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Monday, November 13, 2023

It all went by way too fast


The Eulogy of Walter Thomas Gunn

August 3, 1936 – October 13, 2023

Delivered on Wednesday, October 18, 2023

I have been entrusted with the great privilege of delivering our father's eulogy. I have always been the comic relief of my family so I’m not sure my dad remembered that when he wanted me to write this, or maybe that is exactly why he wanted me to. 

It is impossible to encapsulate his 87 years and I could list his many accomplishments but all of the memories we each hold dear are nestled in the subpoints.  

When my dad received the news five weeks ago that he didn't have much time left, his response to me was 

"It all just went by so fast."

My dad's childhood was full of speed, heights, explosions, risk, and rebellion.  I didn't learn any of this until he chose to open this vault of information to his grandkids. He loved sharing stories of flying planes with his dad, spending months at the lake house with his sisters, and racing cars, go-karts, dune buggies, motorcycles, and well, anything that moved. By his own account, he passed the time with practical jokes like filling the cracks of the street with a mixture of gasoline and oil and waiting for a car to come so he and his friends could light it resulting in a wall of flames and smoke that would startle the driver and delight my father. 

My dad was named after his grandfather, Walter Thomas Gunn who was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois. His father was a lawyer and it was an unspoken assumption that being the only son he would follow in their path. But his true passion was in art and he got a BFA in Industrial design.  After college, he was drafted into the army and after that, he worked at a few different design firms before moving to Chicago. My dad had a keen eye for art and beauty, so it makes perfect sense that when he met a model named Nancy she would become his wife just 9 months later. 

She said he always loved to plan adventures. Most would require a road trip where my mom would drive and my dad would play the ukelele and they would sing ALL the way up to wherever they were going. My dad adored classical music so the songs with lyrics that they both enjoyed were limited, but when I asked them which one was their favorite, they simultaneously said "You Are My Sunshine." And after 57 years of marriage, I believe that to be accurate.

Their next big adventure was when they had their first baby, Natalie.

Two years later Nathan was born and after a long intermission, they had me, Noelle. In case anyone didn't catch on to the "N" theme, he punctuated it by giving me a doozy of an N middle name, Nannette, which he loved saying.

My dad's strength as a father was to highlight our individuality and encourage us to celebrate our uniqueness. 

He did this by spending Quality time with us. He would take months off of work every summer and plan family trips.  He enjoyed sharing "firsts" with us.  He had never been to Alaska so when Nathan was 13 they drove there and he taught him to shoot guns, fish, and camp. Another First was when he took Natalie to France, and England where they visited castles and art museums,  and had picnics with baguettes and chocolate.  We took a 5-week family road trip in a motorhome to Canada then down the East Coast. A few years later we drove to California.

He would take me on long walks to discover treasures in the woods.  On one of our walks, we stopped to look at a tree and he asked me what I saw. I explained the trunk, the branches, and the leaves. "But what else do you see?" he asked. That's it, I said. " But what about the space in between the branches? That is where you can see the light coming through!" We spent the rest of our walk calling out the newly discovered shapes I was seeing for the first time"

My dad was a creative soul, Always painting and sketching.  He would find inspiration in nature or the many many books he read from the comfort of his Charles Aimes chair. 

He rarely missed a game, performance, or graduation not only for his children but also for his grandchildren as long as he was able. 

In 2015 it was rumored that Walt Gunn was going to be the Champion of the senior pickleball tournament in Green Valley, Arizona,  when a serious accident occurred.  He had lost his footing fell off of his deck and broke his neck, which resulted in him being paralyzed. 

We were told he would never walk again or be able to use his hands again.   This was heartbreaking to anyone, but especially an artist.  

But my dad was incredibly strong and within two years, he not only learned to walk again, but he had an art show featuring all of the paintings he had done after his accident.

This is the artist's statement he wrote: 

As part of the intensive regimen at the Rehab Institute of Chicago, an artist would arrive every week to allow patients to take a class. After avoiding it, I decided to give it a try. My first attempt was a disaster. I couldn't pick up or hold a brush. I was devastated, and I gave up. 

But at the urging of Nancy, I tried again and with the help of a device that would attach a brush to my finger, I discovered that I could make simple paintings. I have been blessed that my wife Nancy has been by my side every day and night to the current day and I am truly grateful.

My parent's love for each other has been an honor to witness, especially in the very last moments, she never left his side. 

On one particularly difficult evening as his oldest granddaughter, Madelyn fed him ice chips, he openly reflected to her "I think when you get very old, you start to get very tired of dealing with it all.  But I'm not sure though,  this is my first time." 

It was then that it occurred to me, that in his last moments, he was sharing another first with us all. 

We were navigating this final first together.  Nathan read to him and when he asked what type of book he would like to hear he asked him to find one about courage.  In the final weeks, Nathan read over three books to him and when we thought he was sleeping, he would make a comment about a character or add a historical fact.  There was nothing he wanted from any of us, other than our presence.  I would lie next to him and we would discuss the shapes of the clouds passing over the skylights in their bedroom. 

 I witnessed each of his grandchildren sit with him multiple times and talk for hours.  Yet sometimes we didn't.  And the silence felt reflective and intentional.

My Dad recognized that HIS life's best days were now behind him. and he wanted us to know that some of our best days were yet to come.  

We have not yet seen it all, we have not yet felt it all 

and there are so many more "firsts"  and beauty that we have yet to discover and experience. 


But next time, he won't be able to able to be with us in person.


I recognize that it wasn't just about him spending quality time with us, but that he was teaching us just how precious time itself is.  

He will be with us in the moments we slow down, be present, and notice the light coming through in the vast empty space his death is leaving in our world.


This will be in 

the music we make, 

the art we create, 

the books we read, 

the poems we write, 

the ice cream we eat,

the nature we observe, and 

the laughter we hear. 

But especially when we all come together to spend time with each other and see what he did in his final days.  

The faces of the people he loved most.


His beloved Nancy, Natalie, Nathan, Noelle, Julie, Don, Madelyn, Jasmine, Jordan, Justin, Brandon, Dylan, Caroline, Brittany, Olivia, Nicholas, Colin, Parker, Finegan, Jack, Oscar and his new great-grandson Sutter Walter. His sisters, Andrea and Molly, his nephews and nieces, As well as the faces of his dear, dear friends.


You were right dad, it all just went by way too fast.

Monday, August 28, 2023

I Get Knocked Down But I Get Up Again

Originally read for Mamalogues 7/22/23

Back in the late 90's after I had finished working a double shift at a cocktail bar I walked to my little convertible at the top of the parking garage in Santa Monica. It was 1:55 a.m. and I knew that if I waited 5 minutes the gate would go up and I wouldn't have to pay. It was a warm night and could see the ocean from where I was standing.  I took the top down on my car and decided to take my baby doll t-shirt off too.  As soon as the gate went up I was cruising down the Pacific Coast Highway in a bra blaring Chumbawamba all the way up to Malibu. I could feel the ocean spray on my skin. When I got tired I made an illegal U-turn and went back down to West LA to my apartment doing my best not to wake my roommate when I closed my door and collapsed into bed. I didn't even wash my face.  I was twenty years old and a wild fun carefree spirit. My friends and I would flash people just for the thrill of it.   I was auditioning during the day and waitressing at night. My goal was to become famous. 
Six years later I vividly remember bringing my newborn son home from the hospital and as I shut the door behind me I had a distinct feeling I was shutting the door on that girl that I was. 
I had begun a trip without any directions and within 7 years we had three more babies.   During this time I received numerous gifts from my sons with the letter "M" on them because they didn't know I had a name other than Mommy.  And to be honest, I had forgotten too. I embodied this role and I referred to myself as Mommy- often in the third person. When I would come home from work I felt like Simba from The Lion King when he finds himself in the valley and the ground shakes and he looks up to see a stampede of Wildebeests careening towards him. My 4 sons would get into fisticuffs to see who could hug me first.  
 Being the one and only girl in my house I had celebrity status.  It was what I had wished for right?  My entire identity was Mommy.  If you looked at my social media you would think it was curated by a publicist to show what a Modern Mommy looks like. 
 As the years went on though, my homecoming looked more like the scene when Simba returns to Pride Rock to find it desolate and carcasses (or dishes and bowls) are everywhere.  I call out Hello hello hello.. only to hear an echo. 
I soon realized that I was no longer the girl my boys wanted to hug most. Our house became frequently visited by more interesting girls.  I was kind of excited about this, at least at first.  Somehow when I had morphed into Mommy my brain had been stunted and I actually felt like I was able to commiserate on these girls' level.  I mean, after all, it wasn't that long ago I was her age. I imagined that when she talked with me in the kitchen she saw a slightly older woman who she wanted to ask advice or talk about how cool I was. Just the fact that I thought that, is a clear indication of how absolutely uncool and out of touch I was.  She saw a mom that she was humoring long enough to establish trust so she could get the hell out of there and be alone with my son.  Upon this realization,  the urge to rescue my boy was primal. Much like I did at the park when the bratty little girl pushed him down the fireman's pole before he was ready and I caught him just before he hit the ground. That girl is probably still recovering from the mommy who growled at her a decade ago.  It turns out a teen boy would rather hit the pavement face first than have his mommy rescue him.

That night I washed my face and as I applied numerous anti-aging serums all over my body I took a long look in the mirror and realized my mommy celebrity status wasn't aging very well.  Think of 90's Brittany Spears and today's Brittany Spears. It is amusing, but what began as hot ended up being a hot mess.

By the time I had four teens my identity of mommy was fading but I was desperately trying to hold on to it.  And although my boys still needed a mom, they were pretty self-sufficient.  When my two older sons left the nest I found myself grasping at anything to keep mommy alive. I realized the hard way that young men do not like being babied and the more I tried the more resentful they became. If I continued to make decisions for them, they would never know that I truly believe that they are capable of making decisions for themselves.   I found that by releasing some of this responsibility, I had more free time. But if I wasn't Mommy then who was I?  
Of all the times I had wished for alone time, now that I had it, it felt uncomfortable.  The woman I was before I had kids was a stranger. And frankly, pretty irresponsible.  
I feel like I'm in the purgatory of womanhood. Wandering around trying to discover what my purpose is.  Along the way, I started believing that my self-worth was only validated by how much I was needed.  I don't even know what I like!  Up until this point, I have been making my own dinner decisions on what other people like to eat. I read books that my book club chooses.  I do workouts that my coach tells me to do.  Netflix tells me what to watch, and Spotify makes my playlists. My hobbies are...Instagram? Oh my God.. Now I understand why ghosts are always women floating around houses, they are trying to find themselves for all eternity! 
Around this time my mom texted me to ask if I wanted to use one of their cars this summer since one of our older sons is home and we could use an extra one.  The Audi TT convertible..
I said yes and rushed to pick it up as soon as possible.   When I sat in the driver's seat I immediately put the top down.  I felt a tinge of excitement when I adjusted the rearview mirror and saw that there was no third-row seat.  I took the long way home in the opposite direction towards Lake Michigan.  As I accelerated I felt the wind in my hair and as the sun kissed my face I remembered what it felt like to be ME.  That girl never left, she just grew up.  She may not flash people anymore, at least not on purpose.  She still loves taking risks. At that moment I was going 5 MPH over the speed limit.  So maybe the years have taught me to be more of a  fun care FULL spirit and less of a carefree one. 
I put on Chumbawumba and as I made a u-turn my spirit felt ignited.   My mom knows that I am capable of making my own decisions. She also intuitively knew that I thought I was stuck but by encouraging me to do something I used to love to do, she showed me that the road was not a dead end, but merely a fork. She knew exactly what she was doing when she gave me the keys to her convertible.  I didn't become a wild woman when I was in California, I was born from one.  She knew that the future path would look different, but it is still beautiful, and there so much more of myself to explore.
The word mommy is a pronoun and the word mother can be a verb.  Even if your children are grown they will never stop needing to be mothered. 
As I pulled into my driveway looking windblown, it hit me, my mom had a red convertible and she would return from a solo drive looking the same way.  She is the original wild woman but as a little girl I only saw her as Mom but she is so much more.  She had a full life before me and is living a full life after me. And I absolutely adore her for it. 
Being a wild woman is not about flashing people. Being a wild woman is returning to your girlhood and becoming all the things you WANTED to be. But you didn't because you were too busy becoming the girl that other people thought you should be.  
Being a wild woman is having the courage to allow your past and present selves to come together and discover the future woman you are becoming without other people's opinions deciding for you. The very best thing I can do to show love for my sons is to show love for myself.
At the end of The Lion King, middle-aged Simba finds himself at a metaphorical dead end and receives a message from his father that solves everything. He says in James Earl Jones voice.... Remember who you are...  Remember who you fuccking are....

The answer is not outside of ourselves, but it is always in us, Sometimes you just need to take your top off and listen to where your soul wants to take you.  

Sunday, October 9, 2022

The Power Within

On a very hot day in June, I found myself in a grocery store parking lot wearing a scratchy long brown wig, red corset, and a blue mini skirt with stars all over it. Excited kids were running all over the place. I was Wonder Woman at a charity event to prevent child abuse.  It wasn't the first time that I have portrayed a superhero, as a little girl I wore superman underoos until they didn't fit. 
As an adult woman, I have been Captain Marvel at other events but this was the first time as Diana. But it makes sense as a family with 5 males, 4 boys 3 of them who can pass as men, and theater backgrounds that we would be asked to do this.   But as I was putting the gold bracelets on my wrists I wondered if I looked more like Wonder Woman's mother.  Were all the 24-year-old wonder women out there busy that day? 

I watched as little boys sprinted to Spider-man, Batman, Superman, and Captain America. We were located next to the Disney Princesses and most of the little girls were starstruck by Elsa and her sister, Anna.   The kids carried around autograph books and at first, I was just signing a simple "Wonder Woman".  But then I got carried away. I started writing "YOU are the real superhero" and  "Girl Power and "OMG, equal pay for women!"  I was about to write a short story about how you should never have to get your boss coffee just because you are the only woman in the meeting when I saw a little girl out of the corner of my eye.  She bypassed the princesses, ignored Spider-man, and came right up to me.  As I looked down at her she just stared at me. I could see my reflection in her big brown eyes. But more than that, I wanted to be the woman she was seeing. She said nothing and her mom took a photo of us and she was pulled away still staring at me. I was back to writing my girl-power quotes in the autograph books when I felt a little pull on my skirt, she was back, she had her hand up to her mouth to tell me a secret.  I leaned down and she whispered in my ear, "Are you the real Wonder Woman? "

I certainly wish I had her powers. This past year  I would have done just about anything to have not only Wonder Woman's strength but more so, her lasso of truth.  For those of you who may have forgotten, the lasso of truth, when wrapped around someone makes it impossible for them to tell anything but the truth.  As a mother, it would come in handy when you ask your son who he went to the beach with, or if he really finished his homework.  But in my case, it would have gone a bit deeper.  My oldest son had been struggling. Like a lot of kids, he had spent his last two years of high school going to school virtually because of Covid.  I had watched as he withdrew from everything, everyone, including his family. 
The light that had lit up my world had dimmed and as much as I tried to re-ignite it, it only seemed to get darker. He went away to college.  If I had that lasso of truth I would have wrapped it around him when I asked him if he was okay.  Deep down I knew he wasn't. We sought the help of doctors, therapists, and medication but this battle he was fighting was with a demon called depression and it was internal.  If I had the lasso of truth I would have known he wasn't winning.  
When he texted me, "I love you, mama, sleep well, I'm sorry" on a late October night my universe stood still.    I respect that this is his own journey and someday he may choose to share it.  All I can tell you is what it felt like from my perspective. If I would have wrapped the lasso of truth around myself I would have told you that I was scared, vulnerable, and guilt-ridden, while simultaneously zipping up my boots because I was about to enter a battle and stop at absolutely nothing to help him.
Wonder Woman is one of the only heroes that doesn't wear a mask. Her emotions are exposed on her face and her demigod physical strength comes from within.  Even so, before she goes into battle she calls on the help of her trusted hero team because strength is in numbers.  
When I saw my son at the hospital my heart shattered into millions of pieces with such a violent force that I thought my knees would buckle.  He told us he needed help. Despite what you may think at this point, I really don't know a lot about superhero etiquette but I seem to recall some type of signal when they are needed like a batman symbol in the sky. His quiet words, like a signal, melted my shattered heart and in doing so mended the cracks and it began to beat stronger. 
When he was a baby growing inside of me before he had words, or we ever had eye contact, the first form of communication we had was his heartbeat. I could feel it before I even heard it.  His heart and my heart are very very old friends and I understood. 
When I was a little girl I wanted to be superman because  I believed that I needed to be a man to be the strongest superhero.... oh, how wrong I was. 
It is not a coincidence that I had not been asked to be Wonder Woman until AFTER I was a mother, because mothers carry a wild, untamed strength that will stop at nothing. 
For the next 8 months, my son lived in California getting the help he needed.  It was hard for us to have him miss holidays and birthdays but make no mistake, he was the one that put in the hard work. 
I have grown a lot in the last year too. What I have learned is that when someone is in pain, sometimes death feels like the only way to stop it and it is not our job to fight for them but to assemble a team that stands steadfastly behind them and loves them fiercely as they fight their own battle. 
Our team may have looked a little different than what you see in comic books. In fact, you might not be able to see it at all.  Our team's strength was generated by the comfort of a 2-minute hug in the middle of the gym. Colleagues who covered for me. Friends, family, a text, a prayer, a listening ear, a note.  
Thor's weapon is his hammer, Ironman has his blasters and we have Love. 

My answer was, "Yes" to the little girl who asked if I was the real Wonder Woman.  I would not have been able to say that a month ago.  And I told her that she was too.  No lasso of truth is needed. 

As I was writing this I glanced down at something that I carry around with me every day. Attached to my keys is a gift my sons had given me over a decade ago. 

A lego wonder woman key chain. Her face is worn off, she has scratches and missing her signature parts. 
They have always known, it just took me a few years to discover it myself.

No matter what your circumstances, never forget that we all have a superhero inside of us, waiting to be called upon. You'll find her.  Sometimes we need to see a reflection in another's eyes to truly see it.

If you or anyone you know needs help. Please reach out or visit www.sprc.org

Friday, March 27, 2020


When the boys were little they loved the show Yo Gabba Gabba. Like most parents of young kids I watched or heard the show just as much as they did. I went on a mission to find all the plastic characters and once I got a complete set I would proudly give to my sons as a gift.  I love complete sets of anything. It drives me crazy when I have half of something.  For example, I have the complete set of Smurf glasses and it wasn't until I got the final Smurfette glass that I could exhale in relief. 

This pandemic we are experiencing has forced me to surrender to things that make me uncomfortable.  Other than my actual birth, my entire life, has been scheduled. I don't know how to relax.  I have to be moving, going somewhere, planning something.  I'm extremely productive and not until I have everything done do I allow myself to sit on the couch.   I'm an extrovert, I'm always talking to someone. At work, the gym, the store, getting drinks with friends, book clubs (yes more than one). All while having multiple texting conversations and responding to emails. I. Am. Always. Moving. 

Until now.

This lack of social interaction has forced me to be still.  At first, it wasn't. I cleaned closets, organized, set up a home gym, made bread.  But when all that is done, the stillness was awaiting for me. Why am I so resistant to this stillness? I have tried meditating and it's a joke. How can I calm my body when my mind is running laps?  I haven't been able to sleep.  Previously, sleeping was my jam. I was so good at it.

Until now.

Yesterday I decided to force myself to be still.  I went for a run alone, came back, took a bath, still trying to accept the stillness and failing.  Probably because all of those things require movement. And motion is not stationary,  it was a nice try though. 

Drastic measures were needed. I put myself in a stillness timeout and I wasn't going to leave the until I could figure out why exactly, it was so difficult. So this morning, after checking all my work emails, I went for a walk.  I have been going on very long solo walks.  Sometimes two hours.  This morning  I didn't listen to music. I had my phone, (in case I was abducted or fell suddenly ill and needed help, of course) but I zipped it away in my pocket.  I found myself on a platform on the edge of the river and I sat down and  sit in the stillness.  It burned. My body hated this. I wanted to get up and pretend this idea had never happened.  I looked to my left and on the side of a dock a little painted word said "Ready?"  No, I thought.  In the stillness you get the answers you are looking for.  I wasn't ready for those answers.  But I forced myself to stay there. I decided to stand up just in case I needed to flee. I took several deep breaths.

What are you afraid of? I kept asking myself over and over. Then my mind was flooded with answers. Like the ticker at the bottom of any news broadcast.  But the one in bold was  "you're afraid of losing him." I understood.  

My oldest son turned 17 yesterday.  We had a party for him. But even before we were all required to stay home he had been pulling away. I had my heartstrings tightly wrapped around him pulling him back creating a painful tug of war.  We had an argument a couple of weeks ago that left me shaking. It had seemed to come out of nowhere and I was confused.  He walked out to blow off some steam.  I crumbled.   When he returned he hugged me, apologized but I was shaken.  He explained that I treat him like a baby, that he wants some freedom.  My response was words of understanding, but my thoughts were yes I do treat him like a baby because he is my baby. Freedom, yeah like that is ever going to happen.  

Things went back to normal, or so I thought.  Until he didn't want to eat with the family and have dinner with his girlfriend.  At the table, there was an empty chair. We were not a complete set. To him, my heartstrings felt more like a noose.  

These thoughts raced through my head as I stood on this platform.   I had to move and head home. With each step, I discovered that it wasn't productivity that keeps me busy. It is my anxiety.  

I talk to people and I'm a good listener so I can hear their problems so I don't have to face mine.  I stay busy so that I don't have to sit and deal with nagging insecurity I have about everything.  My anxiety needs me to be in control at all times.  I'm impossible to argue with because I can't let it go.  I keep repeating how much something hurt me until the other person takes ownership of that.  And I go over it again and again and again. I need details of everything. If I don't get every detail I feel like I'm missing a clue, I can't solve anything, without a complete set of clues.   

So when my son couldn't explain why he was angry after I listed every single thing I do or have done for him out of love, I wanted to keep reminding him of those things until he understood.  Those are times when my anxiety is at a boiling point and it spills over and burns anyone in the way. I have lost friendships over that, but I blamed them.   I was not going to do this to my own son.  I reminded myself of something I just learned.

The call of motherhood is to be a model, not a martyr.

I can do better than this. I returned home and took a long shower. When I got out I asked him to come downstairs so we could talk.   Of course, he dreads this because our talks are usually more like monologues and less like dialogues.

He came into my room to see me in a robe and a towel on my head still wet from the shower.  I couldn't wait to dry off or get dressed because at the moment, I had my anxiety preoccupied with worrying about the coronavirus.  I felt like I could point my heart in his direction and I was ready to listen to whatever he had to say. I asked him point-blank. "Do you love your family?" he looked up at me with his big brown eyes as if to say "Duh."  But he answered, "yes, of course."  It was like I was hearing that for the first time.  

Anxiety had told me that the reason he didn't want to spend time with us was that he didn't love us.  I explained that the reason I asked was because I like complete sets, and only when I have a complete set do I feel whole.  When he isn't around, I don't feel whole, and I fill that teen boy size hole with worry, doubt, and fear.  "No, I just want to spend time with my friends sometimes," he explained.  "Okay," I said.  And I explained that I will do my best to remember that.  He went back upstairs and I sat on my bed trying to take a mental snapshot of this conversation so the next time my anxiety told me otherwise I could open my camera and see the truth.  

The answer is right there. Show him love by giving him space, and that doesn't mean our set is incomplete, it means we need some space so we have room to grow. I surrendered and I didn't die.  

I haven't been sleeping well for the last couple of weeks.  I can't seem to quiet my mind from all the things I can't control. Before the pandemic, I would go to sleep by sending good thoughts to everyone I love and I would imagine where they are in the world and point them in that direction, hoping that they would receive them.  All those good thoughts have been muted by the bad ones.  Tonight I'm going to send those good thoughts to people but I'm also going to leave room for one more, me.  

Sometimes the thing that feels the hardest, is the thing you need to do most.  And if you look around, the world has been forced to do just that.  We are all surrendering, not knowing the outcome. And we are doing this, not just for ourselves, but for others. 

We are creating space between ourselves, our friends, our work and stopping our lives, so we can care for not only the ones we love but the ones someone else loves.  

It burns and at times feels painful.

And I'm holding on to the hope that with this, we will see compassion in ourselves and in others and we are creating enough space for us to grow.  

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

When my first son was born I heard angels sing.  I was heavily drugged and I believe I saw a double rainbow and heard Kermit singing Rainbow Connection in the room too.   Notwithstanding the hallucinations, the one thing I have absolutely no doubt about is how the sight of his face worked as a defibrillator and my heart began to beat in a way that it hadn't before.  
I'm sure most parents feel this way.   Despite planning for that moment for nine months, or 42 weeks to be exact, I was ill-prepared for the intensity of the emotional (rainbow) connection I had to him.   I felt a little tug in my chest before he entered the world that day as he grabbed a to-go piece of my heart that he carries around with him, and some days I feel the pain of that missing piece.
In addition to that, he must have done a system upgrade to my anxiety before he left my womb because what was anxiety level 2.0 was instantly operating on a 10.0 version.  And that was just the first day.
That sweet little 9 lb. nugget that I kept a daily journal tracking how much he was eating and how much he was peeing and pooping is now 16. And I still know how much he is eating, and he often shares additional information that I don't care to know... okay, maybe I do care a little bit, I mean I want to know he is getting enough fiber, which reminds me that I may consider changing to a whole grain pasta.   
I often wonder who thought I was qualified to be a mom. I grew up in the 90's  and the songs from that decade are always on the tip of my tongue, I actually use 90's pop as a parental guide. I even take ownership of the lyrics and quote them to my sons like I'm giving sage advice sometimes without their knowledge. For example
    "A lonely mother gazing out of her window
    Staring at a son that she just can't touch
    If at any time he's in a jam she'll be by his side
    But he doesn't realize he hurts her so much"

This original heart thief of a firstborn who couldn't leave my side is eager to walk around without me. 
He has a life, a life without me.
And I need to be okay with that, but to be honest, I miss knowing exactly what he did all day every day.  I miss being able to look at his t-shirt and know if he had a popsicle or being able to touch his hands to know if he played with glue or look at his upper lip knowing he drank chocolate milk.
Relinquishing this control has been hard for me.  I give him space, more accurately, I accept the space he has created.  I trust him.  I try not to ask too many questions.
His first year of high school took an emotional toll on all of us.   We had to learn together.   The hardest part by far was learning that he had been held at gunpoint by another teen.  And the worst part of this was that I didn't learn about this until 2 weeks after it happened.  Two weeks of him acting distant. Two weeks of mama bear crawling towards him trying to close the gap, only to have him create a bigger one.
I knew in my heart something was wrong.   The word "fine" started to sound like nails on a chalkboard.  He was not fine. I was not fine.  
The normally happy son had turned indifferent. My husband and I thought it might just be a teen thing. But how did we know for sure? We had never had a teen before.
Then one night as I began to clean up dinner after what I thought was a pleasant meal together, I received a message on Instagram from a friend of his.   She said she was contacting me because she was worried about him.  That he had said some things to her that concerned her about his well being.  I was confused, we had just had dinner and he seemed okay.  Was she misreading something?  I responded to her.  She said she wouldn't have contacted me if she didn't think it was serious.  I could hear my heartbeat in my ears.  I showed Don the message, I stopped what I was doing
and called up to him but he didn't answer.  I went up to his room and his door was locked.  I knocked and knocked and right before I was about to rip the door off he responded.  "What?" I said I wanted to see if he was okay,  he said he was "Fine". That damn word that everyone says when they are absolutely not fine. The word that people text when they are upset. The word people say in an argument when they are pissed off. 
I asked him to open the door and he said no.  He needed to be alone.  I got down on the floor to see if I could see under it.
When he was a baby I would put him in his crib and sink down to the floor and army crawl out of his room so he wouldn't wake up and see me leaving.  Now, 16 years later I'm on the floor again desperate to get in and see him.
I sat there outside of this door made of wood, but it felt like concrete. I couldn't get through to him.  I said I wanted to see him, I wanted to know he was okay, I wanted to talk to him. I asked him if he knew just how much I loved him. I, I, I, I, I.
It was all about me and what I wanted.  And how could I ask him such a question?  There is no way he could fathom how much I love him. I had no idea how much my mother loved me until I was a mother myself. I wanted him to know how my heart would stop beating if his ever did.   I wanted him to know how much he is my world.  But I just kept asking if he knew how much I loved him.
He didn't answer.
Don explained that sometimes boys just need to be alone and if that is what he said he needed and we should let him. 
I agreed but there was no way I was going to do that, especially that night.  I decided to change the dialogue I was currently having with the door. I ran my finger up and down the grain.  Maybe he was listening, maybe he wasn't, but I wasn't going to take the risk.  I told him, he was important. He was loved, he is cared for.  I explained that he is a light in so many people's lives even when things felt dark. I told him Wally had now joined me on the floor.  I stopped making it about me and made it about him.
And maybe I should have left him alone but I didn't, because I never could, I needed him to know he might be feeling like he is drowning but all he needed to do is ask for help and I would reach in and pull him out.
Dogs can sense when someone is upset.  I'm not sure if Wally was there for me, or for my son or maybe both.
In my head, I kept wondering how I missed this.  When he was little and was hurting he would cry, I appreciated that more now, than I ever had.  The silence is worse than any scream.
Being a teen is complicated. Being a parent of a teen is complicated.  That is where we can start.
After what felt like an eternity, he finally came out of his room.  I wanted to smother him with hugs because that is what I needed but I knew that wasn't what he needed right now. 
He went downstairs and Wally followed him.  He grabbed a quart of ice cream and sat down next to Don on the couch and watched TV.   I  grabbed a spoon and sat next to him just to regulate my heartbeat.  Eventually, his brothers found their way into the room, completely oblivious to what we had just experienced and mostly upset we were eating all the ice cream.
What had we experienced? I don't even know. 
When he was little, it was the three of us, trying to figure out this parent/ baby thing out at 2 am on the kitchen floor. 
The next day, it was the three of us, trying to figure out this parent/teen thing out at 4 pm in a professional's office.
As we left the office I realized that I was struggling for an answer that really doesn't exist.  Which of course, if I had only listened to the rest of TLC's  90's wisdom and not focused solely on the mother/son lyrics I would have known this sooner.
    "Don't go chasing waterfalls
    Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to
    I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all
    But I think you're moving too fast"

Trying to hold on to what a relationship was in the past is impossible.   And if I try and do that with any relationship, whether it is a child, a partner, a parent, sibling or friend I might end up without it.   The best way to approach any relationship that I want to keep is to accept that it is never going to stay the same.  

Once I think I have it figured out, I get hit by a massive wave, washing away any indication of that notion . When I was swimming in California as a teen I got caught in a rip current.  I panicked, which made it even worse. I kept trying to swim to my family, I was embarrassed to call for help because they were so close but I couldn't reach out to them.  I had no idea what to do and I was out of breath.
Finally,  someone recognized what was happening and yelled at me to swim parallel.  And I ended up safe on shore.

I think of that experience a lot as I navigate the choppy teen waters. The one thing that stays the same is an undercurrent of love, and what worked a few years ago is now pulling you in the opposite direction further from the person you are trying to reach. The key is not swimming at him or trying to pull him in my direction to save him.   I have to swim alongside him if we want to get anywhere.

Monday, February 18, 2019

You've Got this

I stood at the edge of a 20-inch wood box. I had already jumped on it 28 times and I had 2 more jumps to go.  It was 5:45 a.m. on a Friday. I hadn't had a particularly great week so far.   In fact, the day before had been one of the worst days I have had in a few years.  Sweat was running down my chest, my tank top was drenched, my high ponytail was no longer a high pony, and looked more like a style a colonial boy would wear. People were starting to leave the gym.  I stood there staring at this stupid box wondering why I even do this to myself.  Then a far off voice yelled, "You've got this!" I'm not sure who yelled it.  It could have been my coach, a workout friend, Jesus Christ, my imagination.  I don't know, but I heard it loud and clear.   I thought about it and as I often do, got completely lost in thought for an undetermined amount of time until the voice said
"Come on, Gunn"... My maiden name, this person whoever it is, must seriously want me to finish this workout.  I lifted my body, which felt twice as heavy as it did than when I walked in, off the ground twice to finish the damn workout.
Who was this voice, telling me that "I got this"?  How does he know?  I'll tell you what he didn't know.  That less than 24 hours prior I was in the corner of the restroom at work sitting on the floor of the handicap stall crying in frustration.  It was my pressure cooker moment.  I had been putting a lid on all my worries and doubts for a long time.  And at that moment, it was just too much.   I've got this?  Well, what I had in that bathroom moment was confirmation that I wasn't good enough to accomplish something I had so desperately wanted.  What I had was other people telling me that that I didn't have this.   What I had was an accumulation of every insecurity about myself displayed on an imaginary table for me to peruse.  I can try and be poetic about this, but when you don't get what you want, it really sucks.  I was told that if you work hard you can achieve what you want.  At that moment, sitting on the bathroom floor it didn't feel like it.
I'm not a woman who cries very often.  I'm aware this isn't healthy and it is one of the many things about myself I'm working on.   So if you can imagine, I was trying to muffle my sobs, while simultaneously stopping the mascara from running down my face.  I would take a few deep breaths to calm myself, only to exhale and start the whole ugly process all over again.  I was texting my Mom, husband and friends who knew what was going on, but all my texts seemed dark and cryptic.  Like... It's over.  I suck (sad emoji).   Crying at work is my nightmare. I don't like people seeing me vulnerable.  I started talking to myself, telling myself that my entire undercurrent of my soul is filled with being positive and building people, particularly women, up. Yet here I was getting caught up in the self-doubt and quickly being pulled under. I pity the person who came in the restroom and overheard what must have sounded like a female fight club.
 Once I knew I was alone, I emerged.  I blotted my cheeks in hopes to walk out of the stall not looking like I had just been punched in the face then made my way to my office.
I wish I could say, I calmed down, but I couldn't.  I gathered my stuff and went home for the day.   I proceeded to call one of my best friends and cry on the ride home. Once I got home, I tried to hide my tears from my boys.  But then I thought this could be a lesson.   They saw me work hard for something and get rejected.  They saw that it is okay to feel disappointed or let down.  And that you don't always get what you want.
I was gentle with myself.  Don took care of driving our boys places so I could enjoy a drink (or three).  I didn't move from the couch and watched mindless television while simultaneously eating chocolate, scrolling social media and making an argument to the Universe why every other person was smarter, prettier, sexier, taller and more successful than me.  Eventually, I went to bed and woke up at 4:30 out of habit, took my bloated and puffy face to the gym where I stood at the box and someone yelled, "You've got this, Noelle!"
And despite everything, I believed this person.  And if I believed this person, then there must be a tiny part of me that believes in me.   So I jumped.  And indeed, I had it. If you think about it,  "this" is all we have.   And sometimes "this" doesn't go the way we want and that is okay.

The sting of rejection can linger for days, sometimes years if we let it.   A few days later a new friend reached out to me asking me if I had gotten what I wanted.  When I told her about my disappointment I wrote if anything, this has lit a fire under me and motivated me to try even harder.  She responded that she had no doubt.  Another way of saying, you've got this.  What I know I have for sure, is an amazing support system.  I have worked hard. As hard as I can?  No.  But hard enough to have gained amazing friends along the way that I can reach out to.

It is okay to get knocked down once in a while. And it is totally okay to stay down, but by the count of 3, you better get your butt back up.  You may be knocked down but you are not knocked out. I'm confident, as there was in my case there will be someone in your corner that will help you back up.  Because there is so much more to fight for.

I've got this. You've got this.  We've got this. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Happiness Vortex

A couple days ago I had one of those mornings that nothing seemed to be going right.  My workout, that usually starts my day off right, felt laborious both mentally and physically.   When I returned home, not one of the other five individuals who live there had woken up. Six if you include Wally.   Meaning that we were already late and when they finally did roll out of bed it was like a symphony of chaos.  Hungry chaos I might add.  Milk flying, cereal boxes being fought over.  When my husband and I did speak we were already yelling because we couldn't hear each other over the noise.
We all headed into our days that day on a bad note, and not to mention extremely wrinkly.  On the way to school and work the news of shootings and fires and school bus crashes fueled the sparks of negativity that were just waiting to be ignited.  When I dropped my 3 younger boys off at school they were punching each other as the door opened and I didn't even have the energy to reprimand them, plus they were at school now, and the head of school could deal with it.. or their dad. I understood the desire to lash out.  But I don't hit, I just start punching down my worth solely based on my inept ability to get my family out the door successfully on an average Wednesday.

We believe what we tell ourselves.

As I drove to work I began creating worst case scenarios of the meeting I had to have with my boss that afternoon.  Little things irritated me. The car in front of me that was going below the speed limit during the morning rush. I could feel the sharp clasp of the 20-year-old bra I have had that I refuse to get rid of despite it literally stabbing me in the back.  Or the damn gas light that always seems to read empty.  Or my coffee cup that has already leaked on my coat because I washed it on the bottom rack despite the instructions not to.  And not to mention my phone constantly receiving phone calls from numbers I don't know.   If they did know me they would know I only respond to texts.
"This day is going to suck," I told myself as it began to rain as I parked into the closest parking spot which was a mile away from my building remembering that I had left my umbrella in my office.
I sat in my spot with my face illuminated by the empty gas light and looked over at the car next to me.  A woman was sitting there, talking on the phone and did not look happy.   In fact, she looked mad and judging by her SUV and the school magnets stuck to it, I could only imagine one of her kids left his lunch or homework or violin at home too.

The world is in disharmony right now.  Do you feel it? People are quick to point out each other's faults. Everyone needs to be right.  People are looking to be offended just so they can express virtual outrage for attention.  Nothing is fair.  Everything is awful. Appearing to be angry seems more assertive and acceptable than being content.  We are all declaring war on each other, even ourselves and there is never going to be a winner.

I turned on my Christmas playlist in an effort to exorcize this demon of a Wednesday morning out of me before I went into work.  I had already decided that I wasn't going to take my lunch break today since I was late, so that allowed at least fifteen minutes to save my soul.
I put my head back on the seat and tried to climb out of this attitude that was only serving as a happiness vortex to the rest of my day.

I thought about looking at my morning from a different view.  Like a movie when you see the same scene but from the view of a different character. Like when Marty sees McFly finally punch Biff.   In this case, all views of our morning were heinous, so I scrapped that idea.
I imagined flying in a plane over my hometown. Even though I know all the streets, I get excited to see what it looks like from above.   The cars always look like they are going slow.  Even an accident, if I ever witnessed one would look like bumper cars from that view.   The houses and the people all look relatively the same.  You can't tell a nice car from a crappy one.  Or an unemployed person from a CEO.  We all just going along in what appears to be harmony.   If I could see my home, what I would notice was the how it looked solid, and warm in contrast to the cold air.  The abundance of having exactly what I need for survival comes into hyperfocus when you stop allowing all the disruptive negativity to cloud your view.

Sure, you may have a sick child, or a sick parent or an empty bank account.  But, you also still have that child, still have that parent, and still, have that account. I may have yelled in frustration at my husband, sons, and dog but I could pull out my phone and text (most) of them and tell them I adore them and I'm sorry. I have that option because they are still here.   Negativity and hate are contagious they spread like wildfire and before you realize it, you have set your entire house on fire. If I choose to, I could post on social media just how awful the world is to me, or I could post how wonderful the world has been to me.  How do I want to affect my friends today?  Love and peace are even more infectious.Everyone has bad days/weeks/ months.  My bad day doesn't have to be your bad day or my family's bad day.

Even when things are crumbling around you, you still have to find your footing and bringing others down with you will only make it harder to climb back up.  When I'm in those situations I have a select few people I can reach out to and tell them I'm at the bottom.  Not to bring them down, just a call for help.  They can throw me a rope so I can climb my way out. Sometimes the rope is just a text telling me that I'm capable of doing it.  That's all.  But wow, that positivity is powerful and in some cases all I need.  If they joined in on my negativity, I might fall even deeper.

I have close friends who have lost a child, or even multiple children.  The worst possible thing a person could endure.  And I know that in those dark times, positivity isn't going to make a dent in their pain.  They don't ask for anything and it is hard when my desire is to want to take the pain away.   These are cases where you just have to sit in that pain with them. But as the years pass by there is a common thread that I have heard each of them say.  They want to talk about their child. They want you to say their child's name. They want to celebrate the positive gift of that life and the short time they had with them.  They don't want to focus on their child's death, they want to focus on their life.

We can learn a lot from them.

Amazingly, this decision to shift my mindset only took about five minutes. Every day is a gift, even if it appears to look like a lump of coal.  I took another sip of my coffee, tied my hair back into a bun and stuffed it under the hood of my coat,  added an additional layer of lipstick and walked into work knowing that I was in control of turning this day around even if my feet were wet while doing it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Soul Skipping

Part of the warm-up at the gym I attend regularly is skipping.   For me, the act of skipping, despite its apparent health benefits,  opens a window into my childhood.  As a little girl, I would skip to my friend's house down the street with my dog Ginger close behind me.   I would skip with my arms swinging and I thought if I skipped high enough I might touch a cloud.  Even though my body never did, my head was certainly up there.
So at 5 a.m. when I'm skipping across the gym with my workout buddies, I can't help but laugh. Nobody is immune from the skipping portion of the workout.  Young, old, men, women, it doesn't matter, if you are there, you are skipping.   And I dare you to try and skip and not crack a smile.
Last weekend I took my son, Oscar to his friend's birthday party.  He was very particular with his outfit that day.  He wanted to wear sweatpants instead of the corduroy pants I had suggested because of his concern that if they played hide n seek his pants would indicate his location.   He also spent a lot of time picking out a shirt he thought would be ninjalike.    He could hardly contain himself when we arrived at the house and as soon as we arrived, he skipped all the way to the front door.  Arms swinging, knees high, with a homemade birthday card in his hand and an enormous smile that took over his entire face.   He is my son after all, and skipping is just happiness exiting our body so we don't burst.
He skips because his soul is happy and nobody has told him not to.   And he skips everywhere.
But my other boys don't.  My husband doesn't.  My coworkers certainly don't.  And somewhere along the way, I stopped too.  If you think about it, it is a perfectly effective way to get from point A to point B.  It is faster than walking,  more fun than running,  yet you never see adults skipping past you because they are late for a meeting.  Walking fast with your eyes on your phone makes you look more important anyway.  If you saw me skipping past you on the street you may assume I'm either intoxicated or a bit crazy.  But why does that matter?
Why do I suffer from worrying about OPO (other people opinions)?  Just last week my son, Jack said that some of his classmates told him he is weird because he enjoys different things than they do. I told him that being weird is a wonderful thing because it means you are unique and that you think freely instead of conforming to what other people think you should like.  And truthfully in our family, he doesn't stand a chance of not being weird.  He comes from a long line of weirdos.
Yet last week I really wanted to paint my fingernails black, but I didn't because I worried that people would think that I was too goth, or not professional or whatever. But seriously, who the hell actually cares what the checkout lady thinks of my nails?  Me, apparently.
If I don't follow my own path of happiness, then whose path am I following?  No other person can possibly know my deepest feelings, passions and desires more than me?
Yesterday, I caught myself saying, " I really wish I would have done (blank) when I was younger."  I actually said that out loud while my mind was racing with creative thoughts.  And before I could even finish my own sentence, my heart and brain skipped right past that thought and screamed: "Why can't you do it now?"   Nothing speaks truer words than your heart.  But the trick is you have to listen.
When I write, my body may not be skipping, but my soul is.  My heart feels full. My body feels relaxed and my mind is calm.   It is my personal happiness oasis.
My husband finds his happiness in building and fixing things, whether it is a pergola in our backyard or building curiosity in the minds of the children he teaches.  His soul skips in those moments. Mine would fall flat on its face.
I need more skipping in my life.
For the past week, I have been introspective while observing the messiness and weight of everyday life. How my interactions with certain people make me feel.  Or how simple things can spin me into a tailspin of emotion. 
For example, my brother was in town and we were standing in my parent's kitchen.  The same kitchen that both of us grew up in.  I can't imagine all the times he and I have stood in that kitchen in our lives.   My mom had made enough of Mama Gunn cookies to feed the neighborhood.   They take an entire day to make.  They are by far the best cookies on the face of this Earth and have some addictive ingredient that nobody really knows what it is.   I can resist temptation in most any other circumstance except this.  I am defenseless. And so was my brother.
We both stood there cutting off another piece of this cookie and a rush of every childhood emotion came over me.  It was as if the taste brought me back to the excitement and joy of the holidays and it was absolutely transcendent.  (Maybe I should really find out what is actually IN these cookies.)
For that moment, I just allowed myself to be completely content in the simple act of eating this cookie in the safest place I know with people that love me more than life itself. If I would have been able to pull myself away from those cookies, I would have skipped down the hall.
As I approach this holiday weekend, my goal is to embrace simple joy and happiness. And if I am able to do this openly without fear,  my hope that it will spread.  The photo above is from my son riding a penny mechanical horse in a public supermarket.  He was laughing, talking in a cowboy voice and didn't care who saw him. Because he doesn't suffer from OPO he didn't feel the need to mute his fun.  And a crazy thing happened.  Everyone who was watching him couldn't help but share in his joy.
If skipping down the street is what makes you feel happy then do it with confidence.   Or if reading a book, or volunteering, or hugging your best friends or watching a cheesy movie or singing at the top of your lungs, or wearing fleece lined Christmas leggings and obnoxious Christmas sweaters are what brings you joy then just do it without fear of what anybody else thinks.
 I'm convinced that when you are doing something that makes your soul skip, then others souls will want to follow.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Love Letter to Yourself

A few weeks ago, I found myself in an apple orchard with a good friend and a new friend who happens to be an amazing photographer, who loves taking pictures of women.  She had two dresses I was wearing the white one and my friend chose the blue one.  Both dresses were the embodiment of femininity.   Not because it was tight, in fact, it was the opposite. It was long and flowing and had a deep V in the center.  The material was thin enough to let sunlight through but not sheer enough to show everything.
In other words, this was not a situation I find myself in often.
This tapped into my secret fantasy to live on an orchard in an undiscovered town in California and have chickens and the boys would only eat the food we grew and raise them all free-range style.  The boys... and the food.  I wouldn't wear makeup and walk around barefoot all day, read books, listen to music, paint, drink wine for lunch and wear long flowy dresses. 
My reality is quite different. This orchard was in Goshen, Indiana which is about 45 minutes away and the only reason I go to Goshen is to visit my grandparent's grave site.   Ironically, this orchard was a stone throw away from that.
The dress required some strategic undergarments because of its material. In my California fantasy, I'm not taping things to my nipples to cover them up, because, in California, nobody cares, but we were taking photos after all and thought it would be a good idea.
As I was walking through the orchard, picking apples, I felt a deep and unequivocal connection to my roots.  Whether it was because I was in nature or because I was near my grandparents, or just because I slowed down. Whatever the reason, I felt at peace.   And that is what comes through in these pictures.

I shared with my friend that I had done this and she asked me why.  She couldn't imagine getting photos taken of herself for the sole purpose to get pictures of herself.  

First, I told her about a photo I have of my mom.  It was taken when she was a new mother and it is by far, the most beautiful photo I have ever seen. And not just of my mom, but of anyone.  My heart actually throbs when I see this picture of a woman who was doing exactly what she wanted to do.  I treasure that photo.
Next, I told her that she is worth getting her picture taken.  So many women don't feel that way. Or they worry what other people will think, or that people will say they are vain, or even worse, that people won't like what they see.  There is nothing vain in celebrating yourself. 
When I was walking through the orchard I felt radiant.  Not because of my makeup or hair or dress, (which were all fantastic and not done by me) but because I was doing something for myself, and I was with girlfriends who were positive, fun and supportive.

 I'm not going to apologize for that.

When she sent me the photos, my first reaction was to find my flaws.  I was worried other people that would see them too.  I worried that if my sons saw the pictures they would be embarrassed.
That is when I had to make a hard stop and ask what in the hell my problem was.  This is who I am.  I am a woman who for the most part, is comfortable in my body.   There is beauty in that.    Think about the time when you felt the most beautiful.  For me, it was immediately after I gave birth to my first son.  In the photo, I'm laughing through tears and sweat, my hair is a mess and all over the place. I'm 40 lbs heavier and I'm natural, primal and gorgeous.   Of course, I can't recreate that every day. But if you feel most beautiful in sweats and a t-shirt, then you celebrate that.  If you feel most beautiful with amazing makeup and your hair done up, then celebrate that.

Because when you feel beautiful, you are beautiful. 

When you do things for someone else, (like when I cut my hair really short because my boyfriend liked it that way) then you are looking good for someone, but not feeling good. The point is not to chase beauty but be an example of it.  From the inside out.

In college, I learned that when you attach your worth to what other people say about you, then you are giving your power away.  So it only feels natural and good to write a love letter to yourself, or just do something that makes you feel really good. Maybe that is food, maybe that is a hike, maybe it is sex, maybe it is sleep. maybe its spending time with friends. Maybe it is all of those things combined.   Whatever that is for you, just do it. 

In my case, it was doing this. These photos embodied so much of what makes me feel beautiful, and  I don't think hiding my true self from my boys will make them better men, in fact, I think it would only perpetuate a stereotype of what a woman should or shouldn't be.   At the end of the day, I'm the only one who can give the boys an example of a happy mother who is squeezing the most out of life or at least tries too, on most days.

I won't display the photos above the mantle.  I'll keep them with the rest of our family's pictures. This entire day was more about celebrating myself and the pictures are just a result of that. Someday I hope my sons will stumble upon them and see me for more than just their mom. But as a woman who loved life even when things weren't easy.   A woman who could be a mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend,  but also own her sensuality,  have a desire to learn more, to excel in whatever she takes an interest in and to take care of the ones she loves, including herself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Believe It Or Not, Kids Are Listening.

Last weekend we went to a barn party.  Well, it was actually a hog roast, but we called it a barn party because the boys are particularly empathetic to animals. And in this case, they knew the hog and his name.
It was a laid-back family kind of party where you bring a blanket, and take walks around the farm.  We feel very comfortable there and the boys run around and play with their friends while we talk to ours.  It reminds me of summer parties from my childhood.  Returning to my parents just before it was time to leave, sweaty and tired and tan after playing capture the flag in a Midwestern neighborhood.
There was a band and Don asked me to dance.  While we danced Jack and Oscar joined us and we formed our own little mosh pit.  When the song was over, following what he had witnessed his daddy do, Oscar asked me to dance.   I put my flip flops back on and heading back to the driveway which was serving as our dance floor.  He twirled me around until I got dizzy. We held hands and did a ring around-the-rosey type dance we made up until the band stopped for the night.
We were sweaty and tired and tan when we returned to our blanket.
On the ride home Don texted me the picture he had taken while Oscar and I were dancing.  One of those pictures that someday, when I'm old I'll look at it and won't be able to recall a time when Oscar was shorter than me.  It was a perfect moment frozen in time. I shared it on social media.  I showed Oscar and he said it was a cool picture. All was well in the world.
My cyber friends saw the beauty in the picture too and a lot of people liked it. The following day I viewed the photo again.  The barn party weekend euphoria had ended and it was Sunday night.   As I looked at the photo I said to Don "This is a horrible picture, I look 6 months pregnant, I should delete it."  Don didn't respond because after 18 years he doesn't entertain negative comments I say about my body.  But a low little voice from behind the couch did. 
Not only did Oscar hear me say it was a horrible picture, but also that I looked pregnant and that I wanted to delete it.  He asked me why looking pregnant was a bad thing and why I lied about liking the picture yesterday.  In his 8-year-old mind, he thought I wanted to delete dancing with him from my memory.

I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

Being the only woman in my house, I try so hard, maybe extra hard, to show the boys that I love who I am. I want them to see me taking care of myself, so I can take care of them. I want them to see me sweaty with no makeup on when I come home from the gym.  I want them to see me put on lipstick and heels before I go to work.  Or wear a dress to go out to a concert.

When Jack commented that all I ate was salad, I tried eating a bigger variety so that they wouldn't assume that all women just eat salads.
In public, I make a point to comment on how beautiful pregnant women are.  Yet... here I was, saying the opposite.   I mean, in his mind, if pregnant women are beautiful, why would I be complaining about it if I felt I looked pregnant in a photo? 
Obviously,  as a mother of four large babies despite my best efforts, there are times and angles that my mid-section is not flattering.   How shallow of me to focus on the one thing in the photo that didn't matter. The one thing that nobody else was thinking.    The one thing that I shouldn't even care about.

He sat on the couch and I told him he was right.  That I do love that photo and I loved dancing with him even more.  That I was wrong to say mean things about anyone, especially myself.  After all, my body is amazing and it was able to nurture and carry his brothers and him.

But let me be completely honest.  I don't tell my body that on a regular basis.  In fact, if my body was my friend, it would have unfriended me long ago.  I continually look in the mirror and see things I don't like. In the process, I completely overlook the things I should.  Some of them stem from things that have happened to me when I was a teen.  Other things are my opinion based on the unrealistic expectations I alone have decided as to what beauty looks like.

I keep those all in my head, until I don't, and one of my sons hears me putting down his mommy.

Kids are always watching and listening. Even when you think they aren't.    When they are engrossed in their Nintendo DS or phones or watching YouTube. They listen. I know this because I can speak the words "dinner is ready" and they come running, even when moments earlier I screamed at the top of my lungs asking whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher and nobody responded.  They hear you moan in the mirror.  They see you stuff your body into garments to make you appear that you take up less space in the world. They notice when you look yourself straight in the eye and frown.  

I don't have daughters. But I have an important task, in raising sons.  I need to let the boys know, that women are beautiful because of who they are, what they are capable of doing as human beings and not what they look like.  And if they don't like something, they change it. But there is no room for judgment. Especially in oneself.  The people whom I love know that I love them hard.  And, that should include myself too. All of me.

What Oscar saw in that picture is everything I aspire to be.  He sees the beauty in the first woman who has ever loved him and will never stop.  And he sees his mommy. Who he asked to dance and she said yes and if he asks again, as long as I am able,  I always will.  That is true beauty and has absolutely nothing to do with the size of my waist.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Finding Soul-itude

I don't spend a lot of time alone.   Even times that I should be alone, like in the bathroom, I don't have much solitude because just on the other side of our old wooden door is either our dog or a son having a barely audible one sided conversation with me about Minecraft.
I recall a time when I felt alone a lot.  I was living in one of the largest cities in the country, and I had never felt more lonely.  I had plenty of friends.  But as I drove home from my acting class in Hollywood to my apartment in West Los Angeles, I remember having an overwhelming sense of isolation. Despite having plenty of connections, I didn't feel like I was actually connecting with anyone.

Now 18 years later my only solitude is found between dropping the boys off at various social and extracurricular events and usually, it is brief.    My minivan is my sanctuary.  It's climate controlled, kind of echo-y has the best music and it is the place that I can let everything out. For as many times the odometer has clicked a new number,  I have prayed, worried, sang, laughed or pulled over to cry.  I have had deep hands free phone conversations while in the Target parking lot which probably made me look crazy.  I have taken cat naps.  I have asked questions and expected to hear the answers.   When you're busy, you have to find meditation wherever you can get it.
Last week I was on the cusp of what felt like a big decision in my life.   I had finished a particularly challenging workout.  The sun hadn't quite come up yet, and I found myself pulled over next to the river. I opened the sunroof, turned off the engine.  It is not a secret that I'm a very artistic person.  I have come to realize I see things through a more colorful lens than your average person.   With that in mind, I will continue.
I looked over at the hospital.  I was born there.  My siblings were born there.   All four of my sons took their first breaths there. Even the two souls that never did, were born there.  Every single school day, my dad and I would drive past on the way to school.  Every day my mom and I would drive past on the way home.    I can almost feel every joy, pain, anxiety, happiness that I have felt throughout my life when I look at that building.  I still pass the hospital every single day, and it still catches my attention.  It's like passing an old friend, one who doesn't say much but observes everything.  knows a lot more about you than you think they do. 
As I sat there contemplating a change in my life, I turned to the hospital, almost expecting an answer.   Sometimes I think listening is the most powerful tool I have. Even when the answer doesn't come in words.

When I was my loneliness, it was because  I was trying to conform to someone that I wasn't.  I was on a mission to hide who I was, trying to please someone else, to be liked by people who weren't my friends.  In the process of trying to go from a size 4 to a 2 to a 0.  I wasn't just physically shrinking, my true self-was disappearing too.  I couldn't even be alone because if I sat really still, I had to listen to the voice that knew my authenticity had been seriously compromised. I'm not one to shy away from an argument, even with myself. 
The truth came to me in a really dark moment.  I had been out with friends for about an hour when I was drugged.  Thankfully they recognized this and got me to safety. To be out with friends one moment and 12 hours later wake up and not have any recollection of how I had gotten there was incredibly scary. I was home, in my little apartment bathtub, which is confusing as it is, but at least I was home.  (In hindsight, I wish they would have left a note) but I at least they got me there.

After I stopped being sick and was laying in my own bed, in my own pajamas, I took an inventory of every inch of my body asking myself how I had gotten there. Both literally and figuratively.  And while taking inventory, I had to make sure my soul was intact.  And at that moment, it wasn't. Not at all.  I listened hard that morning.  And even took a break from L.A. for a few days to find me again.  

Sometimes you need to be in solitude to allow your soul to give you the answer it has been trying to give you this entire time.  I'm not saying being drugged by a stranger is ever a good thing, but in this case, it was a dangerous wake-up call.  That I needed to stop searching for answers from others and search inside myself.

A few weeks later I met Don.  A few years later we returned to my hometown to raise a family.  And live a stone throw away from my old hospital.

And now, I find my sanctuary, sitting in a van down by the river.

I got my answer that day.  But only after I truly stopped. Stopped my body, and my racing mind. Stopped scrolling and lifted my focus away from my phone, away from the worry of what other people were thinking.  And I took a sharp turn inward. How amazing to give yourself the gift of solitude in a  crazy busy world.  A splendid moment of isolation in more restorative than any conversation could be.  And when you quiet the noise you can finally find your voice.