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Monday, December 12, 2016

Out of Body Parenting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

For that, I am Grateful

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

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

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

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

And it went on.....

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

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

What was I complaining about again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 28, 2016

One Step Away from the Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Living in the Sub-Points

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

My Baby Has a Crush

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And let him experience it on his own.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Opening my vault

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

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

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

But I couldn't do either of these things.

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

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

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

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

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

My plan B was never to talk to her again.

What is so scary about opening yourself up?

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

This is what I figured out.

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

Love Yourself More

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the record…

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

Which brings me to the list.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What is a Mamalogue anyway?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every year we choose a charity to donate a portion of the proceeds, last year we gave to the JWAS Foundation.

The next Mamalogues is on June 15 at The Brick, South Bend, Indiana.

Original cast.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

One Tough Mudder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is why I am one Tough Mudder.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Navigating the Choppy Teen Waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had just faked it until I made it.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Write On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It helps clear the clouds and lets light back in.

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

I see France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That isn't something to be ashamed of.

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

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

Thursday, March 3, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of telling someone I loved them.

Fear of watching someone die.

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

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

When I submitted my first piece of writing.

Anytime I have stepped on stage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Get My Freak On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Just Show Up

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

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

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

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

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

That is the one thing I am really good at.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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