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Little JoJo in the jungle: a tale of survival

December 8, 2017

My oldest daughter – my JoJo – is the second coming of both my face and my fits. And she is struggling to find her place among the elementary elite.

It started when … well it started getting really bad with the arrival of a solution to an 8-year-old dilemma, the Nipit. The Nipit is a genius product my mom discovered through the power of Amazon that’s worn on the elbow and prevents a child from bending their arm enough to get their respective digits to their mouth to suck. While it lacks in discretion – it’s bright, primary colors with loud velcro straps – holy heck it works. I’ve seen my girl with her fingers in her mouth once in the last three months. For a girl who was getting her suck on in the womb, that is nothing short of miraculous.

But, as is the case with most red and blue arm braces, it didn’t take long for the kids at school to take note. It’s different, which means she’s different, which means she’s “weird”, which means she has a giant red target right in the center of her tiny little back. Thus, the bullying began.

I’ve thought about this a lot in the last few weeks, and I’ve come to some clarity. I think the issue is, when we look into our child’s eyes, we see someone different. We see an unborn baby that got hiccups every night during our 9 o’clock show. We see the little human who turned everything upside down in the best, scariest way possible, and made us a mother or a father. We see a toddler whose hair grew in from the back forward and stuck straight up while she watched cartoons on lazy weekend mornings. We see her first birthday and her tricycle. We hear the crinkle of her diaper between thick, wobbly legs coming down the hall and her first words … “dada” of course.

When I look at my daughter, I feel her letting go of my hand on the first day of preschool and her pleading eyes when big change came. I feel cuddles from the best spooner on the planet and hear her telling me, at 4, that she was heading off to college just like Steve from Blue’s Clues. I hear her laugh. I see her crooked, gappy smile and pure, well-intentioned heart. I see a thousand tiny little pieces of myself, with her daddy’s build, walking out the door every single morning.

But that’s what I see. And I am her mother.

What kids see is another little second grader in a sea of 7, 8, 9 year olds, crowding the playground and trying not to do anything odd enough to get noticed. They don’t find her to be special in any of the ways that really count. They aren’t looking for that. They’re looking for different. They’re looking for a crack, an opening. They’re waiting for her to get comfortable enough that she shows something they view as a weakness or an eccentricity. If it lends itself to a nickname or a chant, all the better.

When the tiny opening presents itself, they put their toe in first, maybe a snide comment or whisper to a friend. Then they put in their leg, then torso, and eventually their whole body busts down that door, lashing out with hateful, belittling words that feel so good to them, so empowering. Because kids know no consequence. They know instant gratification and survival of the shittiest. It’s jungle rules out there and everyone is potential prey.

In his book, “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen”, Christopher McDougall wrote: “Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”

I send my little girl out the door every morning as this special ball of memories and potential, and the second she steps off the porch she’s reduced to bait. And do I blame the kids being unkind? Hell no! They’re just relieved they aren’t the girl with the brace on her elbow. And I totally get it.

Because no one wants to be that girl. Growing up, I had spacey, jagged teeth and a swoopy, horrible set of bangs for a good few years. I had girls pass notes to my BFFs saying they shouldn’t play with me anymore. I had days where I curled up in my mom’s arms, as she rubbed my back in her mustard yellow fabric covered rocking chair with the melodic squeak. Ask any adult and they can name their bully. If they can’t, they were the bully. It’s a rite of passage in some ways. Unfortunately. Stupidly.

It all came to a head recently, as one particular girl turned up the torment on my babe. We’ll call her Delores for the sake of anonymity and movie trivia. Delores has a girl gang. They think JoJo’s a big baby for sucking her fingers (predictable, easy), and they make sure she knows it on a daily basis. We’d been doing the usual coaching behind the scenes … Don’t fight hate with hate … The meaner they are, the kinder you should be … If you feel sad, tell a teacher … Just ignore her … Maybe she was having a bad day or she’s sad about something. Nevertheless, it persisted.

It persisted until earlier this week when JoJo decided to express herself about it. In a drawing. On the back of her homework. Where she’s throwing a bat at Delores’ head. And it’s labeled “JoJo’ and “Delores”. Needless to say, her teacher wasn’t thrilled.

Spike was waiting by the door for me that evening. “Mom, I’m not going to tell you what’s going on, but I will tell you that JoJo got in trouble and she has to go see the counselor tomorrow and if the counselor wants to, she can send JoJo to the principal’s office.” I walked into the living room to find my little criminal, sitting on the couch, red streaks from old tears subtle on her pale cheeks.

“You’ve taken a situation where someone was bullying you,” I explained, “and turned it around so that you are now the one doing the bullying. Do you see why this is wrong?” She nodded, her bottom lip curving down like a fat, grumpy fist in an animated feature. JoJo is certainly my creative chick, and this devilish doodle was, I’m certain, just a way for her to express her frustration, but regardless, it’s not how we roll.

Her teacher referred her to the school counselor, which, to be honest, I was a little relieved about. Finally! A professional can step in here! Somebody equipped with a degree and Inside Out dolls.

The day she was scheduled to meet with the counselor, JoJo was pacing the kitchen, whining. “I don’t want to go to the counselor’s office, Mama. I’m scared. What if I get in trouble?” I challenged her to be brave, and to be honest. I challenged her to step up to all the feelings of anger and sadness and loneliness she’s been feeling and share them with a grownup who could help. (And who she’d listen to more than her own mother.)

And then, I watched her step off the porch and go back out into that dark, vast jungle. Exposed and vulnerable and wearing her Nipit like a juicy, raw steak around her neck on the grasslands. A giant piece of my heart went right onto the bus with her and drove away.

I thought about her all day. I waited for the phone to ring. Maybe the principal would call and say she was suspended for the drawing. A black blemish on her spotless record. Maybe the counselor would call and tell me what a bad mother I was for waiting so long to alert them to the situation. Maybe her emotions would swallow her whole and I’d have to come get her.

But the phone never rang, and soon it was 5 o’clock.

I can always read the general temperature of our household within seconds. When something is wrong with one of the kiddos, it’s like walking into a room carrying balloons and a birthday cake after everyone else was just told someone died. So on this day, I was very tentative coming in from the garage.

“Hi, Mama!” JoJo greeted me. My whole body unclenched.
“Hi, JoJo!”
“Mom, I met with the counselor today and it was great. I didn’t get in trouble for the drawing and she told me I should tell Delores that what she’s doing is hurting my feelings.”
“Right. That’s great, JoJo!”
“Yeah, I feel so much better! Can I call Dad and tell him?”
“Of course.”

And just like that, progress. A touch of healing for a wounded little soul. She would live to roam the prairie another day.

I, of course, immediately sat down to type a teary note of appreciation to the school counselor, positive she had no clue how thankful I was for her 5-minute pep talk with my daughter. Positive I was being a little over emotional and positive I didn’t care a lick.

And the rest of this week has been better, though I know it’s not the last we’ll hear of Delores and her girl gang. The oldest child is such an experiment. They bring this stuff home to you, and you never know whether they’re being transparent or dramatic. You don’t know what’s normal and what’s a five-alarm fire. All you have to go on is your instinct and your own experiences as a child. (I mean, aren’t we all just projecting our childhood onto our own kids anyway?)

You just want to scream from the top of the school gymnasium, [in the voice of an Indian chief] “This is my daughter, JoJo! She is strong and funny and would be a really great friend! I am proud of her! And if you screw with her, I will squash your milk carton in your tiny horrible face.” But that’s not considered acceptable grownup behavior.

It will always be hard to hear. I’m the one who carries her stories, and because of that, I know what a treasure she is. I have the backstory. I’m invested, mostly because I grew her.

I’m the one who knows she called penguins “herbies” for years, even though everyone thought she was saying “herpes”. I’m the one who put her hair in long, flowing pigtails and cut the feet out of her penguin jammies so she could wear them a few months longer. I am in this thing for the long haul.

And I could sell her good points like popsicles on the Fourth of July. She likes to climb really tricky trees and eat Nutella straight from the jar and she can sing every word to every song from Descendents 2. She dabs like a boss. She’s a talented artist and can turn any strawberry into a rose too beautiful to eat. She always wears two layers of clothing, even in the summer, and changes into her pajamas within an hour of getting home from school. She did hygge before hygge was a thing. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be friends with that girl?

There aren’t a lot of choices here. She has to keep going to school and I have to keep watching her step off our porch, bait though she may be. I can’t change the dichotomy of children, the hunters and the hunted. I can’t make my daughter’s skin thicker, no matter what I feed her at home. The only thing I can do is rock her when she wants me to and keep track of her stories, so she always has someone to remind her just how special she is. Someone who’s invested. Someone who isn’t going anywhere. Someone who, after all the deep lessons have been offered and her worries put to rest, will turn away from tiny ears and say the thing that everyone really wants to say.

“Ah, screw Delores!”

Thoughts

The truth about monsters and men

December 1, 2017

“This is getting out of control!” It was Hank, sending me an instant message in the middle of the day.

“Uh oh, what’s wrong?” I responded.
“First Matt Lauer and now Garrison Keillor!”

I knew what he was talking about right away. I knew because a friend I was close to once upon a Matt Lauer crush had text me the morning’s headline. (That crush had extinguished entirely years ago, after Ann Curry’s abrupt departure and his dickish reaction to the whole situation. I like Ann Curry. She’s that perfect blend of wicked smarts and genuine compassion.) But Hank and Garrison Keillor … That’s something else entirely.

The news of Mr. Keillor would shatter Hank. I can’t tell you how many times my husband (who I often theorize to be 87 years old at heart) made us all listen to Prairie Home Companion on a long Sunday drive. Or how many times he’s read the book “Daddy’s Girl” to the kids. He knows it by heart … “O baby won’t you dance with me … Little baby bouncing on my knee … Wave your hands and shake your feet … Ooohh baby you’re so sweet .”

He keeps it in his top dresser drawer so he’ll always know where it is, the spine soft and worn from his rough fingertips. Now I wonder if I’ll ever hear the lyrics leave his lips again. Those melodic lines, sweetened by his comforting voice under an 8 o’clock moon.

“It makes me sad and scared,” Hank went on. “For you and for our girls. That you have to live in a world where this happens. Where it’s something you have to think about.”

(That’s why I married this one, guys.)

While I assured him that everything was going to be OK. That we would raise our girls to know the boundaries of what’s right and what’s wrong and how to be strong and speak up and speak out and find power in their voice. I don’t think it soothed his burning thoughts.

And it left this interesting questions, too: What is Garrison Keillor to us now, if not a magnetic storyteller and master of words? Is he simply to be known from this day forth as an imposter? A predator? A monster? What’s to become of all those characters left in Lake Wobegon?

Comedians, TV dads, distinguished newsmen, business moguls, film producers, playwrights, media executives, acclaimed actors, presidents and politicians … their talents and contributions obliterated entirely because they couldn’t follow the simplest of unspoken rules. Because they made the mistaken, narcissistic assumption that their power would override the prerequisite for consent. Because they operated under the foolish pretense that they were desired by every woman, simply because she knew his name.

Maybe it’s us. Maybe our expectations are just too high. Maybe it’s too much to expect someone with a gift for music or narrative or business to also be an upstanding citizen of this planet. For them to share something with a woman without expecting something physical in exchange as payment for their genius or attention. Maybe it’s too much to expect that someone tick all the boxes when it comes to character and human decency.

Maybe.

But then, I know many men who tick all those boxes.

Men who expect nothing but mutual respect in return.

I will teach my girls that this world is full of monsters and of men, but more of the latter. And that it’s important to recognize the difference. I guess I started the lesson the day I married their father. The day I picked him and all his decency out of the pool of potential suitors and said, “Yes! That one! I like what he stands for. I shall do life with him, forever.” I think it has to start with strong male figures. It has to start with celebrating the men who aren’t in those headlines. The ones who respect a woman’s mind and humor over any curve or inch of bare skin.

And then you have to offer them awareness. Because their dad can’t protect them always. And neither can their mom. But I can sure as hell encourage them to use their words for justice and their breath for equality, and that they have to grow louder when no one is listening. If a time comes when I need to, I can show them the army of brave women coming forward to say, “This was not right,” and how, sometimes, though not always, consequences do exist. Victims do have the final word. They get their power back.

That’s what I can do.

And as for Mr. Keillor and his brethren of offenders, what a disgraceful party you chose to attend. My only hope is that this onslaught of accusations and dismissals might settle into a wealth of healing, for all those involved. For the men and the woman … and the monsters as well.

Thoughts, Uncategorized

Thanksgiving and 31 flavors of joy

November 29, 2017

I’ve really been getting into joy lately. I think because sometimes, if I’m not careful, joy can feel like a bit of a unicorn. And, let’s be honest, who wants to live in a world where the most pleasant of emotions is as rare as a leprechaun sighting in Alabama? (Or is that really rare, after all?)

Here’s the thing, I fight fear like most people fight the flu; proactively minimizing my exposure and sniffing out supplements to stack the deck. That’s not only for my own sanity (though that’s the primary reason), but also to prove a point. Because sometimes I think those who seek to instill fear get the most pleasure out of creating the illusion that it exists. It’s the scary music. The mask. Sometimes I think that gets them off even more than carrying out the actual act that elicits the fear. I’m trying to strip it of its power. I’m trying to diffuse the pressure cooker of potential catastrophes lurking in both my imagination and my newsfeed.

It’s a work in progress. Some days I notice every nuance of the sunrise and some days I hyperventilate over whether my children will see their twenties.

But this past week I was so aware of joy, you guys. I was bathing in it. It felt more tangible than it’s felt in months. I could hear it, see it, taste it. Joy! In all its delicious flavors.

Why? I don’t know … lots of reasons. As the years go by, Thanksgiving becomes one of my favorite holidays. It brings some of my most treasured traditions. The 4-mile race, cold and challenging. It wakes me up and makes me uncomfortable in that way that can only be followed by extreme elation once complete. Then we go out for a warm, carb-loaded, maple syrup-soaked breakfast with a flowing stream of creamed coffee. Everything tastes like joy after a chilly trot in 30-degree weather.

Then I love going home to watch the parade with the girls, waiting for Santa to come down a crowded New York street, confetti flying around his jolly bearded head. Then the dog show, with the wild-haired breeds no one’s ever heard of. I savor the satisfaction of packing up the food we’ve prepared to share – this year, cucumber sandwiches, crescent rollups with garlic and red pepper and a vanilla bundt cake – and loading everyone into the car.

For the past few years, Hank’s Grandma Marge hadn’t been well. I remember two years ago on Thanksgiving, we all took pictures with Grandma, an unspoken nod to the reality of her condition and fleeting time with her beautiful face. This year, there was talk of babies and ripples of laughter. Life, it seems, has gone on, and there is still joy to be had. Next year, there will be a new beautiful face at our dinner. A sweet little boy.

Friday morning, all I had to do was have Hank get the red and green totes out of the attic for the chicks to release their unbridled cheer all over the first floor of our house. JoJo pulled out every homemade ornament we had – stick-on jewels and stretch cotton ball beards – and hung them on everything standing still. Every thing. She put a string of plastic snowflakes around the handle for the freezer. She threw gold glittered Christmas trees in potted plants. She was running around like Buddy the Elf at Gimbel’s. Joy! I said to myself as I saw it run past. This is what joy looks like!

And then there’s my Spike and her powder pink ukulele. I hear her sometimes, strumming the strings in a quiet corner of an empty room. She’s more of a songwriter, see. She’s about the lyrics. After two days of mumbling along with an unfamiliar melody, my brunette beauty came out and told me she was ready to share her song. She sat down, wearing nothing but a camp t-shirt and a pair of fuzzy boots, and she poured her little heart out.

Mya from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

It was a song about Mya, who is our dog. But this tune was not about our dog, specifically. Mya was the name of the fictional dog who runs away in the song. It’s moving … haunting, and I’m kicking myself for stopping the video just shy of her dramatic finish; three deliberate strums and unbroken eye contact. She was so proud of herself and her moving tribute to puppies, even though she hasn’t been able to replicate the tune since. Joy, in the key of who the hell cares.

Saturday we lit the lights at my parents’ house. The Grand Lighting, as we call it. Every year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my mom works her ass off to make all our favorites – turkey, deviled eggs, stuffing, broccoli salad, gravy and mashed potatoes – and we all sit around laughing over the same stories we’ve been laughing about for 30 years, while Dad bitches about outlets and breakers.

It’s one of those traditions steeped in self-inflicted inconvenience. My dad’s dad, Red, was huge on Christmas displays. In turn, my dad was. Until one year, he wasn’t. But the damage had been done. We all had expectations by that point. Not to mention the grandkids who’d come along by then. And so, with my mom taking over the helm, the exterior illumination show has gone on. And we, the display’s humble admirers, still stumble outside, bellies full and wine in hand, to watch as the strings of twinkle lights shine for the first time. And it’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

We sat down for a round of Cards Against Humanity afterward. I’m tellin’ ya, you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard your mother utter the phrase, “tasteful sideboob” or “Lance Armstrong’s missing testicle”. The sound of joy.

The final day of our long weekend was also Mom’s birthday. Matt took over Big Breakfast to give our folks a little break. This family tradition is rich in joy; loud, sticky, buttery joy. The people I love most in my life, sleepy eyed in plaid pajama pants, gathering around mugs of strong coffee and plates of dippy eggs. The cousins – an army of girls punctuated by one teenage boy – flip in the front room, meandering in here and there to claim cinnamon rolls. The only rule at Big Breakfast is to come as you are.

And finally, last night I watched my three little girls hang a full tote of Hallmark ornaments on our happy little Christmas tree. One by one they picked up the ballerinas, the snowmen and the penguins wearing ice skates, and assigned them to the perfect branch. The Grinch was playing in the background, stealing their attention here and there. I should have made them go to bed by 8. I should have turned the movie off. But, the joy … oh, the joy.

The more I learn to grab it when I see it, the more I think joy is always there. Sometimes it’s concealed in discomfort, like change or unexpected news. Sometimes it takes awhile to shine through. But it’s there.

Sometimes it’s true, I have to kill a fair amount of fear so the joy has room to grow, but, like I said, I’m working on it. Worry will be the most overpowering weed in the garden if you let it. And Lord knows it’s easy to let it. But joy is where it’s at, I’m tellin’ ya. Joy is the remedy and the resolution. Let it filter in through every crack and see you through every shadow. Feel it, taste it, hear it, smell it, look for it … every day, everywhere.

JoJo Just Said, So Says Sloppy Joan, Spike Speak

Sisters say what? (Vol. 6)

November 15, 2017

These sister sayings have been piling up in the notes app on my phone and it was time for a massive dump. In recent months, Sloppy Joan has started calling babies “hunnies” (which is super cute when we see baby bunnies) and Spike has become obsessed with all things private parts and Mother Nature. From our house, to yours … Enjoy!

He’s Indian. No, like his DNA is Indian. – JoJo

I’m gonna volcano in your tub! – Sloppy Joan
You’re gonna what?
Volcano, mama! In there!
You mean cannonball?
Yeah!

Shakin sisters from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

I jugged that whole water so hard. – Spike

You know when I was little, I thought a plank was like a diving board, but now I know it’s like a pirate thing. – Spike

It said “B-I-T-C-H, please” in that wooden ship on the playground. So, “bitch, please”. – Spike

[Doing Zumba]
“Whoa, what does sexy mean , anyway?” – JoJo
“Um …”
“Is it a kind of dancing or exercise?”
“No! Don’t go to school and tell you friends we did sexy last night.”

“I’m going to miss being 5, but I think I can get through it.” – Spike

I like the pink shorties [underwear] but not the kitty shorties, because the kitty shorties are flaking and get into my butt. – Spike

What are those things called … chicas? – Spike
They’re called boobs. – her cousin

She probably didn’t recognize you because you have glasses now. – Hank
Yeah, maybe. But I have the same face and skin. – Spike

I know what that thing is – Spike
What thing? – Hank
That thing that you and Ryan have.
Oh?
It’s called a penis.
Really?
Yes, boys have a penis and girls have a private.
Actually, do you know what a woman’s private is called?
What?
It’s called a vagina.
Ew.

I don’t like jeans. – Spike
No? Why? – Hank
You know how sometimes your butt has like a crack in it? Like there’s a bump and then a crack?
Uh. Huh.
Well, the jeans get into that crack. That’s why I don’t like jeans.

Dad, I pooped in my underwear upstairs. Why don’t you check it out. – Sloppy Joan

G’night Sugar Lips! – Sloppy Joan

Diarrhea from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

“What are those bras called?” – Spike
“What honey?” – Hank
“You know, the bras.”
“Um, there-a, well,”
“The hairs that hang in your face.”
“Oh, bangs! Bangs! You mean bangs.”

It’s a dob bobblin … I mean a sob dobblin … I mean a nob shobblin – Spike
It was a hob gobblin – Hank

You know how you get a tickle in your throat? Well, I do not like to be tickled in my mouth. – Spike

Jack, you’re going to love the lake. They make the best watermelon there. – Spike

I saw firebees! – Sloppy Joan, chasing lightning bugs

Do you pick one out or you just have one come out? – Spike asking about babies

Oh, her name is Mary Berry? I thought it was madame Blueberry – JoJo

I was drawing on the sidechalk – Sloppy Joan

Owls are nocturtle – Spike

What do you want to eat? – Me
I want something that’s like too bad for night and too good for the day. Like not too treaty but not too dinnery. – Spike

Hey! Sloppy Joan has something to say! All you hunnies get off my mom! – Sloppy Joan

Do we have bath-is tonight, or no or yes? – Sloppy Joan, every night at dinner

Oop! I’m sorry – Spike
For what? – Me
I’m sorry I … kicked you, you know … in the penis.
Honey, I don’t have a penis.

They’re building it with an instruction truck. – Spike

Mom, you know the best part about dying? You turn into angel after you dust. – Spike

Mama, is it fun to be enormous? – Sloppy Joan

Don’t you dare look back from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

I decided I like being more brown because Pocahontas was pretty brown. – Spike

When I like to learn about nature is when it’s beautiful. When it’s not pretty, I don’t really care to learn about it. – Spike

She leaned back and kissed the bologna star, I mean the Blarney stone. And then the leprechauns came and they started making messes. – Spike

Jimmy said I don’t matter and I said you don’t care about God’s creation. – Spike

I have a friend and their grandma is 100! Yeah, I think she knew Jesus. – Spike

I stronging! – Sloppy Joan, lifting weights

Damn it, I left my coat at the farm! – JoJo, makin’ mama proud

Oh. My. Gosh. from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

See: Sisters say what? (Vol. 5) and Sisters say what? (Vol. 4)

Thoughts

Secrets. If you can’t tell the Internet, who can you tell?

November 10, 2017

Therapy looks different for different people. For some, it’s yoga, for others, it’s cigarettes and gossip. It might be an emergency session with a legitimate counselor or a vigorous hike or a bottle of red. For me, it’s these keys. This space. You guys are at all of my therapy sessions. Sometimes I sit down at my computer and I can almost instantly feel the weight of my burdens give way. Like a bra coming off after a 12-hour day, just the thought of being brutally honest about what ails me can be so freeing. But not today. Today, this post is scary and embarrassing, and I feel heavy just sorting through the words that might appear on this screen.

As you know if you follow DSS, I just had my 35th birthday. It was lowkey and sweet, both figuratively and literally. Those who spend any real time with me, know the key to my heart comes baked, frosted and coated in chocolate. My mom got me a necklace, gift card and seven candy bars. My birthday party (an event I share every year with my nephew) didn’t disappoint, as I blew out a candle nestled in a white cupcake topped with decadent whipped frosting, my favorite. My girlfriends from work took me to lunch and passed a superhero bag across the table. Inside, I found my favorite bath salts, a heavenly scented candle and three bars of dark chocolate.

The irony was lost on everyone but me. Because I am in on the secret. And now you will be, too.

While I’ve lightheartedly documented my suspicions here before, I am fairly certain that I have some food addiction issues. It seems so small, right? Inconsequential and petty. Dramatic maybe. It’s silly to assume that a grown woman would be incapable of practicing moderation. That she would compare a simple sweet tooth to true, uncontrollable compulsive behavior. But staring at the bag, with a superhero emblem on the front and my greatest weakness inside, I had to face the fact that none of this is funny or small anymore. Food is my heroin, my whiskey, my cocaine. It is destroying my body and wreaking havoc on my soul.

I often find myself hazy, drunk on additives and refined, racy treats peeled from brightly colored wrappers. I celebrate with chocolate. I mourn with cakes and cookies. I string the hours at my desk together with a licorice rope adorned with syrupy popcorn balls. I fight stress with frozen delicacies, named mint chip and cookie dough. I reward with cocoa-coated almonds and lean into lazy with a bowl of sweet cereal for dinner. I reach to find food in every high and scoop it up in every low.

And I guess most people would argue that it’s normal. Because in our culture, it kind of is. We eat too much, we joke about it, and then we have a salad to make up for it the next day, followed by a cookie that afternoon. It feels like balance and looks like trouble. But that’s the game. It’s a merry-go-round of too much and not enough, and we all have a generous roll of tickets.

From a 30,000-foot view, I’m checking the boxes. I’m doing it right. I work out at least 5 days a week. I pin vegan recipes and shop on Thrive Market. I obsess about curating all of the things my ultra-healthy alter ego is going to need for her ultra-healthy life. But it’s aspirational. All of it. I am planning meals for a person who doesn’t yet exist.

“You look fine!” people say, when I groan about my binges or complain about my weight. But I don’t feel fine.

I’ve been fighting the scale for months now. About two years ago, 11 months after I had Sloppy Joan, I made it back to my pre-baby weight. I was running, going to classes at the gym, tracking my calories. I was making the smart sacrifices you make to get your shit together. And I got there. But then, I got comfortable. And comfortable for me, is sugar and those simple, simple carbs. But it’s not just a little sweet here and a little apple fritter there. It’s disgusting, mindless gluttony.

A lot of people love food. I get it. Clearly I love it, too. But love, as many of us know, can be pretty twisted. It can make you do things you wouldn’t normally do. It can consume you and blind you and make you sick. As so many loved ones pointed out last week, I’m flying toward 40. I don’t want to go into the next chapter of my life flailing and foggy.

I smoked for years (I know, gasp!). I can remember sitting in my garage and having these tough conversations with myself. About how I was killing myself, and paying a lot of money to do it. Every pack was “my last pack” and every Sunday night was the Sunday night before the Monday morning when it all went away. But what I didn’t realize, was that I never gave the substance enough credit. I underestimated everything about those little white bastards. I always thought I was stronger. And, in the end, I was, but it took years and years and countless attempts to find that strength. Because I loved those cigarettes. And only now can I see that love for the twisted lie it was.

But this time, I can call this by name. I can see this cycle as addiction rather than a harmless romantic indulgence. I know that, right now, I have no control in this relationship.

Let me give you an example. The marketing geniuses who came up with retail birthday coupons saw me coming a mile away. The second a voucher for a free frozen yogurt hit my inbox, I started thinking about it. What flavor, what night, what toppings. I obsessed. I mentioned it to Hank everyday, until finally we went, on a night when it wasn’t convenient – because with three kids, it never is – and after a sensible dinner that left me more than full. But that’s what I do. I lust after sugar like Heath Ledger in his knight suit, may he rest in peace. And I tell myself I could stop if I wanted to. I could just let the coupon expire. But I don’t. I can’t.

My relationship with food is one of shame rather than guilt, and it’s important to know the difference. When I eat an entire coffee cake, I instantly feel like I’ve satisfied those triggers firing off in my brain that scream, “Right now! Do this! It’s delicious! You don’t always have this in the house!” And then I immediately wash that down with a tall drink of regret and shame.

Behavioral researchers would make the distinction between shame and guilt in my situation this way: If I were a woman in control who made a bad food choice here and there, that would elicit some guilt. Guilt is temporary and not tethered to the characteristics one associates with their core being. But I’m on the other side of that. I am not a woman who feels in control of her food choices. I feel consumed by urges and addictive patterns, and overall, just riddled with shame about the whole thing. Then I try to swallow and shrug off that shame so that I don’t pass these tendencies down to my girls. Oh my gosh, life is short. It’s just food. I don’t want to feel deprived. But what I really feel, is sick.

They say shame is the worst thing for children, because they connect feelings of shame with feelings of being unlovable. But I’m an adult. I feel loved unconditionally and I feel accepted. I don’t fear being abandoned or found out or rejected based on this addiction. I just feel like shit because of it. I feel like I turned over a huge piece of my self-respect to a chemist who sat in a lab and figured out exactly how to hook me. And I want to think I’m stronger than that. But I’m not. And that concession is where the shame resides.

But you do Whole30s and 14-Day Vegan Challenges and all that stuff. I know, I do. And I stand by the fact that I find these exercises valuable in the war to gain control over my habits. But I also find it troubling that I require such strict parameters around what should be such an intuitive act in order to feel like I’m driving and not along for the ride. I feel like there should be a simpler way.

So what’s a girl to do, huh? When she’s come onto this blog more times than she can count and confessed her shortcomings. When she’s tried so many different diets. When she’s 21 Day Fixed and bootcamped and MyFitness Pal’ed her brains out. When she’s scared the sugar’s stronger. What is she to do then?

Last week, I saw the number on the scale I’d been running from for two years. I know that number does not define me, or my worth. I know that obsessing over that number does nothing for me nor does reacting to it in the way I instinctively want to react to it, particularly with three little chicks watching everything I do and listening to everything I say. I need to see it as the spark for change, rather than the fire that’s going to burn me down.

I choose to try again. I choose to make this Sunday the Sunday before the Monday when it all goes away. Because if 45 things don’t work, maybe the 46th will be the one that sticks. I’ve been reading a lot about mindfulness, transcendental meditation and food addiction. While the salt/fat/sugar trifecta is certainly something to conquer, there’s also a lot of noise and stress and underlying triggers lingering just below the surface, whispering, “Food is comfort.” A little quiet might just help shut down those extra triggers enough to make some progress. So, maybe there’s something there.

It would all just be so much easier if the answers were in the back of the book. If I knew the solve. I have this friend at work and she’s always cold (you know the type). She combats the chilly office climate with a space heater. One she turns on periodically throughout the day and one that, inevitably, pops the circuit. She used to have to chase down a maintenance guy, explain her misstep and then wait for him to go flip the breaker. Until one day, it occurred to her to just follow him, write down which switch he flipped and then take care of it herself when the fuse, inevitably, popped again. Now, she heats her space without fear. “Well, I mean, I know my button,” she’ll say. Having the power to fix things for yourself is such a simple but rich reward in this life. I wish I knew my button.

I have no answers, no plan, no challenge in the works. I don’t know which button is my button. What you’ve read here was a trip to the confessional. An informal declaration. I just needed to come here for a bit of therapy. I needed these keys tonight. But our time is up for now.

Thoughts

A wish, on my 35th birthday

November 3, 2017

This week I turn 35.

35.

What can I say about 35 … I’m halfway through my 30s and barreling toward 40 like a greasy sled in an avalanche. I call 20-somethings “kids” and they call me “ma’am”. My hairdresser (friend) found my first grays. I’ve decided to name them Salt, Peppa and Spinderella. My underwear is as big as my fitted sheet, but I have a few Stitch Fix pieces the young gals at work think are dope. I’m straddling the numerical divide, just a pant pleat away from middle age.

There’s something about birthdays, much like the turning of the calendar year, that tickles the reflective parts of my brain. I mean, more aggressively than they’re normally tickled, if you can imagine. I always come back to the romantic, unrealistic visions past. The ones where I imagined where I’d be by 35. I think about what this age looked like to me 20, 15, 10 or 5 years ago. Am I there? Am I even close to there?

I probably thought I’d be married at 35. And a mom, with three kids. CHECK.

I probably thought I’d be a moderately successful writer living in a semi-intimidating metropolis exposing all that’s beautiful and ugly and hilarious and ironic in the world. That I’d have a tailored capsule wardrobe curated by someone who knew how to hide these hips. That I would have something bound and boldly placed out into the universe for others to read and dissect at book clubs where expensive red wine flows like soda pop in the south.

I probably thought I’d be my best self physically. My child-bearing years behind me, I’d have a sculpted physique I chiseled in the wee hours of the morning when all the doers are already doing, while the want-to-doers are fast asleep.

That’s probably what I thought.

Now, I’m not mad at where I am. No sir. As I sit here listening to my baby chuckle at her dad in the next room, I declare myself a proud, card-carrying member of the suburban working mothers’ guild. I feel blessed that my most critical struggles are teetering on the high end of my recommended BMI and disciplining a 6-year-old who I’m certain is smarter than I am. That is God’s gift to me. A life rich in blessings and poor in complexities. A life where I can toil over the simple glory of being present and connected, rather than where I’ll put my babes to sleep at night or how I’ll fill their little tummies. I count my blessings every morning and twice each night, knowing none of this is guaranteed and nothing separates me from those heavy hearts but a little bad luck and a wrong turn or two.

Whether this stop was on my roadmap or not, it’s where I live. It’s where the branches on my tree first sprouted, and where they’ll continue to grow. This is exactly where I should be, and where you’ll likely find me at 40 … and 45. So, if I’m not planning on going anywhere, perhaps it’s time to form a new vision for my future. And I know exactly what it is.

Guys … I want to be a hero.

I had the chance to hear motivational speaker Kevin Brown a few weeks back, and he was phenomenal. I was buying everything he was selling. The masterful storyteller stood on the stage and reflected on many things, including the times he pretended to be Superman as a child. He started jumping off the couch. Then the table. Then, eventually, he decided to jump off the roof of his garage. He was young, invincible, and he believed he could soar. Of course, he didn’t. He got hurt. And that was likely the beginning of the end of such bold attempts. He says now, “I would love to go back and ask that little boy, ‘When did you forget you could fly?’”

When did I forget I could fly? When did you?

We’ve all heard people say that heroes are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things. But Kevin believes that heroes are the people who choose not to be ordinary at all. Ever. To never buy into it. The fact that we are here – that we swam faster than the others and our mother carried us for nine months and we made it into the world – is extraordinary. We’re created in an image of excellence, and we arrive with a unique set of talents and thoughts and gifts. But somewhere along the line, slowly, gradually, we start to believe that good enough is good enough. That if we do the bare minimum, we can coast along. We can blend and dissolve into the sea of other ordinary people doing ordinary things. We can fly under the radar, which isn’t really flying at all.

And in the end, if this is your choice, that’s all you get.

Kevin called it “terminally corporate”. We’re chained to a string of mundane tasks, mundane accomplishments, mundane days, leaving nothing of note to live on in others when we go. A lackluster job that doesn’t quite fit, or a loveless marriage, or the loss of something or someone becomes an excuse to go numb. And letting that mentality take over seeps out into every interaction. Every moment, every memory. It becomes the script you live by.

We think that the only choices are, we’re either backpacking across Ireland or we’re sitting on the couch eating Chili Cheese Fritos, bingeing the whole first season of Ozark. But what if there was something else you could use to measure?

Enter Kevin’s definition of heroism.

Heroes change lives. They seize every opportunity, big and small, to impact others. Heroes make every person feel seen and valued and important. They do things from a place of sincere respect and genuine compassion, two things they award to all people, who’v earned them by simply being human. Heroes recognize the value of the space they occupy while they occupy it. It’s not about dwelling on what happened yesterday, or dreaming about what may come and what you’ll do if and when it does. It’s about taking the moment you’re standing in, right now, and making it count, both for you and for the other people standing in that space with you.

Have you ever passed someone who looked disheartened and thought, “Man, I should have stopped. I should have said something”? Well, heroes do. Heroes are boldly and unapologetically empathetic. Heroes ask the tough questions with the hope they can impact the answers.

Being a hero means somebody else’s life is better because you showed up.

So, that’s the vision for 35 … and 36. And all the days, weeks, months and years I’m gifted after that. To become a hero, by Kevin Brown’s definition, to the people I love and the people I will love but haven’t met yet. What I do is what I do. It’s not who I am. If I write something truly profound (Lord willing) and it catches fire, that’s great. But it’s not what will define me. The way I make people feel will be what defines me.

It will be my cape. It will help me soar.

If I can pour a little positivity into every person I pass each day, that’s the stuff of legacies. That’s the flame of the torch. Accomplishments matter, sure. I want to be healthy, fulfilled, successful. But I want to really see people, hear people, impact the people standing right in front of me much, much more than that.

I want to be a hero, and I want you to be one, too.

[blows out candles.]

Thoughts

The first rule of Fight Club is we don’t talk

October 27, 2017

I can do it for hours. Days. Hell, I carried on a fight for more than a week one time. Until I couldn’t remember where it began.

Stone cold silence. That’s my weapon of choice.

When Hank and I fight, it almost always follows this simple, sophisticated 5-step process:

Step 1 – Someone says something insensitive, or shows up an hour later than they say they will, or doesn’t discipline the kids when they should, or drops a truth bomb that burns particularly bad when it detonates, leaving an unmistakable residue of resentment.

Step 2 – A somewhat heated exchange ensues. One in which each participant communicates in their version of “calm” and “effective” dialogue while the other pretends to listen but is really just crafting their own “calm” and “effective” retort.

Step 3 – Both of the opponents go silent.

Step 4 – Silence.

Step 5 – Something happens that makes the silence impossible and/or the anger erodes enough to quell the quiet. (Note: It can take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 week for this process to reach Step 5.)

This is how we fight. It’s the ugly way in which we throw down in this house.

My friends aren’t fond of our spat style. In fact, they’re quite critical of it. “How have you never just called him an asshole and moved on?” one of my lady loves asked. I guess I just don’t think he is an asshole. I just think he’s wrong in that instance. Or being unreasonable or insensitive or stubborn or any of the 5 million other adjectives that haunt nearly every marriage, lovely as it otherwise may be.

“But, how does that, like, work?” another friend inquired. We’ve been together for 16 years. Let’s say we fight, on average, four times a year. That’s 64 rounds of the silent treatment. You don’t withhold words from someone that many times without getting exceptionally good at it. I’ll have one of the chicks go tell Dad dinner’s ready, or talk about something I need him to know to someone else but in front of him so he hears it. But don’t worry guys, it’s all completely healthy and on the up and up as far as maturity.

This isn’t the only trick I carry around in my bag, but I’m no Mary Poppins, either. I handle disagreements with friends differently, as I do family squabbles. A difference of opinion at work is an entirely separate deal than a snarky acquaintance throwing shade on social media. But silence is my pocket knife; Handy, capable of inflicting a minimal amount of pain, but not sharp enough to do any real damage.

Turns out fighting is kind of like applying makeup or folding fitted sheets or making dinner in that everyone has their own approach. Their own brutal rituals.

“I yell at him, then he yells at me, then I yell back, turn, walk away and it’s over,” one friend from work said. So, for her, the booty is the last word. That’s what winning feels like.

“We just scream at each other and say all the things we need to. If I feel like I need to call him a mother trucker (except she didn’t say “trucker”), then I’ll call him that. But it doesn’t mean I really think he is a mother trucker. He’s just acting like a mother trucker.” Good, good …

I needed more.

I asked one gal who said that her and her husband don’t get up from the table until they’ve respectfully settled the disagreement. No yelling, no insults, no low blows. I imagine this approach is much like duck at a fancy restaurant; it sounds good and all but just isn’t appetizing to everybody. It’s what you order when you think someone’s watching.

Another buddy said that he and his wife fight via text. Or email. Almost every time. They have the disagreement, part ways and then let their fingertips duke it out. She’ll fire an opening shot from her phone. He’ll get it, fire something back, then eventually, when more needs to be said, they take it their inboxes and shit gets real. I could probably get behind that. But sometimes Hank is really bad at answering my texts.

It’s amazing when you think about it. We’ve crafted a thousand different ways to hurt each other, none of which result in healthy resolution. We do it, I think, to protect our hearts. We have to develop defense mechanisms that will shield the chambers that house our total devotion to our significant others from the petty arguments over finances and futile bullshit that doesn’t matter in the end. We have to establish processes that cue our brains into the severity of the confrontation. We have to streamline our daily showdowns to maintain the household and keep everything moving forward. This, we tell ourselves, is not a crisis. This is something else.

And really, a good fight could just be a sign that the flame is still there. If I don’t like you, I don’t give a loose stool what you think of me. Not my actions, not my appearance, not my opinions. If I don’t recognize your character and light, I’ll respect you, sure, but I’m not going to go out of my way to try and get you to pick up what I’m putting down. I’m not selling you on me. But if I care about you, I care about your opinion of me. I care enough to have the tough conversations with you. I’m all in, because I want you to be all in, too. There is no better example of that than marriage. What do they say? The opposite of love isn’t hate … it’s indifference. If you have indifference, you have trouble.

When I’m fighting with my husband, I’m coming from an honest place. I want to be heard. I want to be understood. And I want to fix it. I want it to be better when the dust settles, because forever is a long time. I’m so invested in this partnership that neither one of us is getting out without some battle wounds. It’s good and I’m going to fight for it. Every. Single. Day. In big and small ways.

I asked Hank what he thinks about how we fight. He hasn’t really given it much thought, he said. Apparently, I have a bit more time on my hands. I remember years and years ago, before we were married, he told me that I need to talk things out right away, but he needs to let things sit for a bit. He needs to just be with and sort through his thoughts. And then, eventually, he just resolves the issue he has with the situation on his own, and doesn’t feel compelled to circle back and address it verbally with me. I guess somewhere down the road we arrived at this ugly compromise. This fourth child neither of us acknowledge. A handful of times each year, he gets his silence and eventually, I always get my exhausting exchange. Not that I even want it by the time it rolls around.

Are there healthier ways to fight? Oh, 100 percent, I’m sure. I bet there are books on how to have a productive disagreement, and I bet the people who wrote those books order duck at fancy restaurants and don’t get up from the table until they’ve come to a place of shared understanding. And I bet that’s awesome.

Thoughts

Crying is cool … right?

October 19, 2017

I stood, a dandelion in a field of other dandelions. The red illumination of the rotating stage lights rolling over me and then away and then back to my face and arms.

He was taking requests from the stage. Pointing to signs and playing a minute or so of each song. Songs that tell stories that have held up for 30 years. Songs I have heard more times than I can count, in every decade of my life. It was just him, a cowboy hat in a wandering tunnel of white light, and 20,000 captivated onlookers singing along.

And then, he pointed to a sign a few sections over. Then another, bearing the same title. They were asking for, “The Change”. He said a few words, about how he couldn’t do the song justice with just his guitar, so he took his fingers away from the strings and closed his eyes.

“One hand
reaches out
and pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for, and
they say what good have you done
by saving just this one?
It’s like whispering a prayer
in the fury of a storm

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

This heart
still believes
that love and mercy still exist
While all the hatred rage and so many say
that love is all but pointless in madness such as this
It’s like trying to stop a fire
with the moisture from a kiss

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me.”

There was nothing else in the air. Nothing but his rich, familiar, seasoned voice and those soul-stirring lyrics filling every corner of the vast, breezy stadium.

I pulled my fingers up over my mouth; I could feel my lips starting to tighten over my teeth, eventually curling inward, on top of each other. Clenching. And then, there in the scarlet light, in a sea of strangers with a shared admiration, I ugly cried so damn hard.

And that’s the story of the time I went to a Garth Brooks concert with my parents.

I mean, in all fairness, I’d had four beers and I really, really wanted to hear that song. Like, I needed to hear that song. I needed to hear him say those words, like he was saying them just to me, “It’s not the world that I am changing. I do this so, this world will know, that it will not change me.”

I’d watched a performance of “The Change” a few times in the days before, after the Vegas shooting. I didn’t think I’d hear it live. Ever. But there he was, soothing our unsettled souls with a song he’d offered the nation decades ago after a similar unimaginable tragedy. It was poetic.

But the crying? I mean, the crying is just out of control. To make it worse, I was with Big Rog and Marilyn, one on each side, neither of whom stood at all through the entire show, so it was like pulling the bun away from the sweaty hot dog; It’s bound to draw a little more attention. At one point, my mom, noticing I was sobbing, reached over and put her hand on my leg. Maybe a tear fell on her head down below. Or snot. There was snot for sure.

Just so we all have the timeline straight, this was after I cried during “Unanswered Prayers” and before I passed out sitting straight up, an empty McDonald’s bag filled with regrets in my lap.

But it got me thinking about my salty new companion. I notice myself tearing up more and more these days. The emotions always seem to be right at the surface, raw and in waiting. I’m not depressed. I’m not pregnant. I’m just, finding my ability to cry is very accessible these days.

Hank’s mom is a crier. But not in the moments you would think. Like, she always calls and sings this song the day before your birthday. It’s called “Tomorrow’s the birthday” and I have such a love/hate relationship with this song. It drives me crazy that it doesn’t rhyme:

Tomorrow’s the birthday,
I wonder for whom,
Maybe it’s someone right here in this room,
So … let’s look around us and see,
Who’s smiling and laughing, my goodness, it’s you!

Infuriating, right? Just make the person sing it and have it end with “me” or swap “you” for “she/he”. I mean, my name ends with “ey” for the love of sugary lattes! There are some very simple fixes here, folks. But, I’ll tell ya what, one year she didn’t call me the day before my birthday and sing me the “Tomorrow’s the birthday” song, and I was miffed. It was like finding out your best friends went to dinner without you. But anyway, I’m getting sidetracked … She always gets choked up when she sings it, which I always found … interesting. Endearing though.

Or, there’s this song the counselors sing at the midweek pow wow at the summer camp the girls go to. It’s about flowers and friendship and love, and they all put their arms around each other and sway as the warming words pour tentatively from their teenage lips. It’s slow and lovely, sure, but my mother-in-law was always crying by the end of it. It was sweet, but secretly, made Hank and me chuckle.

And then this year, as they sang of the flowers and the friendship and the love, I found myself crying. Hank’s grandma had just passed and his mom couldn’t be there and as soon as those hands went awkwardly onto the shoulders next to them, I was done. Gone. Quietly weeping as mosquitos swarmed around my head.

And it’s not just songs.

The other day, I sat down to meditate, looked up to the sky and just started crying. Like this huge emotional release through my eye holes. I had a window of quiet so I filled it with wails about, what, I don’t know.

In addition …

I cry at my Facebook memories.

I cry at This is Us all the time. (But I feel like that’s what they’re going for.)

I cry in interviews when people have gone through really terrible things.

I cry at happy, motivational videos on Facebook. (Basically any time a soldier reunities with someone.)

I cry at sad videos on Facebook.

I cry when my kids talk about being grownup.

I cry when my Spike has a bad eye doctor appointment.

I cry at the participant’s stories on Dancing with the Stars.

I cry at the participant’s dances on Dancing with the Stars.

I cry when I watch TED talks.

I cry when I have cocktails and talk to my friends.

I cry when I watch CBS Sunday Morning.

I cry when I hurt myself, even if it’s not that bad.

I cry when I burn dinner … or make a bad dinner … or nobody likes my dinner.

So, basically I am just crying all the time.

I was never one to just melt into a puddle. I mean, sensitive, sure. Empathetic, of course. But not a blubbering tsunami like I am these days. It’s embarrassing. I think all the books about leaning into my emotions and embracing the hard feelings finally got to me. I think I leaned too far and now there’s no leaning back.

One study I came across estimated that women cry an average of 64 times a year (men just 17). Another estimated women cry 6.4 times a month. Just 64? 6.4? That’s cute. Adorable. I can hit that quota at one Boyz II Men concert. Not that I’m bragging. I feel very Lauren Conrad circa-2007-2008, mascara running down the face like spider arms.

Is anyone else experiencing these overactive tear ducts? No? The cheese stands alone?

It might not be all bad. A Huffington Post article I came across said people who cry see benefits, including: 1) stress relief, 2) improved mood, 3) cleansed and protected eyes, and 4) a clearer nasal passage. So I’ve got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

While I prefer to chalk it up to an increased awareness about others, as well as myself, some don’t see it that way. “Jezus!” my brother will say when I tell him about my tears. “What is wrong with you?” I dunno. Hank just gives me this smile he shoots my way whenever I do something that’s cute/pathetic. Like when I trip over nothing or sneeze and pee a drop or two. The chicks will notice my tears, eventually, and then immediately analyze the situation in their 3-, 6- or 8-year-old mind to see if they, too, should be crying. Eventually they’ll just cave. “Mama, why are you sad?” And then I have to come up with some the-toilet-takes-the-fish-to-Jesus response.

I don’t see things calming down in my ducts anytime soon. And I guess it’s partly karma for all the times I chuckled at my sweet mother-in-law and her seemingly random cheek streaks. What goes around comes around, my friends. My tender heart is taking over here. My emotional pot runneth over. You’ll read about me in the newspaper, “Woman drowns in own tears.”

Do you need a good cry? Check out my tear-jerking playlist:

Murder in the City – The Avett Brothers
I’ll Back You Up – Dave Matthews Band
Rise Up – Andra Day
The Change – Garth Brooks
Beam Me Up – Pink
Through My Prayers – The Avett Brothers
The Luckiest – Ben Folds
My Little Girl – Tim McGraw
The Dance – Garth Brooks
Landslide – The Smashing Pumpkins
Beloved Wife – Natalie Merchant
Fix You – Coldplay
Hallelujah – Rufus Wainwright

Thoughts

Everyone is just waiting

October 13, 2017

When people find out you write words for a living, it’s inevitable they’ll also ask you what you like to read. I actually despise answering the question because it’s typically just judgement lurking behind that mask of genuine curiosity. Like my selections should be so sophisticated, so expertly curated, that you’ve never heard of any of the authors, both classic and contemporary, gracing the rows and rows of bookshelves in my Beauty and the Beast style library. But I’ll answer it for you guys here because 1) I like you, and 2) it brings me to a larger point.

I love my Brene Brown, and Glennon Doyle Melton, of course. Plus, the all-time greatest SNL lady duo (Tina + Amy, respectfully). If fiction’s your game, the Kevin Kwan books are fun and both The Shack and Kite Runner shook my soul a touch. But if we’re talking about my favorite, the one I’d read a million times, the book that I reference most often with my friends large and small, it’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

You know the book. By the good Dr.

If you graduated, you likely got a copy or five. You probably even have one inscribed by a parent or teacher or creepy neighbor.

I adore everything about this book because I see myself in it. I saw myself in it when I was little. I saw myself in it when I got my second copy before leaving for college. I saw myself in it as a new mom staring into the eyes of a life I’d created. And the other night, when I read it to my girls, I saw myself in it yet again. I am the little man, who only wears yellow, topped off by a ridiculous hat, being carried away in a semi-deflated balloon.

It’s different every time, but on this particular night, this got me:

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

Gah, don’t you guys ever feel like this? I do. Except instead of a string of pearls, I’m waiting for an unlimited flow of money so I can redecorate my house to look like grownups live here instead of frat boys. And instead of the fish, I’m waiting for motivation to move my ass and really create change in my body. And instead of a wig with curls, it’s a book idea. And instead of wind, it’s time to get lost in the woods. And instead of Friday night, it’s … Ok, that one holds up.

I am waiting. Just waiting.

The day after reading the book and getting caught up on this section, I was listening to the Rich Roll podcast in my office at work. And his guest, whose name is escaping me at the moment, but he has a tea business I believe, was talking about being present. It’s a topic that comes up all the time. In fact, some would say it’s entirely played out. But it keeps coming up because none of us are doing it.

I mean, I sure as shit can’t say I’m present. Can you?

He was talking about social media, and how it encourages us to live in the past. We’re scrolling through, looking at things that happened seconds, minutes, hours, days ago, and experiencing all these feelings about what we’re reading in the posts. How we should have taken our kids to the pumpkin patch, or tried that watermelon fruit carriage for our sister’s baby shower, or had a gender reveal party where things exploded into pink or blue dust. And all the while, as we scroll and envy, we’re missing our lives.

The bigger question he arrived at was, if you’re never really present in the moments and happenings of your life, then what’s the true point in living it? When you get to the end, will you think, “That’s it?” or “Damn, that was a life well spent.” And holy handclaps that made sense to me.

I fall victim to the temptress that is “life through the filtered lens” all the time. I see others trying new workouts and getting good results, and I think maybe that’s what I’m missing. I scroll and Google and research the best remedies for my anxiety and my shortcomings all the time. And I could be spending that time actually doing things that would relieve my anxiety and lessen my shortcomings. I could be reading to my kids. I could be hiking. I could be living my gosh dang life.

But I’m waiting.

I’m waiting for the pounds to go,
Or waiting for the funds to flow,
Or waiting for the world to change,
Or waiting to feel a little less strange.

I’m waiting for some muscle tone,
Or tasks to get done by my very own clone.
Or the kids to eat, or the fear to numb,
Or waiting for the right words to come.

I’m waiting for the work to slow,
and the food to cook, and the flowers to grow.

I’m always just waiting.

And I get so sick of it.

They also covered the current state of the world on that podcast, specifically how everyone is living out of fear. And a fear-based life can really ruin the time you have, which is a surprise to no one, and yet, I know I can’t shake it. But the only thing you can do is live your truest life. You can only focus on creating change, not what others are doing to destroy it. You can only focus on your actions, your intentions, your mind. And if you’re in a good place with all of those things, the fear should subside a bit.

Or so they say.

Uncategorized, Wellness

The day after vegan

October 9, 2017

Some of you have asked about the day after The Livin la Vida Vegan Challenge, and I guess, in hindsight, I did kind of leave you hanging a bit. Blogging every day for 14 days was a little intense for me. If you don’t want to read on, or suspense just isn’t you’re thing, yes, I finished the half marathon, and yes, I ate ALL the things, and yes, I got sicker than a dog. Read on if you’d like a deeper dive into any of the aforementioned statements.

The big race.
This was my third half marathon (running, sixth if you count the times I walked that mug). The beautiful thing about coming into a race like this with a few under your belt is the reassurance that you will, eventually, finish. It might not be pretty, but you’ll get there. I think that’s the most encouraging mantra to keep in your back pocket. “I will finish this. I will not die. I will finish this. I will not die.” People always say, “I couldn’t run that long,” or ask, “How do you do that?” and the truth is, you just keep shuffling along.

Jackie (my partna) and I are not record-setters. We don’t wear the fancy, fast shorts that look like bathing suit bottoms. We don’t have compression socks, or special sunglasses. We are just a couple of moms, with semi-soft bodies (me more so than her), who’ve been friends for a couple decades, who like to come out together and turn in a lackluster performance. That’s just us. That’s our m.o. We own that.

Forget your corral letter, forget your pace group, that is the categorization that matters. When you know who you are and what you’re doing there, the perspective really alleviates the pressure. We’re pretty content in the middle of the pack, because, for us, it’s just about proving our bodies are still capable of carrying us that far. We are not broken. We are not entirely swallowed up by our roles as mom or wife or nurse or writer. We are strong, amateur athletes with veracious lions (or more like angry kittens) sleeping just beneath our skin. At least for one day of the year that’s what we are.

The morning of the race was chilly. I didn’t eat any meat or dairy. I made a smoothie with spirulina, 1 scoop protein powder, coconut water, spinach and some Beet Elite. I ate a bowl of multigrain Cheerios, too, because it sounded good. That was it. And my stomach felt … off.

It was touch-and-go right up until the cannon went off marking the start of the race. Once we got moving, things in my belly really calmed down. In fact, the first 3 miles flew by. I felt great, Jac felt great. We were right on the heels of the 2:20 pace group. Considering we finished around 2:23 last year, that was pretty damn good.

“At Mile 4, let’s stop and have a chew and some water,” I said.
“Yup, that’s what I was thinking,” Jackie agreed.

This would be the biggest mistake we made all day.

Mile 4 is where the course takes a turn off of the initial long drag. In the past, it’s been a point where we picked up momentum. This year, it was the death of it. There was a gradual decline in our pace from Mile 5, on. I felt fine mentally, and it was an absolutely gorgeous day, but my legs just started running out of steam. Like, in my mind they were flying, but in my shadow they looked more like a baby colt in a pool of tar.

We walked a few times, but we knew our friend Molly would be waiting at Mile 10.

“If we can just get to Molly,” Jackie would say.
“Right,” I’d agree.
“If we can just make it to Molly we’ll stop, have a chew, and then finish strong.”
“Yeah.”

And then …

“There’s Molly’s ass!” Jackie yelled.
“That’s not Molly’s ass.”
“Isn’t that her ass?”
“No.”
“Are you sure?”
“There’s Mol!!” I said, pointing to our dear girl, standing on a corner waving with her two kiddos.

It was like seeing a well in the desert. We’d been talking about her for so long. I think we both thought something might spark deep down inside us when we reached her embrace on that sunny September morning. But instead, we just felt full of dread.

Three miles to go.

My hips for sure hurt, though not as bad as they had on our longer training runs. Jac’s knees were getting to her. But bottom line, we just had nothing left in the tank.

“Oh shit,” Jackie said, motioning her head over her shoulder.

I turned to see the 2:30 pace group right behind us, seconds from passing. I shrugged and reminded her we just wanted to finish. We were racing ourselves. And all the other bullshit we tell ourselves to get our broken down bodies across the finish line.

And cross the finish line we did, at 2:31. “Totally plant-powered!” I exclaimed in a rush of dopey adrenaline. Jac wasn’t into it.

Passing my small tribe on the way into the arena, I was reminded, yet again, why we do this. Why we log the miles for 12 weeks beforehand. Why we abuse our aging bodies and spend so much time away from the kids. It’s for that moment you look down at your feet, knowing you can stop. That your children are watching. That you and your best friend just ran 13.1 motha truckin’ miles, together. Just a couple of moms, with semi-soft bodies (me more so than her), who’ve been friends for a couple decades, who like to come out together and turn in a lackluster performance, just ran 13.1 miles.

I ate 1.5 donuts and half a Gatorade. My stomach, again, was … off.

The very hungry caterpillar.
At noon, I had a Big John from Jimmy Johns and chips, but I was still hungry.

At 12:45, I had 2 cookies, but I was still hungry.

At 3, I had 2 giant chocolate truffles, but … I had to go to a wedding.

Dinner, and a deathblow to veganism.
The wedding was so amazing. It was touching and lovely and just entirely enchanting. I had to leave before the reception and head over to Matt’s for his Second Annual Fancy Dinner Party. I chugged water with an electrolyte tab on the way over and prayed for a solid stomach.

My brother bid on a special dinner-in-your-home package at a live auction last fall, and that night a special group of friends, myself included, would garner the rewards of that bid. The theme was Bourbon Pairings, so, on the plus side, we all knew we were in trouble right outta the gate. There wouldn’t be any surprises.

We started with bourbon sours. They were that perfect storm of delicious flavors in small glasses. When we ordered another round after the first course I think we sent ourselves down the path of mass destruction. It was a force greater than ourselves. They were too delicious. The glasses seemed so tiny, so harmless.

Basically, from there what transpired was a parade of meat butters and creamy dairy delights. Goat cheese-stuffed dates, fancy tater tots with a sauce you want to cheat on your husband with, duck tongue tacos (I know, I had the same reaction, but those tongues were tasty), pork belly that fell apart the second it touched your tastebuds, and bourbon s’mores. As meals go, this one was up there with the Wicked Spoon buffet in Vegas and last year’s Straight Outta Compton Fancy Dinner.

First Course
Herb De Provence chevre stuffed dates / wrapped with prosciutto ham / blue cheese fondue

Second Course
Patatas Bravas / Parmesan-truffle encrusted / smoked paprika aioli

Third Course
Duck tongue taco / bourbon barrel smoked salsa rojo / spiced red onion escabache / queso fresco/ achiote crema

Fourth Course
Pork belly confit / bourbon gastrique / pickled English cucumbers/balsamic pearls / charred tomato dust/orange blossom mousse

Intermezzo
Blood orange sorbet

Fifth Course
Woodford reserved braised short ribs / oaxacan mole sauce/lemon scented farro grain / coconut espuma

Sixth Course
Bourbon Marshmallow s’mores / ”campfire smoke”/ snap-crackle-pop graham crackers / dark chocolate ribbon

 

I emerged from my brother’s basement – the scene of the meat butter massacre – around 11:30, sat down, and let the doom wash over me like a 50-gallon bucket at a waterpark. I was in trouble. My stomach, my head, my body. I’d been still long enough for everything to catch up to me and now there was no running from it. My legs were too tired. My tummy was too full of all the animal things I turned away for two weeks. Plus, the bourbon. I gave Hank “the look” and we made an exit.

I slept on our new bathroom floor.

It was cold.

Linoleum.

And that, dear friends, is what happened the day after the Livin’ la Vida Vegan Challenge.