Sharing Grace

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One of my precious daughters, I’ll save her the future embarrassment of sharing which one, spent the better portion of three hours today crying.  Long, drawn out, right in mama’s ear sobs.  Everything was just so tragic.  At once she was too hot, then too cold.  Then she learned that bees would be out in a couple of months.  Really, it was too much for a little girl to handle.

I tried to remain composed during this time, but let’s just say I didn’t completely succeed.

Just as she was trying my last nerve, I looked back at her in her car seat.  She took a moment’s pause between sobs, and when she caught my eye, she gave me a little half grin.  She held my gaze for a good few seconds, and in those seconds an understanding occurred.  She saw that I loved her even though she had to have known she was not behaving properly.  And she saw that I wouldn’t leave her.  She saw the steadiness in her mama’s love.  And I saw my little baby girl, not so much of a baby most days, but still not very far off.

Then the moment was broken as something else tragic happened to her – I can’t remember what it was.  Perhaps her jacket was the wrong shade of lavender.  But I fixed my eyes back on the road in front of me and left as the light turned green.

As I drove off, I was reminded that mothering can be hard.  Mothering little people has tested my patience in more ways than I can count.  But every day I am reminded that those little moments, those five seconds of a shared gaze, can make hours of a tantrum worth it.

Mothering isn’t always about saying the right thing or doing the right thing.  It’s not always about guiding and teaching and sharing.  Sometimes, it’s just about saying that I will be right here.  Always.  By your side.  It’s about teaching a child that their ugly is still lovable.  That their imperfection is acceptable.  And that when they need reassurance, they never need look further than the lady in the driver’s seat.

I’m sure I could have handled her tantrums better.  I’m sure I could have done a better job of calming her down before it turned into a tantrum.  But in that moment, she and I shared grace.  A grace mutually given and received.  We loved each other during our less than lovable moments.  And because of that, a little beauty grew from the weeds.

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The Everyday Miracles of Marriage

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Twelve years ago, at 2:00 in the afternoon, I walked down a long aisle in a church towards TJ.  I had a veil on my head and flowers in my hands, and I giggled.  A lot.

During the homily, like during all Catholic wedding homilies I believe, the priest spoke at length about marriage and about how real marriage isn’t like what we see from Hollywood.  It’s not glitz and glamour and endless romance.

I looked at TJ, and with all the wisdom of our twenty-something years, we nodded knowingly at each other.  “Yes,” we thought.  “We are more wise than to believe the lies Hollywood tells us.”

I laugh thinking back to those moments.  Those moments when we thought we knew it all. And I laugh at how I both believed and didn’t believe the priest.  I understood that marriage wasn’t like the movies, but at that young, naive point in time, I thought that meant that marriage wasn’t as good as in the movies.  And I thought we could overcome that.

Now I realize that I had it just as backwards as Hollywood did.  No, it’s not like the movies.  But yes, it is better.

Back then I didn’t exactly know what it meant to be married.  I knew I loved that man.  I knew I wanted to spend my life with him.  I knew he was a part of me and I of him.  But I hadn’t the slightest notion of what being married was.

Now I know a bit more.

I know that being married is waking up every morning to the same person and almost always being glad they are there.

It means knowing that no matter what happens to you or between you or because of you or for you that you will end the day besides that same person.  And no matter the feelings, warm and cozy or annoyed or hostile, you will still pray that you will fall asleep in this manner for the rest of your life.  In fact, it’s more on those annoyed and hostile days that you say those prayers because you see that even through anger or frustration, he’s still worth it.  It’s easy to take the good days for granted.  But the bad ones remind you of why it’s worth fighting for.

Marriage is about Sunday mornings with three little kids.  It’s about trying to negotiate an arrangement whereby everyone can be showered and clothed in a somewhat appropriate manner and still make it to Mass before the priest starts the homily.  It’s about wrangling kids.  The kids you made together.  It’s about getting frustrated when you think of what he could have done differently to make the morning easier.  And then it’s about taking the next 45 minutes of Mass realizing that it’s much more important to focus on what you could have done differently rather than him.

It’s about being imperfect.  Absolutely and irrevocably imperfect.  And it’s about knowing that he will always love you despite and sometimes even for those flaws.  It’s about not getting dressed up every time you see him because you have both realized that comfort and ease is more important than pretense and show.  And it’s about looking at him and seeing underneath the stubble (or full on beard) and uncombed hair and seeing the face you fell in love with all those years ago.

I remember my grandma telling me a story once.  She said that when she was first married to my grandfather, she would wake up a little bit before him and run into the bathroom to “put on her face” and comb her hair.  She would work hard to cook him wonderful meals because her father had told her that a pilot needed a content stomach so he could properly do his job.

And then I think back to the grandparents I knew.  I remember sleeping over at their house and the frozen pizza we ate for dinner.  I remember the mornings when they would both come down in robes, and my grandma’s hair would be in curlers.

The two pictures are different.  The one of the newlyweds and the couple seasoned by decades upon decades of marriage.

And I realize that over those years, they learned those lessons to.

Marriage isn’t what Hollywood portrays it.  It’s exciting.  But not always.  It’s romantic.  But more often it’s not.  There are flowers and fancy dinners and the whispering of sweet nothings.

But those are the things I could do without.

The marriage that matters to me is the one that creates a home for us and our daughters.  It’s the security and peace that comes from knowing that despite the storms and trials of life, I will always have him by my side until death whisks one of us away.

It’s the routines and the monotony and the everyday mundane that, for me at least, create the miracle of marriage.

Because marriage isn’t about the beginning.  And it’s not about the grand days.  It’s about all those other days.  The days that require something of us.  The days that stretch us.  The days that teach us and mold us and remind us that through it all, no matter what the circumstance, life will always be better with him in it.

Even when he leaves his dirty socks on the floor.

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Finding Grace

Six years ago I fell into a deep cavern of postpartum depression.  I had been depressed (and hid it) twice before in my life.  But there’s something inherently different about postpartum depression.  When people hear you are non-postpartumly depressed, they might be confused or indifferent or possibly judgmental.  But when people hear ppd, they think you are a bad mom.  (Or at least that’s the lie ppd tells us.)  And when you are a new mom, what could be worse than being deemed a bad mom?

So my husband knew I had ppd, and the therapist I had been seeing for years knew I had ppd, but no one else knew about it.  It was my deep, shameful secret.

But the strange thing is that while I was keeping my secret, I had this nagging feeling that keeping it was irresponsible.  I’m a writer.  Not a well known one, but still, I have spent my life writing.  I have also spent many years teaching struggling writers and teaching illiterate adults.  What those experiences have taught me is that I have a voice.  A voice that I take for granted.  A voice that everyone in America should have but that far too many don’t have.

And I also have this weird part of me that isn’t ashamed (much) to tell my stories.  I’m a sharer.  Maybe all writers are.

But with the ppd, I was too afraid.  I was too afraid people would tell me that I didn’t deserve my daughter.  The little girl we fought for four years to conceive.  The little girl who meant more to me than my own life.  There were three feelings I could feel in those months: despair, panic, and love.  And if people accused me of not feeling love… well, then what was left to me?

Luckily I had been in therapy for years before this happened, and luckily I had a therapist and a husband who were somehow able to get through the blackness and be the single source of light that told me that it was okay to need help, it was okay to receive help, and it was okay if sometimes that help came in the form of a little pill from the pharmacist.

I recovered.  Well, as much as any of us can recover from such things.

I felt relief.  I eventually felt joy.  But I also felt I had a purpose.  There was only one way to take that horrible pain and make something beautiful out of it.  And that was to share my story.  So that no one I knew and no one I could reach would ever feel that alone and that broken and that terrified ever again.  So that they, when in their darkest moments, could say, “See!  She went through the same thing.  I am not the only one.  And she made it through it.”

So I started writing.  It took me awhile to share it with people that I knew.  But I did.  And the response has been so humbling.  While helping others learn that they are not alone, they have taught me that I am actually not alone.

But still, occasionally (maybe like once or twice a second) I start to think, but who am I to share?  I’m just some silly little woman out in the suburbs with a computer and a couch.  Who am I to share my story?  Who am I to share my messiness and my pain?  Who am I to stand up and shout, “This is me.  I’m not backing down.  I won’t be shamed into silence.”

But then I’m reminded that the only way to touch someone is through vulnerability.  Most of us, for most of our lives perhaps, think we need to impress people with the beauty we have in our lives.  But beauty doesn’t attract as much as realness does.  Shiny things don’t catch our eyes as much as honesty does.

Perhaps it’s because honesty and openness and vulnerability and rawness are rare commodities.  Or maybe it’s because the broken parts of ourselves are the most real and the most knowable.

Whatever it is, it makes connections in a world in which it is dreadfully hard to connect.

Maybe some of us are more broken than others.  I surely feel like I am most days.  But maybe God makes the broken to usher His grace into the world.

I don’t have flashy things or great beauty or an Ivy League PhD.  But I do have my truth.  And I have my voice.

And so today, I went to my web host, and I renewed this little blog of mine for year four.  Four years!  How did that happen?

I don’t know what is going to happen during year four.  I don’t know what I’ll share that I will then wish I had kept silent.  But I do know that the only way I have learned to exist comfortably in this world is to be myself.  And the only way to be myself is to hide away my shame and stand up for the person I was created to be.

Good and bad, warts and all.  All I can be is myself.  And writing helps me learn who that is.  And it helps me be less ashamed of who that is.

And I guess that’s worth everything to me.

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On Writing and Dreaming and Defining

Ever since I was a little girl, I have had a fascination with the written word.  I remember just looking at books, before I could even read more than the most simple of them, and I would put them to my nose and breathe them in.  I would flip through the pictureless pages and wonder at what they contained.

Books, to me, were magic.

But it wasn’t just books.  It was any words, really.  Song lyrics.  Quotes.  Poetry.  Well-phrased oral pronouncements.

From my earliest of memories, I can remember words making my heart flutter.  I would have actual physical reactions to the sounds of words.  I found beauty through their sounds, my truth in their meanings.

Words to me were magic and they were power.  By merely manipulating the order of sounds and words, magic could be made.  It was really that simple.

And also for as long as I can remember, I recall falling in love with certain pieces of writing.  And I always fell in love for the same reason – recognition.  If I could recognize in myself what the writer was discussing, if I could feel the humanity and the inevitability and the familiarity and the eternal in it, then I found love.

I found it anywhere from Love Story to Garth Brooks’s lyrics to the orations of Martin Luther King Jr.

To me, words have always been about creating bridges.  Soul to soul, heart to heart.  Words were about finding the common threads that connect us all.

I’ve always found certain works of fiction that I admire and love and enjoy, but it’s not where my heart has ever found its home.  I love Margaret Mitchell and JM Coetzee and Khaled Hosseini.  But for me, it’s the writing of Frank McCourt and Jeanette Walls and Anne Lamott that make me feel like there are kindred spirits out there in the world.  My soul could rest in their words and know that I had found home.

And so I guess it makes sense that now that I write, I choose the personal essay over fiction.  After all, fiction is a strange world to me.  I admire it and I enjoy it and I respect it, but I don’t understand it from a writer’s perspective the way I do the memoir.

To me, it feels natural to sit down and write about myself and my world.  To write about another sounds exhilarating but foreign.

And perhaps it stems from why I write.  To be honest, I don’t write because I choose to.  I write because I have to.  This weird organ up in my head that keeps my body functioning becomes a strange and sordid place when it’s left to its own devices.  I simply get to the point where there are so many words and ideas and thoughts in my head that I have to write.  Because otherwise I will explode.  Or implode.  Probably whichever is messier and the most traumatic.

But write as I do, often and at length, I’ve never really considered myself a writer.  Perhaps this sounds odd, but it makes perfect sense to me.

Writers hone their craft.  Writers work hard.  Writers have specific skills and talents and can draw out of others feelings so intense specifically because they are so familiar.

Writers are the chosen few. Writers make people’s hearts skip a beat.  Writers are magic.

Me, I’m just a mom sitting on my couch at the end of the day purging all that has built up inside my head out onto the page in a haphazard and sometimes reckless manner.

Writing is rough for me, not because of the writing, but because of the sharing.  I’ll hit “publish” and I panic.  What did I share?   Why did I share that?  How could I have ever possibly have survived if I hadn’t shared it?

Writing is a craft and requires effort and revision and time.  Surely that is not what I do.  I wouldn’t have the time to really revise had I chosen to.  And I couldn’t possibly spend the few moments I have writing revising.  Then all the new thoughts would get backed up and everything up there would be bumping into each other creating a backlog and a mess and surely someone would get hurt in that process.  Most likely me.

But as much as I have a hard time seeing myself as a writer, I really want to be a writer.  I want to have that title and feel that title and feel myself worthy of that title.

But to that, my mind replies, “but who are you to self-proclaim?”

And it makes me wonder, who do we allow to define ourselves and what do we allow to determine what we will pursue?

Do we take the word of others?  Or do we stand on our own authority?  Do we trust in experts?  The general populace?  Our family?

And what risks are we willing to take?  When do we know if the chance we want to take is one worth taking?  If we are up for the challenge?  If we are enough?

After all, I could declare myself to be a vocal artist.  I have a voice.  I can manipulate it to make sounds that kind of resemble a song.  It might make windows crack and babies cry, but I have the physical ability to sing.

I sing but can’t consider myself a singer.  So what right do I have to consider myself a writer merely because I write?

Or maybe the answer can’t even be found in that question.  Perhaps I am not a singer because I choose to sing.  I am a writer not because I choose to write but because I need to write.  Perhaps we are what our souls need us to be.

So much in life seems to happen to us.  We make some basic, key decisions and then a whole lot of life happens.  If we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves trotting along day by day putting out fires and trying to catch some laughs in between.

But when we do this, we can forget about what it is that our secret dreams contain.

Inside all of us, I believe is art waiting to be lived.  Whether it’s with words or pictures or clay or fabric or wool or the body.  We all have a story to tell and we all have our own unique way of telling it.

But when the time comes, will we have the courage and the passion to take it?

Will we believe we are worth it?

Will we believe we are enough?

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Mommy Guilt

At 3:00am, I heard a rustling outside our bedroom door.  All of a sudden Magoo’s face appeared, and she said her tummy hurt.  I told her to go down to the bathroom and we would be right there.  TJ woke up and went in with her.  She threw up twice.

He got everything cleaned up and sent her back upstairs.  He decided he was up for the day, so he ran to the store to buy something for the car.

A few minutes later, I heard her running downstairs.  I followed her down and she had begun throwing up again.

I sat behind her and rubbed her back, telling her it was okay.

When she was done, I got her settled on the couch with a blanket, pillow, and throw up bucket, and then I got Goosie set on the floor on a makeshift bed because she refused to sleep in her room alone, and reluctantly, I got myself set up on the other couch and opened Mae’s doors, so I could hear her if she cried.

And then I spent the next two hours trying to decide what to do.

Goosie was supposed to be snack kid at preschool today.  It probably doesn’t sound like a big deal and to a grown up it’s not, but to a 3 year old, it’s a really big deal.  It meant she would get to be line leader and help with the weather chart.  It only happens one every two months.

So what did I do?  Did I keep Goosie home from her 3 hours of preschool because it’s just preschool and it’s best not to make Magoo drive around in the car for twenty minutes?  Or is that cheating Goosie out of her fun experience?  And to top it all off, the wind chill is -30 today, and Mae has a nasty little habit of taking off her boots and mittens in our car where our heater had been acting up sporadically.

Every five minutes I would check my email, praying for a notice from school saying that classes would be cancelled today.  The notice never came.  But morning did, and I had to make a decisions.

I heard Mae talking upstairs, and I sent Goosie to go play with her in her crib for a moment while I thought of my options.  I decided that I should take Goosie to school.  It wasn’t fair for her to miss her big day, and Magoo hadn’t thrown up in six hours, so I was pretty sure she would be okay.  Plus, how many times have her sisters driven in the car sick to get her to school?

That’s all the external narrative.  In and of itself, it’s frustrating (stomach flu is never fun,) but it is what it is.  It is parenting.  It happens to all of us.

But that’s not what the problem was.

The problem was the guilt.  The total and all encompassing guilt.

The guilt that had me shaking last night as I was trying to make a decision.  The guilt that came before the decision even did because no matter which choice I made, there was going to be someone to feel guilty about.

And there was the guilt about Magoo and TJ.  I asked him to go help Magoo.  That made me a bad mom.  A more nurturing mom would have gone herself to her sick daughter.  A more sympathetic wife would have looked at the clock and then gone down herself so her husband could sleep a bit more.

And then when I did go down and she was throwing up.  I rubbed her back.  But my whole body was in a  bit of a panic.  If I get stomach flu, it’s not like if a normal person gets stomach flu.  It will rip my stomach to shreds.  I won’t be able to function for days.  My sodium will drop and I will barely be able to walk or see straight.

So all of that was going through my mind along with all the responsibilities I have, and then I looked down and I saw her, and I knew she needed comforting.  But all I did was rub her back.  Shouldn’t I have hugged her?  Shouldn’t I have gotten in closer?  Isn’t that what moms do?

And of course there is television.  Because whenever either I or my kids are sick, I let them watch television.  But that means Mae is watching a lot of television as well.  I keep reminding myself that she is almost always well underneath the 2 hour cap of screen time the AMA recommends, but still, I feel like I can feel her little brain being sacrificed.

And all of this went through my mind all night as I was in and out of dreams of Mae drowning and me not getting to her in time, and I found myself sitting in my car, warming it up before I got the kids in it, and I was practically numb.

For me, at least, I think the endless searching for the correct path, the path that won’t lead me to guilt, is a way to ward off the actual guilt.  I think there’s a part of me that believes there is a path I can take in every situation that will lead me to the “good mom” label.  That will take away the guilt.  That will make me feel okay.  All I need to do is obsess about it enough, and I will find it.

But the more I distance myself, the more I wonder if that is actually true.  If it’s actually true for any of us.

We can have the best of intentions.  We can plan to put our kids first in everything.  We can do absolutely everything in our power to make good choices…

But then life happens.

And the choices we have put us between two pretty poor options.  A place where either choice will lead to guilt.

And so then I’m left wondering whether guilt, itself, is the problem.

If I had hugged Magoo while she was throwing up, would that have made me a good mom?  Had I made the choice to keep Goosie home so Magoo wouldn’t have to go out, would that have made me a good mom?  Would running downstairs with Magoo the first time instead of letting her very capable father do it have made me a good wife or a good mom?

Or are all of those just details?  A few details in the thousands a single day creates?

I guess what I’m getting at is that I wonder if the decisions we make that make us feel like failures at mothering actually have that power.

Is mothering really about single instances?  Even in those instances when we really do fail?

Or is mothering about a whole lot more?

And if it’s about a whole lot more, how do we find the clarity to focus on that big picture instead of getting trapped into the cycle of guilt?

I don’t have any answers.  All I have are questions.  And guilt.  And a really long day ahead of me.

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Tonight’s Prayers

I went to Mass last night by myself.  This doesn’t happen too often, but I enjoy it when it does.

I knelt in the pew in the minutes before Mass started, and I bowed my head.  I prayed that I could be a good role model for my girls.  I prayed for their safety.  I prayed desperately and fervently for help in keeping the anxiety away this week.

“Please God,”  I asked, “let me have a strong week.”

And I needed those prayers.  I need help having the strength.

And if you read this blog, you probably know that I fail at this a lot, and I get quite crazed over things that perhaps may not matter so much in the long run.  I worry about frazzled mornings and messed up bedtime routines.  I obsess over number of pages read and participation in art projects in pre-school.

I think about and pray about and obsess about ordinary things that ordinary people think and pray and obsess about.

My kids mean the world to me.  I plead for their protection.

But sometimes we get a glimpse of what a luxury these prayers are.  Because while we are praying about spelling tests and snow days, there are other mamas out there praying for much more.

There are other mamas pleading desperately safety.  For healing.  For protection.  Prayers from mamas who love their babies every single bit as much as I love mine but mamas who don’t have the luxury of worrying about laundry because they have a baby in a war zone or an operating room or in hospice care.

I think we all face our challenges in life.  It’s a roller coaster of sorts.  We all have our moments of peace and our moments of struggle.  None of us come out unscathed.

But I hope I am able to never forget that for every giggle my daughters prompt out of me, another mama’s tear is dropping and another is dropping to her knees, pleading for the life of her child.

Most of us are lucky.  Many of us will never have to fear the dark of an emergency room with a frightfully ill child.  Many of us will never have to look into the cavern of “what if” and not know how we will climb out should the worst come to fruition.

I am not sure if there is a single experience more terrifying than being a mother.  Because to be a mother means that the largest, most important part of your heart is forever connected to the well being of another.  Every time you give birth, you take a piece of your heart and you put it in the tiny hands of another, and you pray that they and God take care of it and protect it because without it, you will never be whole again.

To love with abandon is to risk it all.

And none of us knows how the journey will end.  None of us knows if our days of petty prayers are about to come to an abrupt end.

It’s all an unknown.

And it is because of that, if for no other or grander purpose, we must find a way to hold those others in our circle.  To pray for them.  To hold space for them.  To not shy away.

Because to look at our nightmares is scary.  But to abandon our prayers because of them is far worse.

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You Did Good Mama

I am tired tonight.  Worn out.  Drained.

I’m not really physically tired though.  It’s more of an emotional fatigue.  More of a burn out.

I recently read an article about a hospice volunteer who said that, regardless of age, what most mothers want to hear at the end of their lives is that they have done a good job.  And that brought tears to my eyes.  Because isn’t that all that all of us wants to hear?

I’ve had many different roles in my life.  Many jobs, volunteer positions, memberships in groups.  I’ve always wanted to do my best.  I’m competitive.  It’s just who I am.  But nothing has compared to the overwhelming desire I have to do good at this mom thing.

There’s the cliche that motherhood is the most important job a woman ever has.  But calling it a job… that seems to kind of miss the point.  As do all of those articles that tally up how much a stay at home mom is worth financially.

And it’s all because I don’t try my best at mothering so I can say I’m the best mom.

I don’t do it to win the mom award or to have the most perfectly parented children.  I don’t do it to see them at Harvard or the Peace Corps or the Oval Office.  (After all, we all know that Marquette is far superior to Harvard anyway!)

I don’t do it so I can send them to school and hear reports about how they are the most intelligent or the best behaved or the most popular or the most helpful.

And I don’t do it so that at the end of the next eighteen years I can say that I have done a good job.  So I can sit back and relish in the job I did as a mother.

I don’t actually do it for me at all.

I do it because every morning I am woken up by three of the greatest blessings of my life.  I do it because I see in them a potential so grand that I can’t help but want to help them pursue it and relish in it.  I do it because in them I see an innocence so pure and so perfect that I can’t help but want to shield it from all of the ugliness that will try to infiltrate their lives.

I do it because it’s who I am.  I’m their mother.  And mothering is an action and a noun and a calling and a desire.  And to separate any one of those from the other is to completely miss the point.

It’s not a job that can come with a price tag.  Because you pursue a job for benefits.  You pursue parenting because of who you are and who they are.

And so all of this leads me to evenings like this.  Evenings where I’m questioning everything.  Was I too hard on them?  Too lenient?  Did I give them enough of what they needed?  Did I steer them in the right directions?  Are we focusing our limited time and attention on what it should be focused on?  Am I heading them down the right paths?  What is the right path?  And where do I find it?

My head has always been like a mass transit hub on fire.  People running all over the place, things crashing into other things, everything burning with urgency.  But parenting just intensifies that.

I say I’m overwhelmed a lot.  And I am.  There’s a lot of chaos going on around me – kids bickering and needing things and crying and begging for just another cracker when we don’t have anything.

But those fires can be put out.  That chaos is outside.

What exhausts me is the chaos within.  The constant questioning and doubting and wondering and caring.

And of course it’s the last one that causes the problems.  If I didn’t care so much, if this family wasn’t the defining journey of my life, perhaps I could worry less.  I could doubt less.

For now, I don’t know.  I don’t have any answers.  I just know that I’m tired.  And I would like a rest.  But not just for my body.  For my brain and for my heart as well.

But as I always do on February 16th, I remember one who came before me.  One who loved me and loved all who love me.  One who is loving my girls from the other side even though she never got to meet two of them on this side.  One who my Goosie was named after.

And I know that she got it right.  And I know that my mom got it right.  So I can only hope that I can follow in their footsteps, and one day on my death bed, my girls will lean over and whisper, “you did it well mama.  You did it well.”

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Fifty Shades of Nope

I’ve been thinking recently about life.  Mainly about the difference in my life ten years ago and today.

It’s crazy to think that I’m the same person who lived the life I did ten years ago.  It’s not like I was some meth addict or anything.  It was just different.  I was different.

I used to like always being out on the go.  I valued accomplishment above most else.  While I would have denied it, I valued the head over the heart.  I thought to prove myself worthy, I had to prove that I was better at everything than everyone else.  Life felt like a desperate attempt to prove myself, and it was exhausting.  And it was futile.  Like a hamster running on a wheel.

To many people, honestly, I probably don’t seem all that different.  But I feel different.  I guess you could say that over the last decade, I have made a conscious effort to put myself around people who seek light.  To be around people who look past what is right in front of them to seek out the eternal.  People who ask “how can I help?” and people who teach me to ask that same question.  People who look to others to find the good in them rather than the bad.  People who build up rather than tear down.

Basically, I try to surround myself with people I would like to be like, even when it makes me feel like I come up desperately short.

And like most of you, every time I turn on the internet or the radio or the television, I see something about Fifty Shades of Grey, the sex movie about abuse.

A few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of the movie.  Who knows, I might have been curious enough to go see it.

But now I hear about it, and it confuses me.

What is it about this movie that speaks to so many women?

I’m not going to go see the movie.  Mainly I’m not going to go because I can’t unsee what I have seen.

But I’m also not going because I have three little girls.  Three girls who are growing up in a culture where the big Valentine’s Day love movie is about a man who victimizes a woman.  What is going on in our culture where love and sex and abuse and lust are all so messed up that this is labeled a love story?

I always knew that when we had kids, we would try to shield them from the more lurid aspects of society.  But until recently (maybe not until Magoo was old enough to really be influenced by such things,) I never realized just how much they would have to be protected from.  I didn’t realize that the victimization of a woman’s body would be held up as an important cultural event.

I don’t want that in my house.  I don’t want that in my family.  And obviously I would never take my girls to see it, but if I truly don’t want it in my family, then I must protect myself from it to.

I have to respect myself enough to adequately model for them how to respect themselves.

I have to live out the belief that sex is about love and love is about respect and respect is about compassion.  I have to live out the idea that we are all equal, and if we put ourselves into a position where we are less than, we damage the very dignity that is imbedded into our souls.

I’m not going to go see that movie.

Because I want my life to be about promise and hope and light and gentleness.  There’s enough darkness out there constantly knocking on the door, trying to sneak in.  I don’t need to go out there and actively seek it.

Like I said, a decade ago, I wouldn’t have thought twice about seeing this movie.  I think a lot of the change comes from the outside influences of the people we have allowed into our lives.  People have influenced me and have helped me learn to seek out the good rather than the bad.

And if people can make such a big impact, then so can culture… movies, books, television.

And if we are so easily influenced by what we surround ourselves with and if abuse can be so normalized just by virtue of it playing out on the big screen, then I think we need to step back and decide that our hearts and our souls and our self worth are infinitely more valuable than a couple of hours of mindless entertainment in a movie theater.

I think maybe I’ll just stay home and try to convince TJ to watch The Notebook one more time.

(And I’ll know he has read this blog when I hear a big old “heck no!” coming from the other room!)

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The Other F Word

The way I see it, we are born at cross roads, and our lives will inevitably veer one direction or the other.

One direction is light and the other is dark.

We aren’t born on a certain path.  It’s not a direction that is determined with a single decision or action.  It’s based on precedent, on history, on habit.

If we take the path towards darkness, there are many strong winds blowing us on our way. They are varied and personalized towards each of us.  They can be depression or anxiety or worry or bitterness or anger or rage or disappointment or cynicism or complacency.  We don’t have to consciously choose this path.  Our wind will provide all the direction we need.

If we take the path towards light, we will still have those winds that will try to blow us to the dark side, but those who are able to walk in the light, do so with a dogged determination to stay on path.  They will falter and fail and take wrong turns, but they will always come back.

I was thinking about this early this morning.

It has been a long day and it’s only 9:30.  I have been up with Mae since 3:00 this morning.  She absolutely refused to lay in her bed… that is until I set her there for a moment while I got her sister’s clothes ready at 7:00, and she fell asleep in there.  (Of course.)

And then I opened my email and while the email was written in a very respectful and kind manner, it was still reprimanding me for an action I actually took.  And it was such a ridiculously trivial matter that it shouldn’t have bothered me in the least (especially because I held no real guilt,) but all I could hear in my head was “failure!”

It’s like those sirens in the Jim Carey Grinch movie when red alarms go off and everything is blinking red and blaring.

And from there it is was downhill.

I failed because I forgot to make Magoo her lunch last night.

Then I failed because I was so nauseous this morning and I couldn’t manage to bring myself to put lettuce on her cream cheese, chicken, and whole wheat roll up.

Then because of a change in schedule, Magoo had to be dropped off at school forty minutes before Goosie did.  So I just put a DVD on in the car for Goosie.  Failure, I thought.  I should have read them books or did the grocery shopping or taught them “Kumbaya.”

And it’s not until I write it out that I realize that these accusations of failure follow me around all day, every day.  Probably half a dozen times a minute.  They are my friend.  My constant.  My companion.

As easy as it is to allow myself to wallow in them and believe them and just let them be, I know they lead to the darkness.

When I was really depressed, I couldn’t see this.  I could never separate myself from the negative voices.  I could have worked as hard as I wanted to and practiced as much positive thinking as I wanted to and it wouldn’t have made a difference.

Sometimes we need help getting out.  Sometimes we absolutely cannot do it on our own.  We need skill to overcome the dark, and we simply don’t all have them.  And some of us need a lot of advanced skills because our wind is particularly strong.

And I got that help.  I can now see this negativity isn’t for me.  But still I falter.

But the ridiculously, insanely, wonderful thing about the hope that springs out of the darkness is that it knows no bounds because it has no bounds.

When we are able to break our shackles — to food or drugs or alcohol or regret or failure or depression or shame or bitterness or abuse or rage — we have no reason not to be hopeful. We have proven we can overcome.  We need not fear relapse (although we all probably always will) because we know we came through it and we can do so again.

But that doesn’t make it easy.  At all.  In fact, they can be the battles that define our lives.  Every single day, every single one of us must wake up and make the decision to fight for the light.  Finding the light and living in it isn’t the victory.  It’s the fight that’s the victory.  The insistence that we never allow ourselves to give up.  That we always seek out what is real and positive and true.

And so for today, whenever I hear the word “failure” going through my mind, I’m going to cover my ears and sing, “la la la” just like an defiant toddler.  And I’m going to tell myself not to let it in.  Failure won’t define me and I won’t allow it to speak my name each day.

I will fail probably more times that I will succeed today.  But that’s okay.  Because it’s the journey that defines us, not the victor.

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Love You Forever

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Every night, each of the big girls comes upstairs with me separately and we spend some time reading.  For Goose, she loves picture books.  Some of her favorites are My Name is Not Isabella and Penny and the Blue Marble.

For Magoo, it’s always a chapter book.  I’m not exactly sure how that transition went – the one from picture books to chapter books.  On her own, she will still pick up a picture book on occasion, but when we read together, it’s always a chapter book.

I think she saw picture books as being big kid books, so once she was old enough to read them, she didn’t want to go back.  I guess I never really thought much of it.

And then today we went upstairs, and Goosie picked Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.

I remember the first time I read that book.  At the time I hadn’t even heard of it, and I didn’t have any kids.  I was sitting reading books with my favorite little person on the day before her first birthday when we came to that one.  We slowly made our way through it.

And then it got really strange.

A mother sneaking into her grown son’s room to rock him to bed?  Talk about some serious boundary issues.

When I got to that part, it honestly got too weird for me, and I placed it to the side and moved on to the next book.  Without avoiding, of course, feeling scarred for quite some time afterwards.

And then about 18 months later, Magoo was born.  No one gave us that book as a gift.  It wasn’t part of the hundreds of kids books we were accumulating.  But it was always at the back of my mind.

And then one day I saw it at a store, and I handed over my $5 and bought it.  We’ll see if it feels any different now that I’m a mother.

And at first, it honestly didn’t.  It still felt weird and creepy, and I couldn’t get over just how horribly the mother aged throughout the book.

But Magoo kept asking for it, and I kept reading it.  We got into a rhythm where I would sing the first two stanzas of the song and then she would sing the last two.  When we got closer to the end, and she would sweetly sing,

“I’ll love you forever/ I’ll like you for always/ As long as I’m living/ My mommy you’ll be,” I admit that I would  occasionally get choked up.

And on other days I liked the characterizations of life with children — yes, a zoo does describe it well!

And for quite a few years, that book had just been with us.  Until somehow it must have gotten buried in the bottom of one of our many book baskets because when Goosie brought it to me tonight, I realized that it had been forever since I had read it.  Goosie didn’t even remember it.

And so I opened the book and I started to read it to her.  It felt new and fresh.  It was the same old love song professed to an entirely new person.  With kids, the traits change, the characteristics change, but the love is the same.

And I was reading the lines to her, and I felt her little body calm like it very rarely does ever, even during story time.  She was totally peaceful.  And when it was over, she looked at me.  She was smiling.

She knew it was a book.  I knew it was a book.  But we also knew it was more.  It was my lullaby to her.

And then it was over and it was time for me to read to Magoo.  Surely, I thought she would insist on Runaway Ralph.  We were about halfway through, and we were both hooked.  But as she walked in the room, I tentatively asked her if perhaps today she would want to read a picture book instead.  I thought this was a long shot.  But then I held up Love You Forever and she agreed as along as she also got another book along with it.

We quickly made it through the first book, and then we settled into Munsch.  This time as I turned the pages, I realized the early parts of the book that so reminded me of life with her when we first started reading, were no longer her.  They were about babies we could laugh about.  And she wasn’t quite to the stage of the great big nine year old boy, but she’s not all that far off either.

And then for the first time, I noticed the pages.  I noticed them getting ever so slightly discolored.  I noticed they were just slightly more brittle.  And I realized that the physical book was starting to show its age.  A book that I read to my daughter was old enough to look old.  How could that even be?  How could that little baby who used to love the pictures of the cat in the book, now correct me if I missed a word or messed up a phrase because she was reading right along with me?  How could time have moved that quickly?

And as we got to the end, that same book that had creeped me out only eight years ago, now was making me choke up.  I didn’t even know if I could finish.

But I did.  And we closed the book.

And then Magoo looked at me.

“You know what’s really cool, Mommy?  The Mom sang the song to the boy.  And then when he grew up he got to sing the song to his little girl.  And when she grows up, she’ll get to sing it to her baby.”

And all the crazy tears are blurring my vision just as I type that.  Because it’s so true.  And it came from her heart.  And she understands love.  She understands that it doesn’t end.  She knows that because she has seen it.  She has felt it.  She has been both the bearer and the recipient.  Feeling loved, to her, is as commonplace as the sun rising.

I started out the book, feeling a bit reminiscent of days gone by with her, and I ended it in absolute awe of the little girl she has become, of who she is becoming.

And we talked about it for a bit.  How love doesn’t die because we just keep teaching it to all the people who come after us.  The same love that my great great grandmother had for my great grandmother is the same love my mom showed me and I now show my girls.

This unique, overwhelming, fresh, all-encompassing love that I feel when I look at my girls is actually the same love that has been around since the beginning of time.  It’s universal.  It’s bigger than us.  It was before us and it will be after.

But the miracle… the miracle is that we get to partake in it.  We get to receive love and give love and be love, and that same love that created the moon is the same that lives in my heart when I hold my girls and I rock them to sleep.

We live day in and day out.  Everything seems so ordinary.  We stop expecting magic.  We stop expecting miracles.

But then we realize that all of it, every single little piece of it, is a miracle.

It’s divine.  And it’s human.

And ultimately, it is ours for the taking.

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