party girl, but in his eyes, I'm... well, a Mom.

*DISCLAIMER* It has come to my attention that some of his girl friends learned about my blog and now read it.  Just stop now.  Nothing to see here.  Nothing to tease him about at school.  Boring Mom stuff from now on.

The two of us had a turbulent week. I had taken him to get his hair cut on Monday. I  almost cried as I watched him ask the stylist about her Thanksgiving, and tell her about ours. He was so mature.  And when we left, we ran into a friend's parent and he shook his hand and told him to have a good night.  That is my boy, I thought. I must be doing something right.

By Tuesday, he had made his brother cry, filmed it and was going to post it on snap chat.  I didn't even know he had snap chat account. But this really made me angry.  So, I took his phone away. I was making dinner at that moment, and I almost submerged his phone in a pot of crock-pot chili.  But I didn't.  Instead, I let him know how I felt.

I can't and I won't have my son be a boy who bullies anyone, especially his brother.  I refuse to raise a jerk, even though the world is filled with them.

In addition to this cyber atrocity, I found out he had attempted to insult his brother by calling him a feminist.  A feminist.  A FEMINIST.  Now I wanted to place his phone in the oven with the cornbread so he could watch his social life melt away.

I understand, sometimes the teen brain has a short circuit, and they say inconsiderate asinine things.  But this needed some explaining.  He knew by my expression and sarcastic tone that I was upset. I turned around and asked him to explain what that meant, and how it was that he was using that as a put-down to his brother.  Before he could give me a sad, unsatisfactory answer I went on a 15-minute rant about how women are just as equal to men. How because of strong women, I am able to not only work, but have a family too.   How women have come a long way, but still have a long way to go, and I would be damned if he grows up to be a man who stand in the way of that.  I explained that he may not have a sister, but he has a strong mother and anything he generalizes about the female sex he is essentially saying about me or his grandmothers or his aunts.  And with that, I have a problem.

I found myself again in an out of body experience with a bird's eye view of a mom trying desperately to understand her child's actions.  I  was witnessing a woman who really didn't know what she was doing, but was tying so hard to play it off like she knew where her rant was going.

He sat there at the kitchen table playing with a Cheerio left from breakfast.  His expression didn't look much different than when he was a toddler sitting in that exact spot doing the same thing.  I wanted to shake him and hug him at the same time.   He didn't argue about the phone. He didn't attempt to make excuses.  I told him I was done and he stood up.  I thought he was going to his room to sulk, but instead, he headed over to the utensils and began setting the table.  He then took the garbage out.

He is still that gentleman from the day before, he had just had a serious lapse in judgement.

At dinner, we always go around the table and discuss our high and low points for the day.  When it got to me, I said my high point was applying to grad school; my low point was the discussion I had with Parker.  When it got to him, he said his low point and high point was his discussion with me. Nobody besides his younger brother knew what we were talking about.

I could blame the media, or music, or the bible, or whatever source I could find to support my excuse as to why my son did and said the things he did that day.  But it doesn't matter. Whatever motivated him at 13 years old to say and do those things is inconsequential.  What matters most, is that someone noticed and spun him around to see that the person he was hurting with his inconsiderate remarks and actions wasn't' just his brother, it was his mother, the generations of people who have suffered at the hands of a bully.

If his discussion with me was a high point and that was his attempt at an olive branch, I took it.   That out of body experience I was having earlier has dissipated and the weight of motherhood is firmly grounded in my gut.  I'm here and as hard and ugly and funny and heavy things get and are going to get, we will get through it together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

For that, I am Grateful

This morning I attended a prayer service at my son's school.  I love this service.  Its all about being grateful and giving thanks for all that we have.

Last year Thanksgiving fell on my brother's birthday.  In our family, this holiday always means a lot of people, a lot of food and a turkey bowl, where someone ends up getting hurt and crying on the sidelines.  But, because my Dad was in the hospital, we all ( 21 of us) traveled up to Chicago and gathered by his side and celebrated in the hospital cafeteria.   We sang happy birthday to my brother. We all have our own special part in this song.  Since I'm the youngest, I have always taken the high notes, and when sung together, it sounds pretty amazing.  Although, as I discovered last Friday when I sang to my best friend on a stupid live feed video, when sung alone it doesn't sound that great.

And we didn't have a turkey bowl, but we did end up going to a friend's house and had one there.  And true to form, someone got hurt and ended up on the sidelines.

Getting to the school this morning wasn't easy.  Oscar insisted on finding matching gloves. It would have been faster for me to take out knitting needles and knit him a matching set than it took for him to find his own.  Which we didn't and if you see a kid on the playground with one glove on, that is why.   On the ride there we heard more news about the election, a bad school bus accident, another shooting.  When I walked in, I felt the weight on my shoulders.  Why is the world so painful? I thought.

And it went on.....

Why do I have to work so hard to fix other people's mistakes? Why do I have to work at all actually? Why don't elementary teachers make as much as professors?  Why do I have to do everything for everyone all the time? Why do some of my family members piss me off so much?  The litany of sorrows filled my mind and I was ready to tell the first person who I came into contact with just how painful my life was feeling.

I sat alone, out of the way but was told I was in a row that was going to be occupied by kids soon, so I stood up and sat in the row behind me with one other person in it.   A woman who was wearing a bandana on her head.   I stepped over her and sat down.  I then turned to her and introduced myself.  Within moments of chatting she explained that she had breast cancer, and not only that, she was 6 months pregnant.

What was I complaining about again?

I sat by her and watched as she took several photos of her kids. As she sang the hymns loudly.  As she embraced every fricking second of the moment.   Her warmth and happiness penetrated my cold outlook.    When it was time to give silent thanks, I thanked God that I sat next to her.

When we sang the last song which was just "Amen" sung over and over again, I looked around.  My view had finally been defrosted, and I could see clearly.  My entire family was there.  Several of my friends.  Including one, that when I actually read her t-shirt, it said "Grateful" on it.

I usually don't sing in public.  But, I couldn't help it.  Just like my family's birthday song, when we sing together it sounds so much better. And here I was with a bunch of children and a few babies, and my own babies, even though they are all huge, and my husband and my friends and my son's friends, and teachers and my new friend and I was not about to not join them in this song of gratitude.

I'm thankful for the things I can touch in my life, that I can hold, but even more, I'm so grateful for the things I can't.  The kindness that surrounds me, the love I feel as my 6-year-old waves frantically at me even though I had just seen him 3 minutes earlier. My husband who put down his keys and coffee to zip up my skirt for me before he left for work.  The wrinkles in the shirt that my 12-year-old is wearing because he folded his laundry himself. The bed hair of my 9-year-old who has been rehearsing so hard to be the best Tommy Bailey in his first play "It's a Wonderful Life". And my 13-year-old, who asked me to meet him in the school lobby so he could give me a hug before I went to work.

I may not have the answers to the world's problems, but sitting around and complaining about them is not going to help. There will always be someone who has it so much worse than you can imagine and who can focus on what is good and do what is right.  You don't need anything to do what is right other than kindness to others. Not just my others. But everyone's others.  Everyone has others, and I will be kind to them. And that includes being nice to yourself too.

Last year as we sat in a sterile, cold hospital cafeteria in the middle of downtown Chicago, I thought it couldn't get much worse than it was. Today, one year later,  and it is one of my happiest memories of my family all together.

It's perspective.  And the times that I thought I would most want to forget are now the lessons that will stick with me forever.  For that, I am grateful.

Friday, October 28, 2016

One Step Away from the Edge

This morning I stepped up to the edge of a self-deprecation bridge, overlooking a choppy sea of nastiness and doubt that I thought I had submerged a long time ago.  I was about to dive head first and hit the rocky bottom.

 I have crossed this bridge several hundreds of times.  I cross it in away similar to how I used to run past the basement door when I was a kid.  I was convinced that there were blood sucking zombies in our basement that could only feed on me to survive.  So I would walk down the hallway, but just as I reached the door, I would sprint for my life.

So this proverbial bridge is kind of like that.  When I see my path reaching it, I sprint across to avoid the temptation of jumping.  I've jumped before.  It's not fun.  Then I spend a week or more climbing back out of the sea to solid ground.  In this process, I usually bring down a few friends and people with me.  Don had a premonition I would be taking this journey.

How did my path lead me to this point?   I have had some serious things come up in my family life that have weighed heavily on me.   The issues may not even be that big of a deal.  While some people's emotions feel like a cool breeze kissing their face on a warm Fall day. Mine feel like a hurricane spitting on my face on a freezing winter day.  It's shocking and gross and leaves me standing there wondering what just happened.

So the past few weeks my stress level has been pretty high on the charts.  Today, as I was driving the boys to school and listening to them argue over the music choice,  a black cat was sitting in the middle of the road.   Just sitting there and when we pulled up it looked like it was equally annoyed. Maybe it has a superstition about black cars.  So we sat there, playing chicken on who was going to cross whose path.  The cat won, and took its time walking in front of our car.

After I dropped the boys off at school and had each of them generously offer the back of their head for me to kiss, I was on my way to my annual health screening.  (This is where Don may have had a clue that I was going to have a bad day.)  He also had a health screening, but he chose not to go with me.

They take blood and test your cholesterol, your blood pressure, your weight, and your self-esteem in one easy swoop.

I am NEVER happy with my numbers. Even if they are an improvement over last year. Why? Because in my mind, they should be different.  In preparation, I gave myself a pep-talk.  But by the time they are handing me my paper with all my stats I start to see that bridge in the horizon.

You see, I work my ass off.  I downplay it sometimes, but if the average person knew my commitment to a healthy lifestyle, they would be shocked, not to mention annoyed, and that is why I don't share it with many people.   My reward for this, I feel, should be that I can choose what the scale, or test reads. But nope.

Add the fact that some recent things in the media have regurgitated painful memories that I have suppressed.  And top that off with the fact that we have the presidential circus going on and it is no wonder I find myself standing on the edge of the bridge about to jump.

But this time, I took a breath. And stepped back off the ledge, reached for my phone and started texting my workout buddies.  The people who see me at my most raw state, without makeup on, without pretense.  Texting my friends is like shooting a flare out into the sky. I hope someone sees it and responds quickly, but they all have careers and are busy and  I don't know if they even have their phone.  But today, they did.  I didn't even send a text like.. SOS jumping off a self-doubt bridge.  It was more like "tell me again why numbers don't really matter?" My workout friends get this, and they get me. I didn't even have to add,  P.S. Help. P.S. I'm about to dive into a pint of Talenti gelato.

And they all did.  They offered the hand I needed to help me step down.

The health screening wasn't the total issue; it was just the bump in an otherwise stressful week that put me there.

Lesson learned is, don't underestimate your friends.   I don't ever like asking for help, but my friends helped me see what was good which was staring at me in black and white. They didn't dismiss my concern as trifling, but didn't honor it either.  They each helped me realize that when you fill your mind with thoughts that you see as negative, you don't have room for the positive to come in.

They turned a switch and shed light on all that has been great in my week. Including a new friendship,  rekindling an old friendship, a new pair of purple shoes and all the things staring me right in the face that are pretty damn awesome.

Sure, I over think things (obviously) but I also over-love things, and today, that love was reciprocated and the simple gesture that sent me across the bridge.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Living in the Sub-Points

Last weekend I sat at the dining room table with my dad looking at old photographs.

We spend 4-6 weekends with them every Fall.  Yes, we live in the same town.  We also live in a town with a beloved college football team where people will pay big money for homes to rent. Enough money to get us cleaning and organizing and moving our entire family out of our house for 3 days.

So, that is why we move in with my parents for those weekends.  All six of us. It's all for the money. Oh, and the quality time with family...

My parents live in the same house that I grew up in.  My husband and I sleep in the same bed that I have had since 6th grade, and I can assure you, it should not have two adult people in it, especially one who sleeps like a starfish.

 But my parents are more than happy to have us around, and the boys love the extra attention (and junk food) that my mom happily provides because despite what I say, she is going to do it anyway, and I'm not going to argue with her.

As I was looking through the hundreds of photo albums my mom has taken great care to create, I came across one that I hadn't seen. It had pictures of my brother, sister and me in our 1980's glory, most of the photos I have absolutely no memory of them being taken. My mullet and I look like we're having fun though.  Tucked in the back page was a few small black and white photos, that fell out.

One was a picture of my dad around the age of seven with his dog Pete in a boat.  Although my dad has been through hell this past year, when he looked at this picture he was transported to that very place.  He knew exactly where it was taken and for a moment, I witnessed him mentally transport himself to a young boy, just like that.

My grandfather was a successful lawyer who practiced law even into his 90's but that isn't what my dad thinks about when he reflects on his childhood. He thinks about a boat, a dog, and an afternoon floating around Silver lake with his Dad.

For so long, I defined my success by my title, or what I was going to "be" when I grew up.   I wanted so badly to be an actress. I love acting, yes, but what I discovered is that I loved the idea of fame more. Because in my mind, this would mean I was successful. Luckily I figured out early on how wrong I was.

My job is in publicity; my role is daughter, sister, friend, aunt, wife, mother.  But those are just roman numerals on my outline.What is filling the sub-points, and even the subsidiary ideas under the sub-points are what make me interesting.  Yes, I'm a daughter, but do you know the story about how my dad and I took dance lessons so we would get our father/daughter dance right at my wedding, and we still tripped over our feet? Or how my mom and I get coffee together and sit in the car and talk about nothing?  Or how about how they both know that I still sleep with a pillow that was given to me by my grandmother when I was a baby?

I'm a wife, yes, but what about the time when Don and I cried on the kitchen floor with our first newborn son because we were exhausted and had no idea what we were doing.

Or the first time we lost one or sometimes two of our children in a corn maze.

Or when Don attached a wagon to our dog and the dog chased a squirrel while two of our sons went along for the ride and all of us were screaming.

Or the time when Finegan was two and  fell asleep face first in a plate full of rice and beans at La Esperanza. Even the owner remembers that.   It's the subtext of my life that measures success. And none of those instances would be considered good parenting, or even mediocre parenting for that matter.

On Sunday, we went to church with my parents and the sermon was about our legacy.  What are people going to remember about us when we are gone? Maybe someone will define me as a publicist, actress or writer, but what I hope more than anything is that it is more than that.  I hope my boys, family and friends get that look when they think of me. The look that my dad had when he saw the picture of himself on a boat with his dog.

I want to be a funny memory or a story, that lives deep within the hearts of the people I love the most.

For the people who I have loved who are gone now, I don't care about what they did for a living, I don't even remember. What I remember is how they made me feel when I was with them, and the blast we had making the most of our sub-points.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My Baby Has a Crush

Last Friday morning I was going about my normal morning routine.  I set the breakfast table, and next to each of the boy's juice glass, I leave a vitamin gummy.    It's super cheesy, I know, but my mom did it for me, and I have continued this instinctively without even realizing it. 
Four little gummies. I even pick out each of the boy's favorite colors. 

I once told my therapist that I like having all my birds in the nest. It not only makes me feel happy and hen-like, but it gives me a sense of control. Something  I need a lot of.  Hence the reason for the therapist.

I went about my day, happily knowing that I even packed a healthy lunch for them in their color coded reusable lunch containers.  (Again, control issues, I know).  

My oldest son is now 13 and to my knowledge, up until 4 p.m. that evening, he liked football, dogs, video games, friends,  fighting with his brothers and eating copious amounts of food at one time.  But at 4:01 p.m. my world came to a halt. 

He had asked to go to a high school football game with his friends.  Although this made me feel uneasy and out of control, I agreed to it, because that is what I need to do according to my therapist. If it were up to me, I would lock them all in the house for popcorn and movie night, even if it was against their will.  But I'm trying to make progress, so I agreed.

But when I asked him why his sudden interest in high school football came about, he said he wanted to see a girl.  I could hear screeching tires in my brain.  Wait, what?  A girl? Who is this "girl" ( heavy on the air quotes) and why is my son being so honest with me? Couldn't he have said, he wanted to check the school out, or he likes football? Here he was, being all honest.   As cool as I tried to be, I'm sure my face had all of the above written all over it.

I immediately texted Don asking if he knew about this "girl" who our son was wanting to meet at the game.  His response was just " yes".  It turns out everybody knew but me.  Maybe I was too busy treating him as a six-year-old to notice.

So I dropped 3 of his friends and him off at the game.  I watched as the moved their little herd into the front gates.  I waiting in the car to make sure they were safe, and I truth be told, took a few pictures.  My oldest bird had flown the proverbial nest.  I didn't cry or anything. I just looked in the review mirror at myself and thought, how is this even possible?

I called my mom.  Naturally, she wanted to know who the girl was, I said I didn't know, anything other than her name. And that they met through a friend on Instagram.  INSTAGRAM! Is that the 8th grade equivalent of Tinder? Or for the older folks, Match?  

My husband had taken the other boys camping so my mom suggested I go to Target to avoid the empty nest. I was already on my way.

I reminisced that the first time I stepped foot in this Super Target was 13 years prior when my son, who is now a walking hormone was in his little carrier. We would wander the aisles and pick up essentials like, diapers, wine and coffee.

I ended up meeting a few friends out later that night for some drinks and of course talked about this.  To make matters even worse, they told me rumors of what some junior high girls were up to these days.  None of their daughters (of course), but they had intercepted some photos of young girls that were a bit provocative.  I ordered another martini, and we talked about it.  If there is one thing I do when something is on my mind, is I talk about it, ad naseum, until I feel better.   This has been known to drive my husband crazy because we have still not finished a conversation about something that began 14 years ago.

The next day, I felt a little bit more clear-headed and asked my son how it went, meeting the "girl".   Based on the advice from a male friend of mine, he said that I needed to be interested but not weird, just normal and "cool". So I said, " so you like her?" He said, "yeah."   Do you mean, like a girlfriend? "yeah", he said.  My mouth dropped open.  He stood there looking at me. I'm so damn proud of this kid for being honest, but at the same time, I'm feeling reality which had hit me in the face, that he is not a little kid anymore.

I said, "that's cool." and he walked away.

I'm not going to say, I stalked his Instagram account, figuring out her last name and then stalked her mother's Facebook page or anything, but I did come to the realization, that she may be a really down to Earth girl. Who likes, football, dogs and pizza.  And her mom may have pictures of her on her first day of school just like I have. 

He is in Jr. High after all, and it is no secret that when I was his age, I wasn't boy crazy, I was boy certifiably insane.  And that didn't stop until, well, I'm not sure it ever did.  This isn't marriage; it's the first crush.

It was still a perfect opportunity to do a refresher course on the birds and the bees, as well as the talk about boundaries.  To which his response was, "You know I'm in 8th grade, right?"

He meant that he is still young, and what I heard is that he is growing up too damn fast.

Eighth grade.  We are on the threshold of high school and in less than a year, he will be crossing it. 

It reminds me of a time in college when I was in love.  This was before I was attached to a smart phone.  I took my watch off. Covered the clocks in my apartment and put tape over the digital clock in my jeep.   I had a day without time.  I wanted to spend it with this person because I didn't know how long it was going to last, and I didn't want it to end.  It was our day without time, and I never forgot it.  We were suspending the belief that time stood still for us. Love is something that you want to last forever.

I'm not saying that that wasn't love because, for that one day, it certainly felt like it.  But I had no idea what guttural, rip your heart out love was until I felt my son kick me from the inside for the first time.
My love for him has only grown, and the realization that he now is experiencing something that makes him feel, even a tiny minutia of the love I have for him, is a gift,.

I will release any control I mistakenly perceive that I have.

And let him experience it on his own.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Opening my vault

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day. Just to let you know, wine was not a factor in this discussion. That is an important detail that you will understand in a minute.  The next thing I know I am sharing something that I don't share with a lot of people and as the words are coming out of my mouth I'm watching them in slow motion wondering if I could cough, or fake faint to blame my recent admission on a freak seizure.

But it was too late. I shared personal details about my life, and there was no going back.  It wasn't a huge secret or anything, but it wasn't as trivial as the fact that I don't like tomatoes.   My friend didn't even really react.  Our conversation just kept going on, and the sharing continued.

The thing is, I couldn't get it out of my head.  Why did I tell her that?  I understand that when you are having a deep conversation with someone, you usually share intimate stories to become closer. That is what friends do.  But usually wine is involved, and I can turn around the next day and hope that either a.) nobody will remember the conversation or b.) I can blame it on the wine.

But I couldn't do either of these things.

A college roommate that I will refer to as Medusa  once told me that I have built walls around myself and I don't let anyone in.  Which was true in my relationship with her, because she was scary.. hence the nickname Medusa.  But if I learned anything from her other than the fact that she didn't like the "pattern" I vacuumed our rug, it's that she was right.

I will listen to you tell me about your problems, your sex life, your lack of sex life, your digestion issues or your childhood phobias, but I very rarely share back.  In addition to my brick walls I build, I also have an incredible vault that I keep all those secrets in.  That is why people tell me so much I guess.

But here I was, an hour after my conversation with a friend and trying to come up with a way to text her to tell her to delete her memory of everything I shared with her.

As much as I don't want to admit it, I am not okay with vulnerability.  All the personal details of my life I hold inside to protect me from who knows what?  Maybe this feeling I was having right then. Like someone had left the door open to my soul and now all of the cold air was being let in.

I like having control of what I share and when I share it.  And I felt angry with myself that I told someone something that I hadn't prepared to tell them. It must have been her fault; she must have drugged my coffee or something.

My plan B was never to talk to her again.

What is so scary about opening yourself up?

So naturally when I can't figure something out, I take out a pen and start to write.  Write until I come to some kind of conclusion.

This is what I figured out.

I like control. I worry that people won't like me if they find out something that they don't agree with. I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. I don't want to appear weak. I don't want to expose my insecurities; I don't want them having knowledge about me that could be hurtful if we get into an argument in the future. I don't want to lose a friendship.

And there were many many more on that list, but what I began to realize when I was looking it over was that it was all very negative. Every single thing was what I didn't want.  I counted, and I wrote DON'T over a dozen times.

I got a text from my friend the next morning thanking me for listening and that she felt so much better after talking with me. And that it was nice to know she wasn't alone. Followed by several emojis.  And I have to admit; it made me feel better and kind of warm, and not as freaked out. She didn't think any less of me, and I knew I could trust her.

I'm not going to go out with my guns blazing sharing all of my deepest secrets, but I have to admit, that door that I had left open to my soul may have needed a little fresh air. 

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.


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 artistic director. 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, last year we gave to the JWAS Foundation.

The next Mamalogues is on June 15 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.