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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.


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Friday, September 3, 2021

It's Not About Me



I would describe my mothering style as that of a bird. Meaning I'm the type of mama that can't rest until all her birds are in the nest. I like to keep their bodies warm and their bellies full and have a bird's-eye view so I can see all of them and keep them safe.
In one weekend we took my oldest son to college and our second son to boarding school. 
This had been the plan since January but as each summer week passed I began to have this ache in my heart that only seemed to get tighter. 
Friends kept asking me how I was going to feel when two of the boys left at the same time.  I would flippantly respond with something about our grocery bill being cut in half.  A little-known fact about me is that I often make jokes when I want to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions.  Ironically, I was also voted the most humorous in both my high school and undergrad class.  That is expert-level avoidance.
The truth was, I wasn't ready for them to leave. 
But it's not about me.
A decade ago I was talking to a friend and told her I could never send my sons away to high school as she had done for her daughters.  She responded with, "It's not about you."
I took a long sip of my wine and I thought her comment was cold and not very maternal at all.   Does a bird push her chics out of the nest until she is confident they can fly? No. 
Until I was standing in the middle of campus as thunder crashed and big raindrops began to fall and I clung to my son.  Getting accepted to this school has been his dream, and here we were. My husband began to walk away but I couldn't let go.  Just 11 years ago I was dropping him off at preschool and he clung to my ankles screaming as I walked away dragging him along the hallway.  Even though it is a performing arts school I wondered if it would be too dramatic if I reversed roles and did the same thing to him.  
I regretted this boarding school decision. I wanted to tell him he could get into the car right now and... I heard my friend's words and thought, it's not about me. 
I told him I loved him and he walked away not looking back.  It had started to rain harder and Don was already halfway to the car so I ran to catch up.  The lump inside of my throat began to swell as I watched other parents smiling and waving. How could they be so happy when I felt like I was about to vomit.  I buckled my seatbelt and cried for most of the 5-hour ride home. I  was able to pull myself together as we reached our street but when I walked in the door and saw his Adidas slides in the middle of the floor I fell apart.  The very thing that drove me crazy is now causing nostalgia of a child who has been gone for 5 hours and 15 minutes.   
It was 93 degrees outside and I headed to my closet and located the largest, fuzziest cardigan I could find and stuffed the pocked with tissues and made my way to my oldest son's room to help him pack because as luck would have it, we were moving him into college the next morning.  I asked if he wanted to have dinner with us and he said he wanted to go out with a friend. As I began a monologue about how this was going to be our last supper with his two younger brothers he was gone.   I glanced around his room and on his bed, surrounded by dirty clothes, bowls and cups was his empty suitcase waiting to be filled.  Usually, I would have been annoyed but at this moment I was thankful for the tissues I had just stuffed in my pocket. 
Why couldn't I stop crying... if I'm being honest, I should rephrase that, why I can't stop crying.  I woke up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water and started crying. So I woke Don up to tell him I was crying, he asked why, and when I was finally able to get the words out he had already fallen back to sleep.  I fell asleep on the couch while telling our dog how sad I was.  I woke up early and went for a long walk and cried even more. 
I knew this was going to be hard but I'm surprised by how utterly crushed I feel.  As I walked I passed a neighbor walking her dog and she asked how I was doing. I made a joke that the humidity this early was making me cry. Again, deflecting from the fact that I was crying uncontrollably while walking down the street with a cardigan around my waist filled with used tissues.   I walked aimlessly through the Notre Dame Cemetery and found myself sitting on a bench facing a sculpture of Our Lady of Sorrows. The sculpture had seven swords piercing her heart.
If anyone can empathize with being a boy mom, it is Mary. How ridiculous it was that I was comparing the sorrows she endured with raising her son (of God) with the pain I was feeling with raising my son (of Don) and I was reminded again of my tendency to be dramatic.  But on a much grander scale,  it is not about me. 
It wasn't the boy's absence that was making me so anxious, it was the fear of the unknown. What if I'm pushing them out of the nest before they can fly? "What if" thoughts are my nemesis. 
I was so distraught and that I had to surrender something that I hold so close to me, control.  
Or at least the illusion of it. Up until this point, I have known their daily schedules, what they were eating, who they were with (most of the time), how they were feeling, what series they were binge-watching, or if they needed to do their laundry.  I recognize that all of this information is not necessary for caring for them, but somehow knowing all these things made me feel like I had a purpose. It made me feel like I was somehow looking out for them and keeping them safe. 
But, it's not about me. 
I decided to leave all my fear baggage there.  I'm not the one moving so the best thing I could do is not force my sons to carry my baggage with them, they have enough to carry right now.

I returned home and prepared to release another bird from the nest. I wish I could say that it went better than the day before.   It was similar, I clung to my oldest son as the rain started to fall.   I was beginning to wonder if the rain wasn't a divine Vaudeville hook to get me off the stage.  I held my tears long enough to get into the car, buckle my seatbelt and again cry the entire way home. 
Both boys were anxious to jump the nest and explore on their own.  From what I can see from my non-bird's-eye perspective, they are more than capable of flying on their own. 
The nest feels a little empty but my heart still feels pretty full.  

Parker and Finegan are apart from me, but still very much a part of me. And that won't change. We have raised them up to this moment for this moment, so it doesn't make sense to make this about me. 
It is very much about them, it always has been. 


Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Don't Be afraid to Lift Heavy



I can lift more weight than most women I know. When I back squat, it is usually more than 50 pounds my body weight. I used to be embarrassed by this, I thought it wasn't feminine or pretty. But not too long ago a woman at the gym told me that I amaze her and that stuck with me. 
The truth is, most women could lift just as much as me, some even more but they are afraid to.  Granted, I have been doing this for a long time and I love it, and as a result, I can lift a lot of weight.
There is something about lifting heavy things that make most people nervous. That is probably why we don't return people's texts when they need help moving. 
Heavy makes us uncomfortable.  There is this moment right before I step up to the barbell to lift something that I can tell whether I will succeed or not.  That first moment is crucial...it hurts but only for a second before my body takes over and I know I've got it.  There have been plenty of times where I panic and put it back on the rack.   Then I try again.  If I can't do it by the fourth or fifth try it is just not my day and that is okay. Well, I may beat myself up, but I'll eventually get over it.
Once in a while, someone may notice I'm struggling and will walk over to spot me, but they aren't there to lift the weight, they are there to lift my spirit.  Hearing someone tell me that I can do it, is all I need.  Do they actually know this? Of course not, I could crash and burn.  But if that same person came up and told me I couldn't do it, I would probably believe that and they would be right.   
Heavy is uncomfortable but not impossible. 
And the world feels heavy right now.  Every aspect of my life has felt like a significant about of weight has been added to it. 
Parenting during a pandemic will go down in history but parenting teens in a pandemic will live on in infamy. Mostly because the independence and trust they worked their lives to earn suddenly got taken away and we began treating them like toddlers again.  Repeatedly telling them no to sleepovers and hanging out with friends, asking them if they washed their hands every minute, asking if he wore a mask, and following them around so I can take their temperature.  I spent the last decade of their lives limiting screen time only to demand it now.   
I don't know how to do this and I worry constantly if I'm doing the right thing or if I'm permanently damaging them.  The good news is that every other parent is in the same boat. (Even if my sons don't think that is true.) 
While parenting at this time may be the elephant in the room, let's add in a donkey too, and have one of one of the most hostile political climates this country has ever seen. 
Then all the murders.  I have never cried more for other mama's babies than this summer.  
Heavy, heavy world.
Relationships that used to feel easy suddenly feel complicated.  Some people have snapped under the pressure and what is left is a side of them you had never seen or thought of before.  The heaviness of choosing to accept a friend's opinion even though you think it's fundamentally wrong, or deciding you just can't move past it will weigh down your heart until it feels like it is in the pit of your stomach.
And marriage, when we got married we said in sickness and in health but nobody said anything about marital health in a deadly sickness.  And more togetherness than you ever thought was possible while you both try to work from home and fight for a strong wifi connection that your wifi greedy children are already using. 
We sealed our house so tightly in fear, that we didn't allow enough air in and it felt like I was suffocating.
These are moments I need my parents and all I want is to run away to get a hug from my mom and dad but I can't because they are in the vulnerable category, and what if I spread the virus to them?  Could I live with that? All this worry feels not just uncomfortable but unbearable and utterly impossible to carry.
When I'm at my low point and my head fills with self-doubt (which I have had quite a few these moments the past six months) I remember that a woman at the gym told me I was amazing. She stood behind me and told me I could do it.  
Fear is not going to lift the weight of this worry. The belief that I can push through it, will. 
It is true, that this time is going to go down in history as a struggle.  And no matter how strong I think I am, my muscle power alone can only do so much. 

When I find darkness inward I have to lift my head and look outward to see what is around me.  It is not all doom and gloom.  

Lately, I have witnessed so many strong women that amaze me.  I may have physical strength, but the emotional strength that exudes from some women leaves me speechless.  But just like me, they didn't get there overnight.   They watched their mothers or grandmothers cope in ways that prepared them to do the same.  
Generations of women before us who persevered through war, deprivation, and oppression.  They were faced with burdens that seemed humanly impossible to carry, and they found a way to do it.
Something that I have learned from lifting heavy things is that when the weight is evenly distributed and I focus on engaging every muscle possible it feels lighter. 
The weight we are feeling in the world right now feels impossible but we can't be afraid to go heavy.   
Yesterday was a hard day for me and a friend recognized this and carried the emotional weight for me. She wasn't telling me "You've got this", she was telling me, "We've got this."  
Women show up for other women. 
We just have to look up to see that all the worry, fear, anxiety, disappointment, self-doubt, and hopelessness we feel that day has been felt by a friend the day before and will be felt by another friend tomorrow. We are never alone in this journey.  
It may still be tremendously heavy but feel a little lighter if we evenly distribute it amongst each other. For me, admitting I need help is one of the hardest things for a strong girl to do. 

In the opening scene of Wonder Woman, the Amazonian women are faced with a battle to protect their homes. At first, you see a lone woman running straight into danger. We all have that friend that appears to be fearless in any situation.  But the truth is, she was confident that her sisters, mother, and friends were united, right behind her charging full speed. Knowing that, must have made her feel confident, and maybe even invincible. This is what makes women so beautiful, physically, and emotionally.  She wasn't afraid because she knew she wasn't alone. 

We are stronger when we support each other.  We are all feeling the uncertainty and heaviness of the world right now. 

We have got this. The first step is to show up for each other. This is the most important part.  Look up and see who needs a little help. Whatever that may look like.  A small gift, a text, a drink, a note, a card, a walk. Anything you can think of to show them that you see them, and they are important. Lifting anything heavy is impossible to do without some pain, but there will be a point when it will suddenly feel a little lighter because you realize you are not alone in carrying it.  

Women were born to lift each other up. Women were born to lift heavy.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Frenemy


A frenemy is someone who you think is your friend but behind the nice facade they are your enemy and they know you intimately.  I have one of those.

Things have been pretty weird lately, right?  I remember wishing that I could just have some time when we couldn't leave the house and it would be forced family time. Like a snowstorm or something.  Well, if the universe was listening and if I'm self-centered enough to believe it was, then I caused this stay at home COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic because here we are. Is this week 10 or 15?  I don't know anymore.

The first few days were nice and filled with board games, Netflix, bread making, and quarantine schedules. But after that everyone, even the dogs have found their little spot in the house that is away from anyone else.  Family dinners are made but we don't eat together anymore.  Mostly because when I'm eating lunch my teen boys are eating breakfast and when I'm eating dinner they are just getting around to having a snack. 
My husband lives here... I think? He has set up a little office (or maybe it is a panic room) in the basement. 

I have looked up on any given day and seen all of us on laptops and realized we hadn't spoken in hours or maybe even days. 

I'm just going to write what I'm feeling in my heart.   My anxiety has been through the mother f'ing roof.  I mean like a level 17 on a 10 point scale.  I thrive on routine.  I thrive on lists. In other words... not this.  

What I discovered is that I have vices.  I didn't realize that certain things were vices, but now that I have had time to sit with myself I realize I most certainly did. And these vices were what kept my anxiety from being as obvious as a scarlet letter "A "on my forehead.  
Anxiety can look different for a lot of people.  For me, it can be summed up in one word Fear, with a capital F. 

But during this time it was not fear of the pandemic or the virus that made my anxiety skyrocket, it was the fear of not doing enough. And that is when I discovered what my vice was.   My vice is keeping myself so busy that I don't have to listen to the worries in my head.  It was meeting up with friends trying to solve their issues so I didn't have to face mine.   

During this time, when my vices are not easily accessible, my issues stepped into the spotlight. There has been a particular friend who has been pointing out all of my flaws.   Calling me out when I think I'm doing okay.   Like, when I felt like I had done a really good job helping my son with his math homework, only to have my friend remind me that in fact, I'm a dumbass when it comes to math. I always have been, in college I was diagnosed with having some issue with number dyslexia so I was able to take a "math for the real world" just to complete my math requirement.  She also reminded me that in high school when I was injured and couldn't play soccer for an entire season and by the time January rolled around I was 20 lbs. heavier and that was probably going to happen again since I couldn't go to the gym. Not to mention all the carbs I have been eating. So much bread.

My frenemy knows everything about me because she is the little voice in my head that acts as a fact-checker to everything I do.  And this time alone has called her center stage as the ingenue of her own show called Anxiety- a very long drawn out musical in one act. Like the scene in the Sound of Music with Mother Superior, it is so loooong. 

My fear manifests itself in my body near my heart.  When it grows it feels really heavy. I usually start to rub that area of my chest. I didn't realize this until my son asked me why my chest was so red. When I looked in the mirror I realized that had been rubbing that area so much that it had become irritated.  I wonder how often I do that in public and people think I'm rubbing my boob?  Probably a lot. 

It's not a coincidence that I have always thought of my sons as sections of my heart personified as boys walking around town completely exposed to the elements. And everyone knows that it is not good to have a vital organ walking about in public and sunlight. It is supposed to be enclosed behind bones, and muscles and skin and walls and bricks, behind a locked door near me so I can do my job as a mother and protect them.  Cue frenemy who makes her entrance walks up to the microphone and sings the boring nun song to remind me of a few things.

"How did you think you could be a good mom?  If you can't even meet their needs when they are home, you are clearly failing when they leave the house.  That is why they don't want to watch a movie with you anymore, they don't need you.  They aren't babies. You can't protect them.  They are going to leave you and enter the world and there is nothing you can do about it."

What. A. Bitch.

Then my heart begins to ache, my head begins to ache and I begin to spiral.  
This time at home has made her voice loud and clear. 

Rather than call a friend and have her tell me her problems as a distraction, I had to face my own.  So I decided to do something I hadn't done in a long time.  I started writing.  Not typing, actual writing with a pen on paper.  It felt strange.  I used to have a journal but I stopped doing that when a boyfriend read it and used my words and thoughts against me.  I began typing because it could be password protected.  But it isn't the same. I began writing down everything my inner voice was telling me.  

That girl was right in grade school, you really are super weird. 
You may fool your boss but you don't know what you are doing. 
You are not good enough.
How could you bring children into a world like this?

Each bit of information I was reading or watching on the news was like a twig feeding the anxiety fire that was billowing out of control inside me and there was no way to put it out. My friends on social media were battling it out on whether or not they need to wear a mask in public.  Humans treating humans poorly or killing them because of deep seating racism was adding to my anxiety. The collective anxiety this is causing is palpable. 

Imagine if that was my son who died? Or more accurately, imagine it was my son who was the police officer who killed him. Imagine that was my son who called 911 on a Harvard educated bird watcher who pissed him off just because he felt entitled to do so, and  because he was black.  Are we doing enough as parents to educate our boys?  Oh my God, what if we are not?  What about the police officers that just stood there and did nothing? Are my sons brave enough to stand up for what is right? 
I frantically wrote all that out too. 

My frenemy became silent. We can't close our eyes when we are faced with things we don't want to see. That is when we have to open them and see the bigger picture.

I revisited my journal before I went to bed and responded to all those fear-based lies in a way I would talk to a friend.  Mostly with sarcasm and humor or sometimes with "Shuuut up," or if you suck at your job how could you have had it for 13 years and counting?  Just the facts ma'am.  Maybe I am weird, but I'm also creative AF. 

If this time in isolation has taught me anything it is that I'm kind of intense.   I love my sons so hard that it hurts. And I mean that it hurts me, and if I'm not careful, sometimes it can hurt them too.  Like not letting them grow up.  
All of this fear and fire and exposed hearts walking down the street has never actually happened, only in my head (obviously). 

I said I was going to write what was on my heart and I have but I hesitated to share this publicly. My frenemy was telling me it would be too revealing and people will not only think but now have proof that I am super weird. And they would be right.  But the truth is, my real friends and people in my life already know all this and still love me, even if they can't hug me right now.  I miss those hugs so much.

If you have felt like this you can know you are not alone.  When they say we are in this together, we really are.  I believe fear is at the root of a lot of anxiety.
If we can face those fears, expose them for what they really are, they look naked. Like someone who forgot to wear clothes to the store and is telling you how to dress. 
My point is, they don't have power...or pants.  


It is all the way you look at it, do the best you can and love yourself and others. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Surrender


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, August 29, 2019

So Many Men, So Little Time


My grandmother had a giant's strength for her petite frame.  She weighed about 105 lbs and I'm convinced that 25 of those pounds were distributed in her very ample bosom.  She owned her beauty and never tried to hide it. She never spoke a negative word about her loud mouth opinionated husband, who was a real-life Archie Bunker,  my Grandpa. Well, at least not with her voice.  But her blue eyes could tell a 50-page story in a single glance.  My grandpa had the bravado of a tough cowboy, but we all knew where his strength came from, and that was her.  One afternoon when my grandpa was cleaning out his gun in the kitchen it fired and a bullet came within inches of hitting my grandma who was sitting in the bathroom across the house, she didn't blame him, but you better believe she damn well made sure those bullets were impossible for him to find.  She didn't stand by her man, she stood behind him, which is totally understandable after he almost shot her when she was on the toilet. But as I grew into a young woman. I never could understand that relationship. And since my teen self knew everything about marriages, I was vocal about that. 

I went college across the country and I came home for Easter and although I was only home for a weekend, I made sure to line up at least three dates.  When I left Easter dinner early she stood up from the table and asked where I was going "So many men, so little time" I yelled.  Her eyes locked with mine, telling me a story at that moment, and what I thought was going to be disapproval, was just a subtle wink.  We laughed and I was off.

Those words were the last thing I ever said to my grandma.

The next time I came home in the summer was for her funeral.   In three months she was gone.
I have said a lot of things I regret in my life, but that one...that one has stayed with me for a while.   Why didn't I say I love you or have a nice dinner or anything but that.
The next few years I continued to date... heavily.  I had a few very bad experiences with men, I wondered if my Grandma in her postmortem was directing this bad romantic comedy I was living out. Before I said those regretful words to her, I had great relationships with guys, they were some of my best friends, and suddenly all the crazy ones came out of the woodwork to find me. 
My bad luck followed me when I moved to Los Angeles to pursue my acting career. There, I had a series of casting couch incidents, the worst one involved a big named producer that worked in the same building as I did. He had called me into his office because he said had an important script to show me. When I walked in, he was holding the script in his lap and asked me to come around his desk to see something and by "some "thing" he meant his erect penis. I stood there for a moment, squinted my eyes and said "That's it?" I left his office and didn't shut the door.  Clearly, he was looking for a different performance than I was willing to give.    At this point, I was considering swearing men off altogether.
Then when I wasn't looking a long-haired, tattooed guy from Hollywood, danced into my life... and he never left.  The type of wholesome guy who would drive across the country and ask a father if he could marry his daughter and to make a good impression he would even pull his long hair back, and cover up his tattoos.   To which, said father would respond,  with an excited "Yes!" quickly followed by "but do you really know what you are getting in to?"
But my husband would never meet my grandmother or any of my grandparents. In just 3 short years, I lost all four of them. 

In seven years we would have four sons.   One late night, after our bedroom was a revolving door of boys needing something, I finally fell asleep in a chair rocking my baby, I had a vivid dream about my Grandma.  She was there with me and was smiling, her dimples, that she passed on to me were clearly visible. At that moment I needed her and I missed her so much.  I woke up crying, and then it hit me. 

SO MANY MEN SO LITTLE TIME

My grandma had come through and with a sense of humor that even I can appreciate.  I am surrounded by men every day all day.  I work with men, I workout with men, some of my best friends are men, I have male dogs  and now, I have 4 little men that I have the gift to raise. The challenge to make an army of gentlemen in a world that is at war with exactly what that looks like. 
And there is so little time to do it.  Every day I watch as one of them reaches another milestone,  or when the challenge of raising teen boys escalates and  I find myself talking to a locked bedroom door, tracing the wood grain with my finger asking him to just tell me what is bothering him so I can help.
 I thought that if I can get this mothering thing right,  I could raise boys that didn't experience emotional pain. But as I'm learning, sometimes pain is the catalyst for growth.  I have spent so much energy trying to shield them from it, but that only showed me how powerless I am.

I wonder what am I doing and if there will never be enough time for me to spend with these men in my life.  Time is moving too quickly.

I used to hide my pain from the boys. The times when my life becomes overwhelming with trying to manage a career, family, a passion for empowering others, relationships, endless school forms, trying to give my dog anxiety medicine. This is when my tough exterior breaks. I don't hide it from them anymore.  Granted watching me ugly cry into my wine glass, while simultaneously watching recorded Days of Our Lives episodes might scar them, the fact that I'm admitting I'm overwhelmed won't.

Each moment, whether it is joyful or painful is a lesson.

I have been given this amazing opportunity to show four boys that it's okay to be vulnerable. It's okay to show emotion and it is okay to love a strong, emotional and ambitious woman.  And every day their dad is showing them what it looks like to love and support a woman like this.

What I realize now is my grandma was a product of her generation,  and she wasn't weak in her relationship, quite the opposite. She had to channel her strength in other ways.  She shattered stereotypes when she went to work in a factory. When she chose to bite her tongue when she could have talked back to my grandpa.  When she stayed married when many women of today would have walked out.  When she taught her own daughter to stand up for herself.  Or when in the last decade of her marriage she chose to wear matching polyester tracksuits with my grandpa... in public.  

And when she taught her smart mouth granddaughter 20 years after she had been gone, just what I am capable of doing.

I'm a woman who is raising boys who will serve the homeless food on Thanksgiving.  A boy who will make me a ring made out of a dandelion.  Boys who will pull their pants up to their chest because they want to make me laugh after a hard day at work. A boy who will learn to play Leonard Cohen's, Hallelujah on his guitar just because I said I liked it. A boy who will send me every single dog video on Instagram because he knows it will make my day. Or a teen boy, who even when he is mad at me still makes sure he gives me a hug every night before he goes to bed.  

Even in the hard and crazy times, I never want it to end.

Oh, grandma, so many men, so little time….indeed.

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. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Unapologetic AF


As many people do,  I attempted to declare a few resolutions when the New Year started.  The first one, which I kept to myself because I knew I couldn't keep it, was to refrain from cuss words the entire year.  I told myself that cuss words are cop-outs. A wise person should be able to express herself without resorting to adding the f-bomb.  This lasted about one day.
We were on a family vacation in Los Angeles at the time and all it took was 15 minutes driving on the 405 to exhale in frustration along with a string of cuss words.  I didn't even realize I had done it until it was too late.   I try not to swear a lot in front of my boys.  But, they have certainly heard words come out of my mouth, especially when I'm frustrated.  My oldest son recently said "fuck" to me and I didn't even notice, and when I did, it was too late to look shocked.
Another resolution was to be more intentional. For example, if I'm at the gym, I want to be present.  I don't want to think about anything else, other than the fact that I am at the gym.  The same when I'm with my boys,  husband, friends, dog, colleagues, etc.  Because you never know when that time might be taken away and all you wish for is more of it.  I took Facebook off of my phone.  Not because I think FB is the devil.  But mostly because it took me away from being present with the people I was with.
I know a lot of people loathe Facebook and I can see where they are coming from all the BS. However, I'm thankful for the friendships I have been able to maintain and I have blocked most of the toxicity, which makes it much more pleasant. And the toxicity that I haven't blocked can be entertaining at times.  Basically,  in 2019 I want more social, less media.
Lastly, I decided to stop being so apologetic.  Towards the end of the year, I became hyper-aware of how often I found myself apologizing. And not for things I should be apologizing for.  It seems that when I really do owe someone an apology, it takes days (sometimes weeks) for me to actually do it. My face cringes thinking about it. It. is. so. hard.   I'm not talking about that kind of apology. I'm talking about the kind where I hide who I am to make other people feel more comfortable.
For example, I liked turning 40.   It felt like a right of passage into I don't give AF land.   When I was in Las Vegas recently I was in the bathroom with a group of women who were there for a bachelorette party.    I walked out of the stall, washed my hands and made sure that I didn't have a coffee stain on my shirt.   I watched one of them tug at her dress and say how much she hated her (size 2 and flat)  belly. I told her she looked amazing.  Because she did.  She brushed off my compliment and said: "Look at you!" which made me wonder if she was saying that because I was her mom's age, or if she was drunk.   I listened as they talked about some guys outside waiting for them.   I too had guys waiting for me, 5 of them to be exact.  And who were annoyed that I had to pee so much.
Sure, I may not like my non-size two belly, but I wouldn't trade the four guys waiting for me outside of the bathroom for it. They are worth every stretch mark.  And because I'm crossed the border of IDGAF land, I decided not to worry about it. It is beautifully liberating.

In my teens, 20's or even 30's, I was constantly apologizing.  I'm sorry I was too loud, I'm sorry I can lift more than the boys can in gym class. I'm sorry I make up metaphors trying to explain my feelings.  I'm sorry I bothered you. I'm sorry that you harassed me, I must have done something to deserve it. I'm sorry you violated me, I must have led you on.   Even in my 40's I have found myself apologizing for things I did wrong that I didn't do wrong.  Like, I'm sorry I raised my voice when I was defending my opinion.  Or I'm sorry I feel so strongly about this.  I'm sorry I'm so emotional.  I'm sorry I texted you so much today.

On the final day of our trip, we took the boys to a spot in Arizona that I discovered one very early morning when I was 19 years old.  I remember back then I would put in a Dave Matthews CD and drive to clear my mind. I hadn't been able to sleep and I just drove until the sun came up.   I came across a place called Gate's Pass.  It took my breath away.  I wanted to boys to experience it.  As I drove up the familiar road I had tears in my eyes.  I didn't apologize.   The sight of this place was so familiar and showing my family was so overwhelming and beautiful I cried.

I find tremendous joy in working out.  It is a reprieve from anxiety, worry and it is when I feel the most comfortable in my ability.  And my body is a reflection of this.  I have big muscles.  I'm not sorry about that.  I started working out with my sons and I can bench press more than they can.  I didn't apologize about that either.   I know very soon this won't be the case.

I don't cry very often.  But when I do, I usually cover my face or apologize.  I'm not going to do that.   While some of the reasons I cry are noteworthy, some might be silly but  I shouldn't feel apologetic.   Also, I'm done apologizing for things I like.   Just because other people don't like the same things, why do we feel the need to say we are sorry.  "I'm sorry, I just love chocolate."  I'm not sorry about that at all. Chocolate is my BF.  I also should mention that I love the Hallmark channel, I haven't missed an episode of  Days of Our lives in YEARS and I'm not sorry about that either.

What I have learned is that every time I apologize, I'm paying homage to the thought that what I am sorry for is bad.

If you made resolutions, great. If not,  great.  2019 is about being proud of  exactly who you are and no more damn apologizing for it.



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.