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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.

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.

Thoughts

Edward & Bella and Me & You

September 14, 2017

So, I’m just finishing up the Twilight saga. Why now? Why ever? You ask. I don’t have a good answer for you. I’m a page in my dayplanner away from 35 years old and the other night I literally said to my husband, “Bella had the baby, Edward had to make her a vampire to save her, and now her werewolf best friend is in love with her baby, whose name is Renesmee.” The sheer ridiculousness is not lost on me, and believe me when I say, I hate myself just a little bit for hanging in this long.

But I think this world has left me in need of a love story. Any love story. The more absurd, the better.

I’ve also been watching The Office like a junkie on Netflix, and I think my obsession with Jim and Pam kind of counterbalances the whole shape shifter/cold ones indulgence. Love is love is love, I guess.

But the big one is this: On September 15, it will have been 10 years since one of my all-time favorite love stories began, and more than 16 years since it really started taking root. Hank and I will celebrate a decade of domestic, wedded bliss and blunders this year. It feels impossible to be honest. Not that we made it this far, but that so much has happened so quickly, in the span of 25 to 35. Kids and houses and jobs and loss and laughter and so many memories.

I often think of this blog as a place to put all of the stories I know the waves of time will eventually wash away. And so, in honor of our anniversary, I’d like to add another to these pages. And this one is a goodie. This is a story about one of the many moments when I knew that Hank was my person … my ride or die … my Aiden Shaw (Mr. Big Mr. sucks, so in my mind, Carrie went a different way).

It was winter break of my freshman year of college (his sophomore year). We were at my parents’ house. Hank was on the couch watching TV, I was holding my baby niece. As I stood up to go change her, a piercing pain shot through my stomach like a red hot bullet. I tossed the infant to my boyfriend like a football in a trick pass.

“Ugh!” I moaned.
“What?” he pleaded. “What’s wrong?”
“Oh my God, my stomach!” I wailed, folded over on the floor.

I reached for the house phone and dialed my mom’s work number. She was home in minutes.

“Should we call an ambulance?” she asked, to no one in particular.
“I can get you there,” Hank said, confidently.

The pain was coming like sheets of furious rain in a thunderstorm. The calm moments weren’t necessarily calm, but just less excruciating. I was running through the options in my head … Ruptured appendix? Pancreatitis? Did I do something to my liver? Oh my gosh, my liver! Damn you, flippy cup!

We made it to the nearest ER fairly quickly. My mom had placed a bag of frozen vegetables on my stomach en route, peas I think. (A bag of frozen vegetables to my mom was like a bottle of Windex to the Portokalos family in my Big Fat Greek Wedding.)

After what felt like hours, they brought me back. They asked me some questions, and put me in a gown and eventually decided they would do an ultrasound.

With a wand.

Why did they need to go in there?

Oh … my … gosh. They thought there might be a baby in there?!

I was horrified. And confused. And paralyzed with anxiety. Could there really be a baby in there? And did all babies hurt like this when they got in there? But, really, how could a baby get in there? That’s just great. Ain’t no bag of peas gonna fix this, I thought.

After the most uncomfortable test of my life, they put me back in the exam room. My mom and I sat waiting, a pregnant pause between us. “Your boyfriend can come back in the room,” the physician said. “Right, so he can hear the news that he’s miraculously going to be a father, to a baby that’s trying to murder my intestines because it already hates me,” I thought. Hank came in and stood by my head.

The doctor put a smoky black and white image up on the light. She took the end of her pen and began circling a cloudy mass on the picture.

“Do you see this spot?”
“Yes,” we all said, sloppily, definitely not in unison.

Oh gosh, here it comes … It’s cancer. No, twins. No, cancer. No …

“Well, that’s gas.”
“OK …?” I said, not quite sure if “gas” was code for something else.
“See,” she continued, sensing my ignorance, “sometimes gas goes off track. It gets into places that can be rather uncomfortable, in this case, your ovary. It can definitely feel like something far worse, or even serious. The good news is, eventually, it will work it’s way out.”

She smiled kindly and moved onto a gunshot victim down the row a ways. It was quiet for a beat or two.

“So, did she just say I have a fart in my ovary?” I asked.
“That’s what it sounds like,” Hank said.
“A fart in my ovary …”
“The question is, how will you know which fart is the fart?” my mom asked, which was a totally valid question.

Mortified doesn’t cut it. Hank had been my boyfriend for all of maybe four months and he had just gallantly stood by as a doctor diagnosed me with a case of the travelin’ farts. Hurt as that bitch of a gas pain did, it couldn’t compare to the gaping wound that was my pride. Guys, can you imagine if we would have called an ambulance? On top of everything else, he took me to his house that night and I puked all over his parents’ bathroom. No clue why. Maybe it was an aftershock from the wand setting in. I was a gaseous, spewing trainwreck.

But he didn’t leave.

Not only did he not leave, he never made me feel stupid or gross. This scenario has repeated many times over the years, except under different titles. Replace “travelin’ fart” with “black boob from ignoring an infection” or “panic attack” or “extreme dental anxiety”. This man once sat in a chair for four hours – four hours! – while I got the root canal from hell. Only your mama and your person would do that.

Now, a decade in, I’m more certain than ever that I picked the right lobster out of the tank. I’ve never doubted this union for a second, and not just because I adore our babies and the life we’ve created, but because nothing has ever felt more natural, more organic, to me than standing beside this guy. Loving him is like breathing; I don’t have to think about it but I’m so thankful for the life it gives me.

I can’t say what 10 years of marriage is supposed to look like. I can only say what it looks like here. Here, in this stage of our lives, I’ll be honest and say there are days it looks like two people in the thick of the jungle using dull machetes to cut through the vines and make it out of the quicksand. But it also looks like teamwork and calendar consulting and granting ourselves permission to sneak away together sometimes. It looks like feet crossing at the end of the bed with Friends from College playing just above them and sharing the leg pillow since both of our backs hurt.

It looks like splitting and shifting the load so we can do things that make us happy outside of our roles as “Mom” and “Dad”, and petty fights because I’m hungry or tired or redirecting. It’s not a perfect marriage by someone else’s definition, but it is by ours, because we custom built it. We wove it together with the threads of trust and fabric of respect, and we work on it as often as we can, because we want it to be beautiful.

Similarly, I can’t describe a perfect home. I can only describe our home. A home with bedspreads inscribed by our children with permanent markers. A home with splashed, sticky walls and window screens with holes the size of tiny fingers. It’s filled with three little girls who yell “Daddy!” when he walks in at 6 o’clock every night, typically with pink hair ties around his wrist, leftover from that morning. It looks like stolen moments and locking eyes in the midst of meltdowns. It looks like stacks of photos that haven’t made it into books yet and dusty greeting cards with messages to each other we can’t bring ourselves to throw away.

It’s an open home, where our friends and family are always welcome, because that is what matters most to us. There are cobwebs in the corners I can’t reach and shoes caked with dried mud from Saturday hikes. I wouldn’t eat off the floor, but I’ll get down on it and tickle one of my girls without hesitation.

Our marriage, our home, our life, is my legacy. You wouldn’t be reading this blog if they didn’t exist. I wouldn’t be who I am if they didn’t exist. The light that lives inside me would be that much duller without each of these things we built together. Ten years seems like a significant milestone, but also still just the beginning.

Henry, I love sleeping in giant barn shelters along the Appalachian Trail with you (and 20 strangers), and getting lost down rivers in our kayaks with you, and sprinkling food and water over these little chicks and watching them grow with you, and getting drunk and going to Costco with you and exploring this miraculous world next to you. I can’t wait for all the adventures we can’t even imagine just yet. Edward and Bella. Jim and Pam. They ain’t got shit on us, babe. Happy Anniversary.

Bonus fact for those who hung on until the end:
My mom thought I seemed anxious the day before the wedding and gave me a Lexapro to “relax”. Then I drank wine and started tripping out. Thank God for good friends to bring you out of your Lexa-coma. (And the ones who take pictures of it.)

Thoughts

the moment.

August 16, 2017

I’ve tried so hard, you guys. I’ve tried not to wade into the discussion, when it honestly feels like there can be no winner, no reason, no agreement. When every gesture feels small and empty and unworthy of the weight of the cause. I hide things in my newsfeed and turn off alerts and I tell myself, “Don’t look, Courtney. Those are not your people. Those heartless, lost souls, with their unimaginable hate and poisonous words, are not the same as you.” But then, a couple of things happened, and my fingers found these keys.

First, I went for a run. I have a 3-mile loop that I do quite a bit, and in the final stretch, right before I reach home, it takes me down a main street in our neighborhood. There’s an older man there who has, on and off, displayed a Confederate flag off his front porch. And, of course, when I drive by I always feel bothered, but what is there to be done about it? Well, on this night, just 3 days after the violent acts of Charlottesville, on the eve of my daughters’ return to school, the sight of it as I ran down the street sent acid into the pit of my stomach. And on this night, the man was sitting on his porch, just behind the flag, jubilantly chatting on his phone.

It wasn’t intentional, but I locked my eyes on his and scowled. I broke my gaze for a second and then, again involuntarily, it returned to him. I wanted to scream. I wanted to name him as the bully he was for everyone who was out in their yard to hear. I wanted to question his motives. Was it a power play to make people in the neighborhood uncomfortable or just a big middle finger to the general acceptance and kindhearted coexistence of others on these streets?

Before this night. Before the flag, I’d seen this man out, typically walking his dog. He always waved and said hello to my children. And now, with one aesthetic gesture, I saw him as some kind of monster. What does that say about me? That I am so easily unglued and rattled? That I didn’t go up to him and have the conversation, out of the resignation and assumption that a confrontation was laced into his motive? And the animosity I felt toward him … does that make me any better than the man who put the flag up in the first place?

The fact that these questions and suspicions and hateful conclusions even cross my mind is a disheartening reality of the current state of affairs. It breaks my soul to think of the thoughtless way in which we’re treating our neighbors, and the irreversible effects it’s all having on our children. The spirit of humanity is in distress. And, I gotta tell ya, if we can’t figure out how to fix it, it won’t matter what Mother Nature has to say about this planet. It will already be ruined.

Second, and far more importantly, I watched an amazing speech. Weeks ago, I’d moved a video of a lecture my friend Ryan gave into my “Saved videos” folder on Facebook. I’d watch it another day, when I could give it more attention, I told myself.

Ryan has been one of my most unexpected friends. I say that because our paths might never have crossed if it weren’t for our free-thinking, ultra-accepting high school newspaper crew. He was the editor, I was a writer, and even though he was younger, we shared a passion for the work. Somehow – and I can’t remember now – we reconnected when Hank and I moved to Indianapolis. I was 14 months pregnant with JoJo, and Ryan and his equally amazing wife, Andrea, had a daughter. They were so kind to us during that time in our lives. We were two young couples, finding comfort in the face of rapid change, the uncertainty of the decisions we were making and the gravity of starting a family. The love Ryan and Andrea gave was unconditional and sincere and instant.

In addition to their talents – he a self-employed graphic designer, she the principal of a respected downtown school – these friends of ours have the integrity and grit of true change leaders. I’ve known that for years, but when I finally opened the link and listened to Ryan’s message, the tears in my eyes solidified my opinion.

Given a stage and a microphone and an audience to talk about his professional talents, my friend Ryan chose to address compassion and empathy instead. He chose to be brave. He chose to use his words to enlighten and inspire rows of young designers about something far more important than font or color theory.

Watching him work through his script, composed of words I imagine he typed and deleted and altered and rehearsed countless times, I felt something different in the pit of my stomach. I felt a sense of purpose. Purpose to protect the light and incubate empathy. When I looked into his eyes, I saw hope, which will beat the shit out of hate on any given day.

I want to thank my friend Ryan for the gift he gave me today. And for the space he is creating in this world, perhaps when it needs it most.

“We have to believe in a light that shines and never dies. What alternative do we have? We can not allow apathy, cynicism and resignation to paralyze us while someone snuffs the light out. They can’t stop us when we embrace hope and optimism. And we have the courage to be protectors and beacons of light. Seek depth. Create space. Engage with a servant’s heart. Shine light on others and feel things deeply.” – Ryan Hunley

Thoughts

As I am your witness

July 12, 2017

Today, my husband turns 36. He would tell you he’s growing more salt than pepper and essentially falling apart, but I’d argue he’s never been better.

Of those 36 years Hank’s been on this earth, I have been around to see 16 of them. I have been his witness.

I have been his witness.

The idea kind of blows my mind. The idea that a force greater than ourselves made the assignment, pulled us together, paired us off and now we are the primary spectators for every breath, every major decision, every step (both forward and backward) in each other’s daily existence.

I first started thinking about it a few weeks ago. Spike and I were brushing our teeth and she looked over and noticed a spot on my shoulder blade.

“What’s that dot, Mama?” she asked.
“What dot? Where, honey?”
“That dot. Up there.”
“It’s a mole. She’s always had it.” Hank chimed in, passing through the bathroom on his way to the closet.

Huh. A mole. On my shoulder blade. I had no idea I had a mole on my shoulder blade, but it was just a plain, vanilla fact to my husband. Something he sees probably twice a day, everyday. A fire hydrant on his street.

It’s like the whole when-a-tree-falls-in-the-woods-and-nobody-hears-it thing. If I’d never seen that mole, would it have really even existed? It exists because my life witness sees it, and therefore, it is.

I proposed the mind-blowing concept to my better half in the car one evening. (Spoiler: He wasn’t as enthused.)

“Babe, ya know what I was thinking about?”
“What?”
“How we’re witnesses to each other’s lives. Like, you know I have a mole on my shoulder, and I didn’t know that.”
“Right …”
“And like, I know that you do this thing every night when you take your contacts out.”
“What?”
“You do. As you unscrew your contact case, you turn to the right and look at your eye in the mirror, and then turn your head to the left and look at your eye in the mirror and then dip your chin down and then take the right contact out, and then the left contact out.”
“OK, but that’s not necessarily interesting. That I do that.”
“I mean, it kind of is to me. And it’s the fact that I know you do it, right? Like, if I didn’t see you do it, no one would know you do it. And I don’t even think you realize you do it. It’s such an awesome responsibility … being witness to someone’s life.”

Then he veered off the path and started talking about perceived reality and sounding really smart and the air made fart noises as it escaped rapidly from my mental tires.

But as the days went by, I just started thinking about it more. And how our parents are our witnesses for the beginning of our lives, and then our close friends kind of step into that role, and then our partner kind of takes over from there. How fascinating would it be to have these groups of people write the appropriate chapters of your life story, from their perspectives, when they were all up in there?

Right now, without consciously realizing it, I am documenting my daughters’ lives. I’m doing the same for their father. I know their habits, their mannerisms, their missteps, their victories, their sensitivities. I know the exact moment JoJo is going to put her fingers in her mouth to suck on them and can recount both of the evenings she got stitches, in her eyebrow and chin respectfully. I know that Spike has my hands and that her breath is super hot in the mornings. I know that Sloppy Joan’s Xiphoid process, the tiny bone between her ribs, sticks out freaky far and that she rode in the back of an ambulance on my lap, wearing nothing but a diaper, at 2 o’clock in the morning to be treated for RSV. If you had the time and the interest, I could tell you every tiny detail. It’s woven into the fabric of my soul.

Their bodies. Their voices. Their natural tendencies. I carry them all.

But I also know I won’t carry them forever. Pieces of them, sure, but not the bulk like I do now. Not all the good stuff.

Sometimes my parents tell stories about things I did as a little girl, and it feels fabricated. Or foggy at best. Like maybe it lives in my mind somewhere, but nowhere convenient or close enough to easily access the memory. But as they tell it, I can see it. I’m reliving part of my life through them. Through their eyes, their recollection. Those were moments they picked up and held onto so one day I could know they happened. They created the first scrapbook of my existence, and it’s fun to bring it out sometimes and flip through the pages.

When I get together with girlfriends and we carry on about all the stupid shit we did in high school or college, it’s often the same. I vaguely recall smoking cigarettes out of my bedroom window, listening to Celine Dion. I can kind of remember falling down a stack of stages at the youth dance club, coming to rest at the feet of a circle of guys, but it’s all spotty at best. As they offer up scraps of their own memories, I can typically piece it all together. The names. The places. The ridiculous outfits. They were the audience for the second scene in my play. And you bet your sweet ass we go right back there when the kids are in bed and the cocktails are cold.

And then there’s Hank. We thought we were such grownups when we met. We didn’t date very long before we pushed all the chips into the pot and decided this thing was probably going to stick. I immersed myself in his life in a way I’d never done with anyone before. Had I known all the time I would have to absorb every detail of him, I might not have been so insistent, so eager. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to commit this man to my memory. We’ve gone on beautiful trips, and had revealing conversations and laughed and cried. Often, it was just the two of us. The authors, actors and audience to our personal love story.

And now, 16 years later, on his 36th birthday, I find myself marveling at my permanent role as a witness to his life. And the gift of being witness to our three beautiful babies’ lives. And the gift of looking back on all the people – my parents, my girlfriends, my husband – who’ve been witness to my life. Ultimately, everyone needs someone who knows that they cough when they eat ice cream and yawn every time they say goodbye to their mom on the phone. And not just know those things. But actually give a shit, too.

This post is a little convoluted, I’ll admit. It reads a bit like a 3am shroom trip, but still, it amazes me. I guess you just never know where a mole is gonna take you.