Touche Interwebs

I once read this article written by some woman who happened to be my age who felt very comfortable in her skin, and she was open to criticism and disagreement because she felt comfortable with who she was.  So comfortable, in fact, that she was bold enough to state this comfort on the internet.

Today I sit here in awe of that woman’s confidence.  But then I realized that she was me yesterday.  How quickly I lose her when things get rough.  She has a broken internal GPS.  She has trouble finding her way home when circumstances throw her off course.

I guess once upon a time I believed that security and confidence were a destination.  A status you achieved when you had a certain number of life experiences and you had framed them in a particular productive manner.  They were an achievement.  Something to be striven for.  Something that couldn’t be lost.

And the thing is that yesterday I felt them so strongly.  I was sitting in this same chair at roughly the same time, using the same computer, and yet I feel like I was such a different person.

And I guess the problem is that in general I consider myself to be a sensitive person.  This is a good thing, like when I am able to express empathy and really understand another person.  But it’s also a bad thing because sometimes I feel like that armor that most people were born with bypassed me.  Often, I feel like I am going out into the world completely naked and defenseless.  And sometimes that sucks.

And I don’t know whether I’m a writer or not.  I write.  Almost every day.  I write for myself and I write for others.  I write for this blog and another, and I’m starting to get my work out even further.  I don’t really write for money.  Even if someone were to offer me a million dollars to write (honestly, feel free to do so,) I wouldn’t need to write anymore than I do now. Even if someone told me that this right now is the pinnacle of where my writing career would go, I would still write.  Because I don’t write for outside reasons.  I don’t write for praise or for influence or for attention or for really any other reason than that I simply have to.  If I don’t write, my world doesn’t make sense.  If I don’t write, all these thoughts get jumbled together inside my brain, and they make wrong turns and they bump into each other, and they get lost, and I end up on the couch, unable to move because the activity in my head is so very great that it silences any other aspects of my life that wish to manifest themselves.

I write because it’s the only way that I know how to be.

But unfortunately when you write and you publish it on the internet, other people comment.  People are so very gracious here on this blog, and I appreciate that more than my words could express.  But elsewhere on the web, there’s more anonymity, and anytime there’s anonymity, people become a bit more bold.

So I spent all day today reading critiques of my work by strangers on the internet.  One person criticized my actual writing.  Ouch, that hurt a bit.  But oh well.  I’m a writing teacher, and I know that all writing can be improved, and while I didn’t necessarily agree with her, I do have it in my mind to reread her comment and my article in a couple of weeks once I gain some distance and see if she has some validity to her point, and if she does, I’ll take note of it and make changes in the future.

But most people didn’t like what I had to say.  And that’s where the hard part comes in.

See I have an almost compulsive need for authenticity.  When it comes to something I really care about, I can’t help but be anything but authentic.  I can’t hide.  It makes me feel broken and it makes me feel like my contribution is tainted.  And so when I write, I write about what matters most to me.  About what can make my heart sing and what can make my heart bleed.  And that is almost always my parenting.  And so when people disagree with that, when they claim I am making choices that limit my children… well that really sucks.

And so that’s where I find myself.

I want to develop a shell, an armor to protect myself from the world, but if I protect myself from that world, can I really enter into it and embrace it enough to write about it?  Can’t we protect ourselves so much that we fail to experience half of the gifts we have been given?

For 36 years, I have pleaded with God for some armor and for 36 years, I have refused to put any on.  And I guess I’m not about to change now.  But I guess I won’t stop praying that one day the piercings will hurt less.

Bless you all, and I hope you have a wonderful week ahead of you.

Love,

Your overly sensitive and melodramatic blogger friend.

Being Old

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Yesterday on the way home from her birthday party, Magoo asked me if I was ever going to have a big birthday party with my friends.  I told her probably not.  ”Grown ups,” I said, “have more fun watching their kids do fun things than they do doing fun things for themselves.”  I’m not sure she quite got it, but it satisfied her enough that she went back looking through her birthday loot.

I’m 36.  I’m sure there are elderly people somewhere looking at TJ and I and talking about the days when they were “kids,” but to most people, we aren’t very young.  To a lot of people, in fact, we are really old.

And I love that.

I love going to people’s weddings, sharing in their fun, and then coming home with my husband whom I’ve been with for fifteen years now.  I love thinking that I’ve had twenty years of driving experience.  I love going to college graduation parties and rejoicing in the graduate’s future and then coming home to a life that has a clear (albeit changeable) direction.

I love that I no longer have to worry about what I want to be when I grow up.  I love that if I were to go back into the workforce today that I am prepared and ready and confident.  I love that on a Saturday afternoon, I might have to do some errands and take my kids places and clean the house, but I don’t have to do homework and write papers and study for tests.  I love that, imperfect though they may have been, that my decisions led me to this very place right here, imperfect though it may sometimes be.

I love that I’m secure enough in myself that I realize when someone is speaking with disrespect.  I am very happy that this disturbs me even if I’m not secure enough yet to address it.  I’m happy that I am learning to respect my own opinions and ways of doing things and that I can accept that others have different opinions and different ways and that we are all okay.  I am glad that I am slowly learning how to be okay with not having to ask permission to be who I am.

I am glad that I am here, in this writing space, being me, sharing me, and only about half the time freaking out about what people will think of me.

And I’m glad that I can have conversations with Magoo like I did where I can say in all total and sincere honesty that I find more joy in the joy of my little people than I do in my own.  That I have lived my life and experienced so much, and now I can sit back and help them do the same, and hopefully one day thirty years from now, I will be able to sit back and watch them watching their own little ones grow.

Sometimes life is just really awesome.

We don’t live in a society that makes people feel good about themselves often.  Everywhere we look, we are confronted with images of people being perfect — looking perfect, thinking perfect, speaking perfect, dressing perfect.  And it’s hard not to fall prey to that.  I still fall prey more often than not.  But the great thing about age is that you start to see more and more of the world.  You meet new and more varied people and you come into contact with so many different lifestyles, and you start to realize that there isn’t just one way.  You start to learn that the ones who seem the most perfect often feel the least perfect.  You start to learn that what is authentic is so much more important than what is shiny.

And so today I raise my glass (of milk) to being old and loving it.  Hopefully the best is yet to come.

I do have to say though, that I am glad I’m not as old as TJ.  Because man, he is really, REALLY old.  

 

Listening Posts

Remember learning back in junior high or high school about the baths that used to occur in ancient Greece or Rome or somewhere or another?  I don’t really remember where or when they were.  I just remember that there used to be big old bath houses where old rich men would get together and bathe and talk about important issues of the day.  I thought it was gross when I was twelve, and I think it’s gross now that I’m 36.

These days we have different gathering places.  Kids have schools and playgrounds and day cares.  The majority of adults have work places.  Some people have golf courses.  Some have country clubs.  Some have bars and night clubs.  Not all of these places are made specifically for conversation, but they are all places where likeminded people can get together and accomplish a task while usually engaging in some sort of social or professional discourse.  Playground and possibly night club aside, when someone speaks, you listen.  Then they listen to you.  It’s all great and civil.

Sure it sucks because there is work to do and people to share with and politics to deal with.  There are commutes and colleagues, and late nights, and missed promotions.

But some nights I find myself sitting on my couch at 9pm quite literally shaking because I absolutely need someone to hear me.  It eats my stomach apart.  I can feel the tension starting somewhere deep inside me and seething all the way out through my toes.  My tears sting my eyes.  Because just for five minutes out of twenty four hours, I want someone to hear me.

Sure my kids listen to me.  They like telling me everything.  Everything.  I know the color of their poop, and the content of their dreams, I know every word spoken at school, I know every new task learned, I know the lyrics to every song they have ever heard and every song they have ever made up, I know what they learned how to finger knit, and I know how they made up and taught themselves the very disgusting task of toe knitting.  (Sorry Magoo.  I won’t say it to your face, but that is seriously gross.)

They tell me everything.  Sometimes it’s frustrating.  But the overwhelming majority of the time, I consider it a great honor to be the one who gets to hear their stories and their songs and their poems and their every thought.  I absolutely and totally would not change that for anything.

And they kinda sorta listen when I say things.  If I ask them to do something, sometimes they have a little bit of difficulty hearing the words, but if I say they can go outside to play or they can watch an episode of Mickey, they hear me loud and clear.

And they love me.  They love me with every inch of their little hearts, and that’s a miracle because baby hearts might be smaller than grown up ones in size, but in all other manners, they are so much bigger.

And they want me around.  All. The. Time.  It’s devastating to them if I have to go to the bathroom.  If I have to run upstairs to grab some socks, their whole little worlds fall apart.  Because they are little and because they love me.

But they can’t really listen, and they can’t understand.  And they shouldn’t understand.

And sometimes I want so very, very, very much for someone just to understand.

But it’s hard.  I talk to other moms.  Moms I have the utmost respect for.  But typical conversations with moms when there are little ones present go something like this… “What did you…stop biting your sister… think about the…scissors are for cutting not for flushing down the toilet… news article… please stop wrapping that yarn around your sister’s head…”

We try.  We try really, really hard.  But with littles underfoot, not much talking gets done.

And then there are the conversations with people who go around other grown ups during the day.  Those conversations are usually rather silly.

“What did you do today?”

“Well I did x,y, and z and then this and that.  And then this happened.  And then that.”  All of which sounds so interesting, and your brain hurts because it really misses being used and you are hearing someone talk who gets to use their brain all the time, and you can’t even remember what that is like.”

Then to be kind, they ask you what you did.  And the answer is often a blank stare.  Well, you drove in the car a lot.  And you changed a lot of diapers.  And you believe you must have done some dishes because your sink is empty.

But really, it’s all a blur.  And none of it sounds interesting.  And none of it is exciting or newsworthy.  It’s hard to even explain what you do all day.

But the thing is that inside of you during all of that doing you do all day, there is a person.  A person with thoughts and opinions and wishes and intelligent ideas.  But they get lost because you are so busy doing.

And you remember back to days when you got to use your brain.  When people sought out your opinions.  When people listened to them.  When you knew things other people didn’t.

And you wouldn’t go back to those days.  One day, yes.  But not now.  Now you are exactly where you should be and where you want to be and the beauty of these days are enough to break your heart a dozen different ways each day.

But still.  Sometimes you just need to be heard.  Not the you that’s a mom.  Not the you who handles play dates and car pools and snack schedules at baseball.  Not the you who reads bedtime stories and advises and comforts and cradles.  But the you who is a person.

And so that’s why I have decided we need some listening posts — kind of like those good, old fashioned bath houses.  But we’ll keep our clothes on because… well, we’ll just keep our clothes on.  And we’ll go to this magical place and we’ll just talk.  When someone talks, we’ll listen.  We’ll ask questions.  We won’t ask for as much as a tissue and if anyone uses the word, “potty” or “pee pee,” they will automatically be banned for  a week.

A place for moms to be women again.  We’ll read books and we’ll talk about the ideas.  We’ll debate politics.  But most of all, we’ll listen to the pain.  We’ll listen to the frustration.  We’ll nod in frustration at the challenges of this blessed vocation.  We won’t one up each other.  We won’t compare.  We won’t judge.  We’ll just listen, and we’ll understand, and we’ll know that even though our lives are anything but glamorous, they are important, and we are important, and just because we became mom and just because we gave up most of whatever we did before we earned that amazing title, doesn’t mean we gave up being people.  With feelings and opinions and desires and frustrations and triumphs.

I’m lucky.  I have this little listening post of mine, and for whatever reason, I have been blessed to have all of you here to listen to me.  That is a blessing beyond compare.  And yet, I know so many of you don’t have your own little listening posts.  So please, did you have a frustrating day?  Did you have to figure out how to clean grape juice out from beneath a refrigerator that you can’t move?  Did potty training go bad?  Or did your little girl become a tween and stop listening to you and stop seeming to look up to you?  Or did you have one of those days that you hope to cling to and remember forever because it was just so perfect.

Please tell me about it.  I would love to hear.  For all of you who have been listening to me for so long now, please let me return the favor.  I would love to hear about your day.

 

The Broken and the Beauty

So here’s the deal.  I’m not perfect.  I know that probably comes as a shock to you all.  Imagine my shock when I found out.

But seriously. I’m broken.  My guess is that you are broken too.  Because in this great big world of ours, the one thing we all have in common is that we are undeniably, irrevocably broken.  Some of us are good at hiding it.  Some aren’t so good.  Some of us have blogs and we broadcast it to the world.  But noticeable or not, broken we are.

And we don’t like that.  We like nice and neat packages.  We like lives that we can look at and say “that was good.”  We like being able to ignore the bad and pretend it away.  It’s easier.  It doesn’t make us think too much.  It doesn’t make us open our hearts.  It allows us to stay who we are and believe what we believe.

But the thing is that it’s not true.  It’s a facade.

I used to worry that I was a bad person.  Not a person who did bad things or even a person who did really bad things.  I thought I was bad.  Down to my bones.  Down to my soul.  And slowly I began to listen to the advice of another who would say that none of us are good.  None of us are bad.  We are all a mix of both.  It’s what we focus on that will determine the way we view ourselves and our world.

And I believe that.  I now believe that with every ounce of my being.  We are all a mix.  We are all part beauty and part beast, part rose and part thorn, part broken and part holy.

The really beautiful part of life, however, is that wonderful things can grow from the holy but wonderful things can sprout from the broken as well.

After a long morning, I pulled into my driveway, and I walked around to get my mail.  We just moved into this house in January, so we don’t know quite what to expect of the bushes and the sprouts.  I was turning the corner, feeling a bit bad because a couple of the bushes look like they won’t be revived when I saw a single red rose sprouting up from one of them.  From the broken parts came life.

We are all broken.  And that is absolutely fine because broken things can be fruitful.  Brokenness can teach empathy and forgiveness and self reliance.  It can teach us to love before expecting love.  It can teach us how words work.  It can teach us that legacies can be beautiful.  And it can inspire us to make ours even more so.

We all have a purpose in this world.  Some of us were meant to rule this world with kindness and compassion.  Some were given miraculous platforms and the perfect soil and just the right amount of rain and sun, and they have taken it all and created a masterpiece.

Some people weren’t so lucky.  Some people were dealt hardships and had the misfortune of having a broken that was a little easier to see than others.  But we were all put here and we were all put here for a purpose, and maybe some of us have the unfortunate task of having a purpose that didn’t lead to parades and fanfare.  But that doesn’t mean the purpose was less meaningful or the beauty less profound.

I’m not arguing here for moral relativity.  I’m just hoping that we remember that we all have holy in us.  We all have beauty.  And that while we might be attracted to the rosebush, our prayers and our compassion also need to go to the broken.

We have our broken.  Everyone does.

But let’s try to remember the beauty and pray for the beauty and trust that the beauty wins in the end.

One day our pieces will be mended, our broken erased, our trials cast to the side.

One day we will be perfected.  One day pain will cease.

For now, I just pray for us all, living and deceased, that we find mercy and grace, and that we are able to look at and remember people through the eyes we wish them to see us through.

Back to the Beginning

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The past has been pretty good to me, and sometimes the present can be a little bit shitty.  But still, you will be hard pressed to ever find me wishing to go back in time.

My children are exhausting.  Exhausting at times.  Two under two is hard.  Those two over two… even harder.

But every time Mae watches me pretend to sneeze something across the room and she breaks out into this all out belly laugh, I find myself praising the present.

And every time Goosie tests my patience by using “But I want to” as an argument for why she should be able to climb a tree that’s thirty feet tall, I find myself appreciative of her ability to use language to express her needs and her wants. I relish the glimpse into her mind that her language gives me.

And every time I see Magoo hop out of the van and run to her friends in the morning with her backpack bouncing up and down on her back, I catch myself in prayers of gratitude that my little baby is secure enough to leave my house, leave my car, and venture out into the world to see what it has to offer her.

These days are exhausting and full and sometimes I feel like I’m on a roller coaster.  But almost never will you find me wishing I was anywhere else.

Except for a brief moment every now and then…

Sometimes I’ll get nostalgic, and I will think back to those first few days with Magoo, and I will be overcome with longing.

Never in my life had I been so overwhelmed or so unsure of myself or so terrified or so panicked or so obsessive.  And that’s saying a lot because I tend to live my life in those states.

But those first few days with your first newborn are some of the most alive days of a person’s life. Hopefully for most of us, our whole lives had been filled with love up to that point, but the moment you hold your first baby in your arms, you learn that there is a new kind of love out there.  It’s fresh and it’s full and it’s breathtaking.  And when you’re not used to it, it can make your very skin hurt with its depth.

I’ve had three babies and God willing, perhaps one day we will have more.  I have experienced that first moment with each of my daughters, and those moments are etched into my soul.  If we are able to bring moments into eternity with us, I pray that those three come with me.

But the first time, when you have never experienced it before, and you had no idea to expect it… that’s gold.

And so I would never actually go back in time to Magoo’s first days because that would require me to put on hold my time with my little two, and I would never do that.  But it would be nice to experience that moment.  That rush.  For the first time, one last time.

But of course it wouldn’t be so special if we could experience it on demand.  So instead, I’ll tuck it deep inside of me, and I will hold it there until one of my babies holds their first baby for the first time, and then I will look into her eyes, and I will know she has felt it.  And that’s more than enough for me.

These little people change us.  They take whole, formed human beings, and they break us apart, and they put us back together in ways that make us so fully human that we wonder if we were even alive before.  It confuses me and it surprises me and at least once a day it catches me fully off guard.

And sometimes I wish I could feel that for the first time again.  But instead I will happily settle with feeling it for the first time again today.  Because while it may not be new and it may not be fresh, its potency never fades.

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Six

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Mother’s Day of this year was pretty low key.  Everyone was either sick or had been getting over being sick.  We didn’t have time to plan anything, and even if we did, we weren’t really up to it.  So TJ and the kids made me breakfast that morning, and we went to Mass and that was about it.  We hung around the house and just chilled out.

And then all of a sudden about halfway through the day, I noticed a change in Magoo.  She started acting peculiar.  We had some birthday decorations still hanging up from Goosie’s birthday, and Magoo told me to pretend that they all said “Happy Mother’s Day” instead of “Happy Birthday.”  She told me the streamers were no longer birthday streamers but they turned into Mother’s Day streamers.  At dinner when TJ was about to pass out the plates, she screamed, “Stop!” and then said that I had to pick out my favorite plate because it was Mother’s Day and it was important that I got what I wanted.

Among these and some other little events, I started to realize that she didn’t think my Mother’s Day was special enough.  She saw all I did for their birthdays and she thought Mother’s Day needed the same fan fare.

And there it was.  THE perfect gift.  She could have bought me the moon and it wouldn’t have meant more to me than the very fact that in her little girl heart she was able to experience empathy and was able to think about how I must feel, and these made her want to do whatever she could in whatever limited power she had to make my day special.

I get sad with each year as my girls grow up. Magoo is six.  That is 1/3 of the way to eighteen and that is just way too much for my feeble heart to understand.  But the thing is that with each passing season comes a new one.  And the new one right now is pretty remarkable.

I remember the moment she was born.  The moment the nurse held her up and showed her to me before suctioning her lungs.  I remember them placing her on my chest.  And I remember her taking my breath away by her very being.  She didn’t need to do anything or be anything or accomplish anything.  By just being her, she was all she would ever need to be in my eyes.

But now that she’s six she is being someone and she is doing things and she is accomplishing things, and sometimes I just look at her, and she takes my breath away just like that very first time.  There’s a lot I could say about Magoo.  She is beautiful.  She is extraordinarily intelligent.  She’s funny.  She’s creative.  But more than anything else, she is pure.

A few months ago, we saw someone on the street holding up a sign saying he needed a job and food.  She told me that we should go out and collect money for daddies who don’t have jobs so they could get one.  A few months later, she told me she wanted to go buy some seeds so that she could go around our whole town and plant fruit trees in everybody’s yards so that all the hungry children could have some food.  She shares toys with her sister.  She looks after her baby sister.  She looks after me.  If she has even the slightest thought that I might be upset, I’ll feel her crawl under my arm and cuddle with me and tell me that I’m the “best mama ever.”

So Magoo, as you turn six.  As you begin the second third of your journey to adulthood, here is what I have to say to you.

Be strong.  Remember who you are.  Remember what you want.  Chase your dreams.  ”You have a brain in your head and feet in your shoes,” and if anyone can change the world, it’s you my dear.

Keep your dreams big.  There is injustice in the world.  God has blessed you with a heart that can see that injustice.  Keep your eyes open to it, and keep seeking opportunities to make a difference.  Somewhere through life, most of us lose that belief that we can make a difference.  We stop trying.  Don’t stop.  Because you can and you will change this world.

Stay pure.  The world is full of so much evil and darkness.  And it’s filled with a lot of grey too.  While all out destruction can be limited, cynicism and bitterness are much more common.  Keep them away.  Don’t let them infect your heart.  You see the good in people.  Keep looking for that.  There will be dark.  There will be fallibility.  That’s fine.  Acknowledge it and then focus on the good.

And finally, thank you.  I wanted to be a mama for so many years before you finally came into our lives.  The funny thing is that at the time, I had no idea just how much motherhood would be.  How much it would take my heart, open it up, and put it back together again, more full and more vulnerable and more alive than it had ever been to begin with.  I guess you could say it’s the luck of the draw that you became our first, but the lessons you have taught me have made me into a more real and more alive person than I had ever been before.

Thank you for being my side kick.  And for trusting me completely.  And for wanting me around even when no one else does.  Thank you for calling me beautiful.  And smart. And “the best mommy in the world.”  Thank you for caring.  Thank you for inspiring me to care for others.  Thank you for allowing your vulnerability to live on.  For not becoming jaded.  Or too old for your age.

Thank you for being you, the person I fell in love with in that hospital room six years ago today.  The person I absolutely could not wait to meet and the person who instantly felt like I had known all my life.

Your daddy and I used to live in a high rise apartment about two years before you were born.  We lived on the sixteenth floor.  One day we got bad news — we got news that the journey we had already been on for years to get pregnant might not ever end happily ever after.  There was a hole in my heart.  My breath was going through me because the inside of me was utterly empty.

I didn’t know what to do.  So I went outside and I sat on our balcony and I started speaking to the stars.  I started speaking to my baby.  I told you that I loved you.  I told you that I desperately wanted to get to you.  I told you that I knew you were out there and that one day, somehow you would end up in my arms.  I don’t know how long I sat there talking to you.  Maybe it was minutes or maybe hours.  But it gave me strength. Because I knew I wasn’t just talking to an empty sky.  You were there and you were listening, and in that moment, I gleaned strength that would carry me through another two years of tears.

And with every ounce of my being, I know that I would take that journey again.  I would endure the bad test results and the monthly reminders and all of the endless doctor’s appointments.  I would do it all again because you were the pot of gold at the end of the journey.

Happy birthday Magoo.  Here’s to another year of firsts.  May God bless you always and keep you in the palm of his hand.

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We Need Each Other

I wrote the other day about messiness.  It’s a messy world we live in, pure and simple.

And I think the way most of us make sense out of that messiness is to close ourselves in.  We close the ranks.  We count those most important to us and the rest are left on the outside.  We’ll communicate with them.  We’ll make small talk.  But there are only a handful of people who we really let touch our souls.

Socially, I always reside in a strange place.  I love being around people.  They energize me.  I love new ideas and places and viewpoints.  But I also get terribly shy.  Most people probably don’t realize it because I think I hide it well, but I get nervous before I have to talk to people, even if it’s just idle chit chat.  Because of that, I don’t put myself out there all that much socially.  I’ll push myself to make social engagements and to accept ones I’m invited to.  But if the other party cancels, I usually breathe a sigh of relief because it means I don’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing or being judged.

And I really don’t think I’m all that alone in that.

And like I said, it tends to make us shut ourselves in.  By the time most of us get firmly entrenched in adulthood, I think we get to the point where we don’t need more people.  We have who we need, and the rest are just icing on the cake should we choose to indulge.

Something happened tonight that made me question that, however.  A community that we are a part of has been going through a difficult time as of late.  Things happened, and quite honestly, I didn’t know how to respond.  Should I be sad?  Angry?  Bitter?  Scared?  And because I’m me, I just chose them all, flipping from one emotion to the next in any given moment of the day.  The world outside was a mess and so was the world inside my mind.

And then tonight there was a meeting about everything going on, and I didn’t know what to expect.  How would other people be responding?  And I found that everyone was pretty much responding in the same ways I was.  Surprise, fear, sadness, anger.  And people expressed those feelings.  In that expression, I heard my own issues and I felt a bit comforted by them.

But more than all of that, what I heard was mercy.  A wrong was (allegedly) done.  It was acknowledged.  Appropriate steps were taken.  But instead of wallowing in the darkness of what had happened, I found people searching for light.  People seeking ways to forgive.  People seeking ways to hate the sin but love the sinner.  People seeking ways to show mercy in a world where mercy is so very much needed.

Today I heard hope and because of that I heard peace.

No one had any real answers.  No one had simple emotions.  But just like I come to time and time again when I try to write out my thoughts, the only way forward is to leave those hard feelings in the past.  Be angry and let it go.  Mourn and say goodbye.  Acknowledge the fear and then step forward.

Because the past is always messy and the past always leaves us with a complicated present.  And we can’t change that.

But what we can do is seek the simple answer, and the simple answer is to always follow love.  With eyes open to human weakness and hearts open to possible pain, we seek to love.

Because that’s the only answer that will make sense in the chaos.  It’s the only voice that will quiet the fears.  It’s the only door that will open to peace.

And without other people, I wouldn’t have found that.  Without the words of others, I would be left in the darkness with my worries and anger and sadness.  But when we reach out and we seek other souls, we can find answers.

Today I learned that no matter the situation, no matter the darkness, no matter the confusion or heartbreak, love is always there as our answer if only we will seek it.

Sitting with It

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I have a weird relationship with emotions.  For pretty much as long as I can remember, my emotions have been a bit on the strong end.  Call it what you will – melodramatic, sensitive, emotional, high strung, neurotic, crazy, passionate.  I’ve pretty much heard it all. A lot of times this is an awesome thing.  I’m glad I cry happy tears at an awesome summer rain.  I’m glad I am able to sit there in actual awe when I’m watching some pretty mundane task that my children do.  I’m glad Magoo knows that mommy just cries a lot and that it doesn’t mean she’s sad.  I’ve taught her that mommies just have special tears that they get because they just love their little ones so much.

It’s a trait that I really have grown to like about myself.  But it wasn’t always like that.

For the longest time, I would try to temper that.  I would get embarrassed by the jubilee I felt over a good marching band at a summer parade.  I was self conscious about the way my insides would feel like they were going to burst when I would hear a particularly well crafted lyric.  Because people think us melodramatic people a bit odd.  A bit too much.  It definitely doesn’t make us one of the “cool kids.”

Then I had someone who I respect deeply tell me that I “live out loud.”  And it wasn’t said in a bad way.  It wasn’t said condescending.  And it was said by someone who knew me pretty well.  I think that was part of what helped me slowly come to terms with my more sensitive side.  I was able to own it a bit more.

But like all things in life, this “loud” nature has a dark side.  My joy has always felt strong.  My heart flutters way more than is probably normal.  But it’s not just those happy emotions.  The dark ones are strong as well.

Anxiety can take me, within an eighth of a moment, to absolute terror that takes sometimes weeks to dissipate.  Depression, when it clings on, is like a lead ball chained to my ankle, and it keeps me down more strongly and more fiercely than any physical tether ever could.

I think it’s because of those feelings that I have learned to fight, almost instantaneously, to any negative emotion that shows up.  I have severe anxiety.  In the (not really all that distant) past, I have suffered from probably moderate-strong depression.  I know that if I let them take hold, hold they will.  And so I fight.  I’m always at the ready.  Like troops on the front line, I know that danger is always there, always waiting, always ready to attack, and I know that I must attack first.  I can’t let it in.  I can’t let it get even the slightest of grips.

And this is good.  It’s why over the past couple of years, my anxiety has been here but it hasn’t been in charge.  It’s why (even though this could change at any moment) I consider myself winning my battle against these afflictions.  It’s why I am able to live my life.  I go to counseling.  I take my medication.  But those two things won’t do anything unless I know how to fight and unless I fight well.  And I think I do.

But recently, I have noticed that perhaps my trigger finger is a bit too twitchy.  I jump in a bit too quickly.  I fight just a bit too hard.

When the real anxiety and the real depression come in, I can’t possibly fight too hard.  But when other negative emotions come in, perhaps the heavy approach is a bit detrimental.

Take this evening.  We had a lovely weekend, and today was the best day thus far.  Magoo was in a Memorial Day Parade and then we took the girls on a  train ride (the first for the youngest two) to a park about half an hour away where we played for awhile and then hopped back on the train.  It was really so much fun.

But still this evening, I found myself feeling just a bit melancholy.  A bit confused.  A bit overwhelmed.

And I attacked.  I tried to talk myself out of it.  I tried to focus on gratitude.  I tried to analyze it.  In essence, I tried everything I could to get rid of the meloncholy.

And the same thing happened a few days ago.  I heard some news about someone I don’t even know that well that made me angry and confused and sad, and instead of accepting that this was a very normal reaction to the events, instead I fought it.  I searched for information; I analyzed it to death; I searched for information again and again and again.

But what if sometimes it is just okay to feel bad?  What if that’s life?  And what if by attempting to cut off the (non-disfunctinal) negative feelings of life, I’m cutting myself off from half of the experience of life?

Maybe it’s okay to sometimes feel bad.  Maybe sometimes it’s okay to even really feel bad.

And this might all be quite common sense to you all, but as usual, I have a tendency to prove that common sense isn’t necessarily common at all.  But I’ve had a rough ride with those negative emotions.  They’ve brought me down too far before.  But maybe it’s about time I learn to trust myself and my ability to cope with them.  Maybe it’s about time I let some of them sit with me for a bit.  Maybe they won’t eat me.

And if they do… well I’ve climbed myself out before.  And maybe that’s just a risk that is worth taking.

 

Messiness

Have you ever noticed that life is messy?

We are born into this world knowing absolutely nothing.  We don’t even know where we begin and where another ends.  Our brains teach us to make sense of the world.  To seek patterns.  To determine the absolutes.

And we do.  We determine the good guys and the bad guys.  We determine right and wrong, moral and immoral, possible and impossible.  Things start to make sense.  We can maneuver through this world.

But then the facade starts to crumble.  We age and we break out the cocoons we created and that we resided in.  We start to see more of the world and more of people.  We learn that the world is bigger than what we know, that evil is more rampant than what we have faced.  We learn that good and bad exist but that the notion of good and bad people is more a construct of our hopes than of our reality.  There are no all good people.  There are no all bad people.  People are a mix of both.  Our world is a mix of both.

And often, this leaves us standing with our jaws dropped and our worlds shaken.

As grown ups, we know logically that mistakes happen.  We know that people mess up.  That the line between good and bad is fuzzy at best and almost nonexistent at worst.  But I’m not sure we fully know how to deal with it.

And how would we?

How do we make sense out of a world that seems so random?  How do we trust when the foundations of that trust can be shattered so easily?  How do we wake up in the morning and go to sleep at night when during the course of an average day, so much can be turned upside down?

And how do we teach our children?  We want to teach them that the world is safe and that good is good and bad is bad.  They need to learn this.  Their minds are too fragile not to believe this.  They have an absolute right to believe this during the years when they can believe this, and they have a right to be protected from lessons that will teach them the contrary.

But the world doesn’t necessarily want them to know this.  The world doesn’t respect the boundaries we place around their knowledge.  The world doesn’t want their innocence or their purity.  It wants to teach them lessons that they aren’t ready to learn.

I can’t heal this world.  I can’t make it clean.  I can’t tidy up the messy that keeps infringing on our sacred circle every chance it gets.

But I can do my best to make sure that it doesn’t infringe on my kids, on my family.  That they get to stay pure and innocent as long as they possibly can.

I can’t protect my own heart and all of your hearts from the messiness of this world, but I will surely do everything within my power to protect theirs.  For as long as possible.  Because once it’s lost…

Stay at Home Mom

Usually when we pick Magoo up from kindergarten we can park right in front of the doors.  There are only a handful of kids who go half day, so there is plenty of parking.  It’s convenient because a lot of times Magoo can just run to the car from the door, and I don’t have to unpack the little girls on the very cold or snowy days.

Today, however, there was a packed parking lot.  There was a picnic at the school and some other events, so we actually had to park relatively far away.  We had gotten there early, so I got both of the little girls out, and we headed for the side walk.  Mae had her big girl shoes on because we had gone to a touch a truck event, so I let her walk on her own to the door.  Luckily we were there quite early, so we had time.

And time we needed because for every two steps forward Mae would take, she would plop down on her bottom or turn around and start to run the other way.  Goosie on the other hand spent all of her time picking “sunflowers” (known to the rest of us as dandelions.)  She would collect a couple and then run up to me and say, “I have a surprise for you!” and then she would whip them out from her back and scream “Sunflowers!”

I don’t really know how long it took us to walk the few dozen feet from the sidewalk to the door, but it was a significant amount of time.  And during this time, all I could think about was how unbelievably lucky I am.

Half a century ago what I do would have been the norm.  Daddies go to work and mommies stay home with the babies.  It was how it was and how it had to be.  I can imagine it was a bit stifling… the not having any control over one’s own future.  Of being required to be financially dependent upon somebody else.  Of having any talents and skills and education one earned be wiped away by a world that refused to see women as equal and capable and competent.

I am so eternally grateful for all of those women who walked before me who gave me options.  The option to earn an education.  The option to work in the professional world.  The option to attempt and achieve anything regardless of my gender.  And the option to opt out of it all and stay at home in my little cocoon, nurturing my babies during this ever so brief moment of their early youth.

I remember in college the word “domestic” felt like a bad word.  You could call someone the “b” word or you could call them a jerk, or you could call them “domestic.”  I would have preferred either of the former two to the latter.  To be domestic.  I didn’t really know any females my age who cooked.  Even if I had known how, I would never have considered sewing a button onto an article of clothing.  Knitting — absolutely no way ever.  I feared those skills.

Now I look back on that attitude and it makes me sad.  It reminds me that for the longest time, I bought into the very modern notion that to be accomplished, to be effective, to be worthy, to be good enough, one had to produce, and one had to produce at a very high level.

All those things are good.  They are so very good.  I am grateful every day that my daughters can look out into their world and see women they love and respect making their way in business and education and healthcare and any number of fields.  I am glad that they know, personally, women doctors and women executives and women lawyers.  I’m grateful that they have these women to look up to and to aspire after if that is the route they should choose.

But I’m also glad my attitude has changed.  I am grateful that during the overwhelming metamorphosis that occurs during childbirth and those first few months as a mom that I was able to appreciate my own role and my own values as much as all of those other ones that directed me in my early years.

I am grateful that my girls get to see that a woman can stay home and still be intelligent.  That a woman can knit and still be accomplished.  That a woman can devote her time and energy to her family and still be worth every single bit as much as the woman who is making half a million treating patients.

I read an article recently that argued against the feminist school that claims the only equality that should exist is the one that ignores any difference in the genders.  That’s the school I bought into for years.

But now I see things differently.  I see that true equality can only exist once we recognize differences both in genders and in personal lives as well as similarities.  When all people are given the right to choose that which will fulfill them.

Today, when I saw Mae ambling up the sidewalk, I felt my heart bursting with gratitude.  I was grateful for all those who came before me who gave me this choice.  I was grateful for TJ for working so hard and sacrificing so much to give me this choice.  I was grateful for the role models who went before me who taught me the dignity and importance of such domestic work, and I was grateful for these little people who came into my life and helped me find the meaning in it.

It’s not lost on me that I am a lucky person, that I have choices that unfortunately not all women and not all families have.  And it’s not an easy path.  It’s not restful or calm or easy going.  It’s not the only path, and it’s not the best path for all people.  But it is mine. And I hope I find the insight each and every day to cherish it and to honor it and to live it fully.  Because like all blessings in life it is as fleeting as it is precious.

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