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Tuesday, December 5, 2017

An Open Letter to The Person Who Critiqued My Son's Performance in A Christmas Show

I was having a pretty decent morning. Yesterday, our neighborhood had a freak power outage at 7:30 a.m. right after I had dried half of my hair.   Luckily for me, the wet side was on my left and I was able to roll my window down and let the brisk 41-degree air dry the other side as I rushed to get my boys to school on time So compared to yesterday, it was smooth sailing.

Until a few friends of mine told me not to read the local newspaper.  To be honest, I didn't need coaxing with that.  I don't usually read it anyway, but now I was curious.  As you know, there was a review in the paper of the show two of my sons, my husband, and numerous (new) friends are in.  It is a timely production of A Christmas Story. An adaptation of the movie and my son plays Ralphie. 

I felt that little tingle.  The tingle I can only imagine Bruce Banner feels right before he turns into the Hulk. Except, I'm something far more dangerous than a giant green meathead, I'm a Mama bear.   I tried to suppress this feeling before I made it to my office and searched the Internet.  

You see, Jack has wanted to be on stage since he was 2.  Any opportunity he has had to perform he has jumped at the chance.  Both my husband and I spent a good amount of time on stage.   We didn't let him audition until he was 8.  Jack's older brothers were in plays, but we wanted him to be ready for the massive time commitment any production takes.   He auditioned for a few shows and while his brother got lead roles, he got the chorus and ensemble, if he got a part at all. 

When auditions for A Christmas Story came around, he wanted to audition, but talked himself down saying he would probably be cut.  We encouraged him to try. When he got the news that he had not only gotten a part but the lead, his world blew up.  

That was in October.  We are now in December.   What I don't think you could have even possibly considered was that, a commitment to five- six nights a week for 2-4 hours is tough for anyone. It's not just the actors commitment, it is a family commitment.   We ate dinner at 5:15 every night so we could still see each other and make it to rehearsal on time.    I'm currently in the trenches of my master degree, while working full-time and raising four young boys, but you see, all that doesn't matter when you finally see the spark in your child's eyes when they finally find something they love doing and believe for the first time, that they are good at. Running lines day and night, became our life.

A little history about me,  I have a theater degree, hence me returning to get my masters at the age of 40.  I was in my junior year of college auditioning for parts across Los Angeles, I got some bit parts here and there.  Then I got a big break, an audition with an agent that I believed could change my life.  And he did, but not in the way I had hoped.  He told me that I was a great actress, that he wanted to represent me, but that wasn't good enough. I needed to change my appearance and test my morals if I really wanted him to be my agent.  The really sad thing is, is that I believed him.   I was just 21 and I thought he knew what he was talking about.  And just like that, I believed something someone else said to me, and I gave up my dream. 

So today, when I sat down at my computer and saw that you critiqued my 10-year-old son's acting I couldn't help but feel a bit defensive.   I'm not a theater mom. I'm just a regular mom, who just read someone publicly criticize her son.  In a community theater production. At Christmas.   Can you imagine if every kid that did any kid-like things was judged?  Jack loved playing basketball but he was terrible, thankfully someone like you wasn't there to point out all his flaws there too. He gave it up on his own accord. 

The thing is, my son is a kid, playing the part of a kid.  And the criticism was that he wasn't engaged when other characters were speaking.  Holy cow, talk about method acting, I think this is a brilliant interpretation of how every kid across the world interacts with their parents on a daily basis! He deserves a Tony Award.

I apologize if this is starting to sound a bit too Mama bear, theater mom crazy, but I'm writing it for every parent who has sat crouched in a cold dark backstage room telling kids to be quiet or listening for cues . Or pricked their finger sewing on a feather that has fallen off a costume. Theater is so much bigger than just the acting.

This little town of mine, and the kids in it, need this community theater now more than ever.  Why? Because acting is more than just pleasing the audience. It's allowing our kids to learn to express themselves in creative ways. It's showing them alternative ways to deal with complex emotions. Being a kid today in this violent world is not easy, but what is easy, is being a kid, playing a kid in an imaginary world and loving every single second of it.

The last thing I would want is for someone to read a bad review of a community theater production, and then decide not to attend. Because without an audience, those kids are just rehearsing, and they do a LOT of that already.  Plus,  those ticket prices, although they may seem high, are what keep these little theaters going, and these kids dreaming and learning how to navigate in this unpredictable society.

So thank you for saying my husband was the "highlight of the entire production", that was sweet, but I kindly disagree, I think every single person on that  stage was equally as bright.  And thanks for saying Jack did a fine job reciting all of his lines (167 of them in all, he counted). But, he isn't going to see your review.  We have taught him that people will forget what you say to them, but they will never forget how you make them feel. 

After his opening night, the same show you saw, as I tucked him in way, way, way past his bedtime,  he said the best part of the entire night, was hearing people laugh and seeing people in the audience smiling.  You should know, you were there.

Really, that is what theater is all about. It is making people feel.  And with every kid who can stand on a stage and that is willing to do that for me, is a star in my book. 
All I ask is that next time, you feel like tearing something down consider the community that took the time to build it up. 

I encourage every single person in our city of South Bend, Indiana and a 25-mile radius to go and see the remaining 15 shows if they get a chance.  And if you aren't local, go and see your community's Christmas Show.  I can promise, you will smile, at least twice, and I don't know about you, but lately, our world has been filled with a lot of frowns.   

Thank you,
Noelle Gunn Elliott

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Losening the Reins

I have never broken in a horse.  I should say that up front.  Although recently I told a friend that breaking in a horse would be easier than raising a teen.  She didn't question my comparison, at least not out loud.  The last couple weeks have been challenging.  Since last month, I have two teen boys in the house.   I don't want to freak anyone who is currently raising toddlers out, but I have lost more sleep and felt more guilty about my parenting than I ever did when they were young.

And guilt was my middle name.

My teens are 13 and 14. This is just the pony stage of teen life and if I can't even handle a pony how in the world am I going to handle a full-size horse.  Again, I have no experience with horses, the last time I rode one was in Sonoma on our honeymoon (16 years ago). The thing about horses is that you they are beautiful, but at the same time, they can scare the shit out of you.  For example, you can be going along riding a horse on a trail, and then all of the sudden something freaks them out, they start galloping and you think you are going to die.  And you say "Whoa", but they don't listen, and just before you think you are going to get bucked off, they start walking again like nothing ever happened. That is why I feel like raising two teen boys is like breaking in a horse who doesn't like having someone on their back telling them what to do. And for the simple fact that horses eat a ton....
What I do know from brief horse encounters, and the obscene number of Lifetime movies I have watched where the movie takes place on a ranch is that horses respond better when you loosely hold their reins.  When you guide them gently, but let them follow the path without forcing them to go where you want them to, they will do it.

I have learned that teen boys are kind of like that too.  In every instance that we have ended up in a conflict, it has been because of someone's ( okay, mostly my) expectations have not been met.   My preconceived ideas about how a conversation or a situation is going to go, and when those expectations are not met, all hell breaks loose.  This happened recently with a movie night I had planned.  All I wanted to do was put on my comfy pajamas, make some popcorn and snuggle with my husband and the 4 humans we created surrounding us.  I announced my intentions numerous times and put it on our kitchen chalkboard that the movie would begin at 7.

We were all ready, and my oldest was missing.  He had decided to go to a volleyball game instead. He texted me and called, but I had put my phone away so I could be fully present.  When I did read the text and see he called 9 times. I was mad.  How dare my high schooler want to spend a Friday night with his friends?   If I'm honest, it hurt my feelings.  And I know how pathetic that sounds.  When he got home he couldn't understand what the big deal was, and truthfully, I couldn't articulate it either.

It isn't a secret that I'm a bit of control freak.  I like order, organization, and predictability.  The three things that teens are not notorious for.  At least not mine. So I continue to try and shove them in this perfect square I have created with four equal and straight lines.  And when one of them decides to veer off, I pull in the reins. Making it even worse.

It's a hard realization when you suddenly have kids who are the size of adults in your house.   I look up to their eyes and I still see the little boys holding a sippy cup, and a blanket.  And that is the problem.  I'm trying to keep them in this box that they no longer fit in.    They are growing, so I might as well too.

I decided it was time that I loosened my reins.  I'm not hovering. I'm trusting. I'm keeping them safe, giving them guidance but letting them find their way, (within reason).  This is tremendously hard for me, and could possibly blow up in my face. You see, for the past decade, I have been doing my absolute hardest to teach them right from wrong.  I have made them apologize when they have done something inconsiderate,  write thank you notes when they need to show gratitude, and put their dirty dishes in the sink.  In addition to being the single female in their house and trying to make them see me in a way that they will see all other women for the rest of their lives.  The last one, being the most important to me.  I want more than anything for them to respect everyone, but especially women. I want them to be the men I needed at a party in college, or at my first job, or second, or third job.
And my fear is that if I step aside, they may get off this path, so  I have painstakingly tried to put them on.

My answer came in the form of this text.

It's not groundbreaking, but I texted him at what I thought was his lunch time.  Just letting him know I was thinking about him.  But then, he returned and asked me how my day was.

Reins loosened. A 14-year-old boy asking his mom how her day was going.  It may not seem like a lot, but to me, it was validation that not only does he care about others, he takes the time to ask.

I may not know anything about riding horses or getting them to stay on the path, but the little that I do know has helped guide me in the right direction in raising gentlemen.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Perfect Mess

I was running behind schedule this morning.  I did my usual workout at 5 and was back home by 6:15. But somehow between 6:15 and 7 a.m. I had the nerve to sit down and have my breakfast, rather than taking bites of it as I scrambled past the kitchen island.  Oscar saw me and was so confused by this that he asked me if it was Saturday.  "No, it's Wednesday" I explained and I have lost all motivation to move.
I managed to make my way into the shower and I just stood there in a strange time warp actually enjoying the hot water run down my back. I even decided to wash my hair today.  Seriously, who in the hell did I think I was, a lady of leisure?  Just as I was about to apply conditioner, Oscar burst into the bathroom and asked if he could have my thumb.  He needed it to unlock my phone.  I stuck my thumb out of the shower and he dried it off and pushed the phone against it.

"Why?" I asked.  He said he had made the perfect mess and wanted to take a picture of it.  I tried not to freak out, and my shower euphoria came to an abrupt end.

I'm not a messy person, on the outside.  But on the inside, dear Lord help me. Let me share a little insight.  A couple of weeks ago my foundation was compromised. What I mean is, on the outside, my structure looked normal, but on the inside, I was crumbling.  Anxiety was eroding any solid beams that were keeping me standing.

For me, anxiety is like a closet that you stuff everything into before you have company come over. Remember, I don't like a mess.  If someone is sad, I want to cheer them up, if someone is mourning, I want to shower them with love, if someone is angry, I'll take the hit.  If someone is lost, I want to help them find their way, (totally metaphorically, I have a horrific sense of direction).   I want to take those painful things away from others and lock them away.  At least for a little while, because for me, there is such beauty in a clean space, it's when I can finally breathe.

Then, one day something happened that forced the door to the closet to open and everything spilled out.   I panicked as I tried to stuff it all back in, but I couldn't as much as I tried.  Things spilled out in plain sight. Every anxiety I had hidden away, all my insecurities about every aspect of my life, my marriage, my friendships, my work, my school. Everything.  I had been here before and I knew I needed help, so I called a therapist.

I have had one fantastic therapist in my life,  and I became friends with him, so now he isn't my therapist, and that is really cool, but also sad because every other therapist I have had is, well, nuts.

So I went to a new therapist and sat with him for two hours, TWO hours answering his question as to why I feel overwhelmed with anxiety.  He told me he has never met a woman with more on her plate, and I agreed with him.  And then he told me he knew why I was having such anxiety. I was so thrilled to finally have someone offer a solution.  He told me it was Satan.

(See above comment about my luck with therapists.)

I had allowed Satan into my life and he was causing the anxiety.  Yep.

Our session ended abruptly after that. How ridiculous right? Satan?  But then, I started thinking about it. Maybe he was right? Maybe I had... I mean I was pretty crazy at one point in my life, maybe he saw a vulnerable window open and crawled on in?  Oh my God maybe I AM possessed?

I pulled over and messaged my pastor. Actually, my former pastor, but he is still on my crisis contact list.  Surely he would know.   He responded almost instantly and apologized for the therapist who offered such a suggestion and said that indeed, he did not believe Satan was the cause of my anxiety.

I texted/called 4 of my closest friends and asked them if they thought I had been acting weird(er) and if it was possible that Satan had entered my body.  They all responded and said no.  I didn't text my mom because she would have had an exorcism arranged by the time I got off work.

When I did get home, I poured a glass of wine (i.e. if blessed, the blood of Christ) and called my brother.  I told him what the therapist had told me.  He had a good point.  He explained that if the worst thing that Satan is capable of doing is causing a busy mom who (has four growing boys, a full-time job, a part-time job, a theatrical show, is going to grad school, who helps take care of her parents, and her husband) to have anxiety, then I must be one strong mo-fo.  OR, the guy was full of shit.

I can always count on him to make me see things clearly.

When I think of evil, I think of death, destruction, manipulation, politics, but anxiety isn't at the top of the list, or even on the bottom.

 I discovered a few things. In addition to finding a new therapist, I realized that most of my anxiety is caused by trying to conceal things that make us perfect.  What Oscar saw in his "perfect mess" was that it was the shape of a flower.

What causes me anxiety is all the things that are messy. I worry I'm f'ing up my boy's lives. I worry that Don thinks I'm not doing a good job as a wife or mother. I worry that I'm not smart. I worry that I'm not doing enough for others, on certain days I worry if I'm chubby/ugly.. ( I know it sounds petty, but these things are a concern.) My biggest and most frequent worry is that I just can't do it all.

But as my brother pointed out, I kind of am.

On a difficult day, I need to focus on the times when I saw this. Like, when Fin was at a rehearsal for his play and was the happiest I had ever seen him. When I broke the garage door (again) and Don didn't blame me, just fixed it.  When I got an A on a paper that I did at the very last minute because I was too busy helping Parker with his homework. When a co-worker tells me I look nice when I didn't even shower that day.

If I look closely enough, I too can see that true perfection is messy, ugly, hard and brutal and most importantly real. And most significant is the people who love me for it. Did I mention that not one single person I asked about  my Satan-induced-anxiety hesitated to help me? Or to talk me through it? Not one of them told me I was to blame.

Compassion for others (and in oneself) is being able to see the flower in the mess.  

Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Scarlet letter F

I have not tried to hide the fact that I was a bit of a troublemaker as a kid.  Well, I have hidden it from my own kids, but not everyone else.   I like to act shocked when they get caught doing something they shouldn't be doing.

In fourth grade, I tried to use my sister's bug collection and pass it off as my own. She and my dad spent weeks making a wooden case with a plexiglass window.  Inside were all the insects she had collected day and night all summer. All of them intact with a long needle right through the middle.  Each was labeled with labels she lined up in the type writer to get just perfect.

We went to a small private school, but nonetheless, I thought I could pass it off as my own. I may mention that she is nine-years older than me, and the insects looked a little... crusty.  Despite my sisters research on what looked to be expert insect taxidermy, my teacher could clearly see that these insects had been dead for almost a decade.  They had legs falling off, some even had cobwebs.  But, on the day it was due, I marched it in and presented it to my teacher.

This box was not light. It was cumbersome so my Dad had to help me carry it in. He didn't say a word.  I sat it on the table next to all the other bug collections and although I felt a tinge of guilt, I was happy I spent my summer swimming and not killing bugs.  At the end of the day, the teacher gave me a note and a grade.  The note said I needed to take it home, and that I got an F,  and that my parents had to sign it.   This time I had to carry the stupid bug collection out to my Mom's car by myself. She didn't say a word.

They knew very well what I was doing and neither one of them stopped me.  They let me get caught, and they let me carry the guilt and consequences (literally). The teacher didn't give me a chance to make it up either.  I had to carry that F as a scarlet letter for the rest of trimester and work my butt off to get a C. Which I did.

My parents didn't seem to think my actions were a reflection on them, but more on me.

I realize now that my parents were bad asses.  At the time I blamed them for all of my problems, like most kids, but I'm glad they let me walk out of the house and into a trap that I had set for myself and that they were going to let me get caught in.

Did I try and cheat again? Yes.  A few years later,  I waiting until the last minute to do a leaf collection. Rather than collecting leaves all Fall, I waiting until they were dead and covered in snow the night before it was due.  I attempted to color, and cut the leaves into various leaf shapes, then laminate and label them.  Although an Oak leaf may not look like a Maple leaf, with a little help from some craft scissors it can.  It is no surprise, I got caught... again. And once again wore the F of shame.

I would like to say that was the last time, but it wasn't.  In high school, I missed a history quiz so I was taking it in the library and I used my text book to find all the answers.  But as I was turning it in to Mr. Rethlake, I burst into tears and told him what I had done.   Once again, I got an F, but rather than making me tell my parents, he made me read him the chapters  that I should have read, out loud, and then asked me the same questions that were on the quiz until I got them right. Because of this, I was late to soccer practice. Because I was late to soccer practice.  I  had to tell my coach, why I was late , he made me run laps around the field for an hour and a half.

In unrelated news, that day my boyfriend broke up with me. #worstdayever

It was around that time I decided that it wasn't worth it.  I was destined to get caught, and not only that, I wasn't going to get off easy.

As much as I don't want my boys to experience pain or humiliation, a little discomfort goes a long way.   Of course, they are perfect in every way, yet they have each done some seriously stupid things,  and I have let them.  As long as it wasn't going to result in physical trauma, I stepped aside.

What I didn't realize is that it is not easy to do that for parents. Not at all.  It hurts ten times worse.   I find myself wanting to correct their wrongs, but if I constantly do that,  how will they learn what is the rights are?

Recently one of the boys plagiarized a book report.  I was a little suspicious because all summer I had not seen him open the book once.  But, I'm not a helicopter mom so I gave him the benefit of the doubt.  On the day he presented his report to the class he was feeling sick to his stomach.  By the time he did, he was in full on guilt mode.  He admitted it to his teachers.  He didn't eat his lunch, he barely touched his dinner and afterward, he called Don into the bedroom.

On the bed, he had every item of value to him. His laptop, his iPod, his gaming system.  He (in dramatic fashion) said he needed to confess something. But, before he did, he was grounding himself from screens.  Don watched as he dry heaved confessing something he thought we didn't know. He made it right. It's like we are raising self-cleaning ovens!   They are regulating themselves.

By the time he told me, I too (in dramatic fashion) acting shocked and dismayed.  I'm not at the level of badassery as my parents were to let him know I knew. I'll get there, I'm sure.

Being a kid is hard sometimes,  but if I make it easy for him how will he ever be able to cope with the fact that being an adult is even harder?

As an adult, I can't blame my mistakes on not knowing better.  Chances are I do, but still make the dumb choices. Or the easy choice.  Like saying yes to that third glass of wine or saying yes, I want to watch the next episode of Orange is the New Black even though I have to wake up in 5 hours. I digress.

When you know better, you do better....most of the time. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mamalogues Recap

It has been a week since the Mamalogues, and I have had some time to reflect on what an amazing night it was.  But it might not be for the reasons you expect.

A little ritual I do before every show is that I visit the space and say a prayer for each of the women who will be reading.  I also say a prayer for the audience to be open to receive what they have to say.  If anything, this helps calm my nerves and sets a good tone for the rest of the night.  I do this for most performing arts events. (My full time job is managing and publicizing music events). But, similarly when my dad has an art show or my brother has a concert, I will set the same intention.  Art is subjective, I realize this, and not everyone will like it.... that is the hard part, especially for a people pleaser. I just really really want people to enjoy it!

What people may not know is that when the idea of a staged show first came to my mind, I wasn't feeling very creative at all. In fact, I was in a really dark place.  I was at my rock bottom of postpartum depression and anxiety, and I received an invitation to meet some friends for dinner.  That was the last thing I wanted to do. I hated what my second pregnancy had done to my body. I didn't feel like I could be a fun person to be around. I just wanted to sit in the shower and let the water drown the negative voices in my head. But, somehow I ended up at dinner with about eight women, all of which had recently had babies.  We shared stories without judgement, and for a brief moment, I forgot about how sad I was. I returned home uplifted.  The collective energy of women is intoxicating and powerful.  We get together to celebrate happy times, but why is that when things get rough, we retreat to ourselves? That is when we need each other most. That is when the idea of the Mamalogues, a time where we could share stories openly, crossed my mind.

I was a tomboy growing up, and have always had more guy friends than girlfriends. I like to play sports and have played soccer the majority of my life.  Most of the time I spent with girls, it was on the soccer field.   I loved them like sisters.  (Still do.) There was no competition.  We all had a common goal, which was to do the best we could to win the game.  I never wished that our goalie Sarah would miss a shot, I wanted her to succeed. I never compared myself to Katie, the best defender (who I played soccer with for a decade) because we each had a different skill, that was equally important.  Yet, after college, I didn't have a team of my own anymore.  I found myself comparing myself to others, especially women.  The voice in my head would tell me they were prettier, thinner, smarter, more successful than me.   This is what happens when you are alone. You start to believe all those things.  The truth is, just because someone may have an amazing body, doesn't mean I don't. Because they have a great job, doesn't mean they didn't put in the damn hard work to get it.   Thier success isn't my failure.

We desperately need to celebrate our successes and support each other in our weaknesses.
When women are working together, we are a force to be reckoned with.  For me, it is a waste of time knocking other women down because of my own insecurities. A better use of my time is to inspire women.  To encourage them to take up more space and not less.   And I wanted to give them a platform to showcase who they are.

If you were there last Thursday, you witnessed just that.  In the five years that we have been doing this, I have never felt more support from the audience, and not just women,  men too, all ages. In an age of technology dominated our existence, it was refreshing to see everyone engaged.   What it comes down to, is we are all on the same team.

A man in his 60's stopped me  after the show and told me how much he enjoyed it.  He said, he expected it to be women complaining about men. ( For the record, complaining is boring, so we would never do that.) But what he found was that he went on a roller coaster of emotions, and he was so moved by the openness of everyone who shared her story.  Who would have thought that just the act of sharing a story and and exposing a bit of vulnerability could  be an act of bravery?

I did. That's who.

Kate told me that a woman stopped her as she was picking up her son from camp and shared that she could totally identify with Kate's piece about Sam.  That is the point of this whole show! Bringing people together and starting a dialogue about stuff, sometimes hard stuff, sometimes funny stuff, but all of that stuff matters.

Today I took three little girls to camp and I listened closely as they discussed their favorite part of the Wonder Woman movie.  I loved hearing them say that the fight scene was tied with Wonder Woman's ability to speak every language as their favorite part.  One girl said, "there is nothing she can't do."


It is a lesson for all of us.  But Wonder Woman could never have defeated anyone by herself. She needed the support of her friends and family. If she would have wasted time wondering if she was good enough, strong enough or whatever enough, to do it, she would have never tried.... and never saved the world.

We are certainly not saving the world with the Mamalogues, but we are saving ourselves. And maybe saving someone else when they need it most. And making great friends along the way.

It was just a crazy little idea I had, but because I took the small but scary step to act on it, I found my team again.  A team that is rooting for each other.

I'm beyond grateful for Kate for being awesome and being a rock when my insecurities start crashing over her and everyone in my path like waves of a tsunami.

And of course, thank you and Congrats to the 2017 team, Becky S., Natasha, Alison, Katherine, Amiee, Jenny, Amy, Jennifer, Maria, Becky C.  Jill, Sandy, Mandy, Tiphini, Kelli and Cherish.  You gals rocked.

And lastly, thank you to the audience who were just as part of the show as everyone else.

The next Mamalogues will take place in the summer of 2018.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What Strong Women Do

Every so often I fall apart. I would say it happens at least once every few months.

I had this favorite pair of high heels.  They were perfectly broken in.  They carried me across campus for the past five years at least 1000 times.   A few years ago the heel became detached from the sole.  Just a little bit, and I ignored it and kept stomping across campus.

You see, these shoes were perfect, my pants were the perfect length for them. When I wore skirts, they were high enough to make me feel professional but not too high to look like a street walker.  Well, they were kind of on the border of the two, and I was okay with that.

I had the soles of these heels repaired twice.  But the heel was wobbly. It threw my off balance several times, but I kept going. One of my colleagues helped me duct tape it once. Don applied super glue at least three times.

But last week as it was starting to rain, the heel came completely off.  I didn't have an umbrella, and I stood in front of a group of college guys and had an adult breakdown.   I took them both off and threw them in the trash and proceeded to walk in my stocking feet in the cold rain to my car.

My husband was out of town, and I was single parenting for the week.  I had several work projects I had been working on, but unable to complete because I had to leave work early to pick the boys up from school. I had a paper due in grad school. My oldest son, Parker had a major conference for school that he was stressing about.  I got an email from Fin's violin teacher informing me that that he keeps forgetting his violin. My son Jack had made it his mission to be mean to his younger brother, which caused said younger brother to cling to me like he hadn't since he was two.  Top that off with morning workouts that made me say things like "my body is showing it's age." and stop for air.  Also, I found out someone was trying to steal the name Mamalogues, which I had trademarked and know for a fact they didn't have a trademark.  And that was just in one day.  And then my fricking heel came off my favorite shoe.

When I got home I checked my email and had one from my professor.  I received an A, but then she wrote, "I think you would benefit from a writing tutor for APA formating"  WTH? That is like telling my brother, who is a professional opera singer that he needs opera lessons.  I understand what she was saying, but it was too late.

Cue: Falling apart.

I decided to screw dinner.  I told the boys to eat whatever they wanted.  I had to say it twice because they didn't believe me.

I then proceeded to sit on the couch with a glass of wine, holding back tears as I texted my friends. My tribe of women who I know I can trust. Who I admire.  It was dinner, after all, and after I rapid fired a dozen texts my phone was silent.   I could hear the microwave beeping, the blender buzzing as the boys made a cornucopia buffet of everything they weren't supposed to make for dinner.  Smoothies, nachos, pickles.  I saw them peek in to see if I really meant it when I said they could eat whatever, and I did. Hell, I was having Pinot Noir,  with a side of nothing. I wasn't one to talk.

The boys have seen me cry before, but you see, Don's mom (and Dad) were really ill and that is why he was in Florida.  I felt like my problems were self-induced and insignificant. I didn't want to worry the boys more than they already were. So I tried to maintain a somewhat normal composure as I stared at the wall doubting all my life decisions while drinking my dinner.

What felt like hours, but was actually just minutes was when my phone started going off.  All the friends I had texted were texting me back. My phone has a light that flashes when I get a text, and it made my family room look like a disco.  One text after another. Telling me to shut up, that I'm fully capable. That they love me. That I'm stronger than I think.  That I'm not a dumbass.

It was then that I started crying.

Damn, I have amazing, strong and wonderful friends.  We don't see each other often because the truth is, we all have careers and mortgages, and we have to take care of kids and husbands, and maybe just life  They were busy, making dinner, or sitting at practice, running their own company or grading exams. But when a friend sent out a message, they stopped what they were doing, and they were all there, at least in texting form and that is what I needed.

What strong women do, is they don't avoid the pain of a friend, they rush to it.  They swoop in and take care of business.  The business of of repairing a wobbly soul.  I'm not throwing this one out.

By this time, the boys had taken the free-for-all dinner to mean they could eat on the couch.  I didn't care. They were also watching Teen Titans. A show I happen to like.  Fin (the one who keeps forgetting his violin at home) made half of his nachos the way I like it, just in case I wanted some.  And I did.

We all fall apart for whatever reason, but surrounding yourself with people that won't rush in to pick you up, but give you encouraging words that let you know, that YOU are fully capable of picking your own damn self up. Even if it is shoe-less and in the rain, they know you will find a way, because deep down they know you have got it in you and you can.  And when you do, you will be even stronger.

They knew I wasn't going to give up. I wasn't going to call in sick, or quit my job, or school or go AWOL and leave the kids alone. 

They have no doubt in me, because they have been there too.  They know, that on the other side of this,  I will be fine. The painful and crucial times like this are when true personal strength and growth happens.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Sweet Spot

On Sunday we packed our entire family (including the dog) in the SUV  and heading on an adventure.  Don and I didn't tell the boys where we were going, but we packed a picnic and heading North to where the water was.

The other day, I posted something on Facebook about how our door to our home should be replaced with a revolving one.  During the day, when we are all home from work and school there is always someone coming or going.  Neighborhood friends, the boys, sometimes a random dog.   As much as I hate the door being slammed, I must admit, laughter adds life to a house... and chaos.
Our wedding photographer from 16 years ago commented on my post. He has never commented on anything, in fact, I forgot he was my friend. All he said was " I miss those days; they were the best of my life."

A friend of mine has five children, one is in college, and the next will be heading there next year. She just took on two foreign exchange students, because she understands the beauty in a full and busy house.

As we reached our destination which was a dog-friendly hiking trail that wound us up and down a heavily wooded path, through swamp-like mud, into sand dunes which led to Lake Michigan, to what seemed like our very own secluded lake front property.  I could actually feel the stress leave my body with every step I took.

Next year my oldest will be in high school.  I have already felt his enthusiasm for family outings start to decline.  I get it.  But I also know this is our sweet spot. This is the time of our lives we will talk about, look back on with fondness. The time we will miss. The time the boys will joke about with their future spouses when they tell them about their childhood at our big Thanksgiving dinner.  This is our sweet spot.  And I want to soak in every single drop of it.

After hours of running up and down sand dunes and putting our toes and paws in the water, we decided to return to the top to get our picnic and have lunch.

Don takes pride in leading the pack, and we all follow, and I hope ( in my head) that he knows where he was going.  I'm in the back making sure someone doesn't get distracted and veer off course. Which almost happens when we saw "Dirty Diana" carved in a bench. No joke.  It caused a big Michael Jackson discussion about how he really isn't dead.

But Don kept walking and his image was getting smaller and smaller, and I was trying to get Oscar to get moving.  He had made a sand ball out of black sand and water and told me all the treasures he had mixed into it.  But as we walked, the sand he was holding on so tightly began to dry and fall apart and slip through his hands.  He tried desperately to pick up the black sand as it dropped on the brown sand but he couldn't.  I watched as his magic sand ball fell apart before his very eyes.

Finally, he gave up hope, opened his hands and let all of it go. It blended perfectly back into the rest of the sand, and I don't know what his treasures were, but they were gone now too.   He threw himself on the ground and started a monumental tantrum that echoed across Lake Michigan. I tried to tell him that it was okay and that we could make another one at home. That didn't help. As Don was now, far gone, I pictured Oscar and myself getting lost in the woods and amber alerts for both of us.

He refused to move. He told me to go on, and he would sleep there.  He wanted to be alone. His feet were tired.  So I started up the trail and knew he would scurry to catch up at some point.
He didn't.
I turned around, and he was gone. He had gone back to the lake and was determined to make an identical sand ball.   At this point, my heart stopped for a second. Not because I thought I lost him, but moreover that he wanted to lose me.   I found him on his knees frantically scooping.

I told him he had to come with me because we needed him at lunch. That didn't work.
I told him that it was going to get dark soon.
That really didn't work.
I told him that I thought I saw a bear.
That kind of worked.
I told him that I needed him to help me find my way back.
.... and that worked.

A guy always wants to save a woman,  or at least think he did. He helped me to find our trail and eventually catch up with the rest of the family.

I know that just like Oscar's sand ball, we will not always be this close.  I left my house when I turned 18, graduated college at 22, lived on my own until 24 and then I got married.  The unit that was once my world grew in different locations and added spouses and children, but that cohesive sand ball of a family is just in my memory, and at times I miss it.

So, I know this spot we are in is bittersweet.

What never changed in my family unit was my parents.  They never went anywhere.  They stayed exactly where we could find them.

I was sitting with my brother in a recent visit and we just sat on a park bench watching people go by.  We were both working, so we didn't have our spouses, or our kids, just us, talking about a squirrel.  I'm 75% sure we had the exact same conversation on the exact same campus when he was 11 and I was 5. I know the notion of squirrel herds sounded familiar.
Our family unit has just changed shape.  The sand drifted to different places, but when it is together it is as close as it ever was.

Maybe the next four years will be just as sweet with the boys.  The unknown is what worries me.  I love our unit now. That we all fit in the same car, and that we can entertain them all with the idea of an adventure.

Eventually, Oscar and I joined the rest of the family, and Don was already dividing the sandwiches, and drinks and sides.  Wally was tied to a picnic table together.  I don't know what we talked about, but I made a mental note to never forget how good this felt.

I have turned into "one of those Moms" who get teary at the sight of her kids, for absolutely no reason.

And all I kept thinking was, it doesn't get much sweeter than this.
Oscar holding his sand ball.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

No Filter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why filter out the good stuff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 6, 2017

Making a Choice to Jump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, January 23, 2017

You Are Not the Boss of My Talent

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

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

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

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

Nobody is the boss of your talent.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Heartbreak and Jedi training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I have Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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