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Thursday, August 29, 2019

So Many Men, So Little Time

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 18, 2019

You've Got this

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 4, 2019

Unapologetic AF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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