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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.)

Mindfulness

Wake me up so I don’t miss it

July 26, 2017

“Promise you’ll wake us up,” JoJo and Spike say, their eyes burning into mine. “Even if we’re dead asleep and you think we’ll be mad. We don’t want to miss your hugs and kisses.”

Oh, these accidental, magnificent insights.

My chicks have made an art form out of changing my crooked, bleak perspectives. I think kids in general have this way of sifting through the litter box of life and coming up with golden turds of unabashed happiness. It’s just something they’re born with that erodes a tiny bit every time someone tells them the Tooth Fairy is creepy or they watch an episode of Hannah Montana or That’s So Raven, or whatever preadolescent dribble the Disney channel feels like shoving down their throats.

I’m definitely making a conscious effort to catch all of their organic amazement before it evaporates entirely. I find, when I forget what wonder looks like, I can just watch their little faces during a thunderstorm. How their eyes widen every time a hot shard of electricity pierces the racing clouds or a rib-shaking ripple of thunder cracks down from the heavens. “God got a strike!” I tell them. “And all the angels took His picture.” Their instinctive fears spread to smirks and we watch until it passes. In these moments, my own sense of wonder starts to whisper from under a pile of rubble in my soul. “Help me … I’m still in here.”

But I want more. Without waiting for a temperamental warm front.

I keep coming back to it … Wake me up! Even if you think it’s going to make me mad. I don’t want to miss the hugs and kisses.

There was this afternoon a few summers ago, when I went to pick JoJo up from preschool, and Spike gasped and pointed down at the ground. She would have been about 3 at the time. “What?” I inquired. “What’s wrong?” JoJo gasped then, too, meeting the object of her sister’s jubilation. My eyes darted back and forth across the asphalt. What was I missing? Finally, “It’s a rainbow river!” JoJo offered. And there it was: ROYGBIV floating right there in a common oil spill. I didn’t see it. I saw someone’s misfortune; a pool of malfunction. That’s what I saw.

Why didn’t I see the rainbow?

The question bothered me.

But it’s not hard to answer. It’s so easy, in this life, with its pace and its pitfalls, to focus on things like moldy strawberries straight from the store, and my constant view of the tops of the heads of my tech-tethered loved ones, and the fact that the bathroom at work always smells like AquaNet, diarrhea and orange tictacs, and fitted sheets that refuse to dutifully cover all four corners of the mattress the way their packaging promised they would. But focusing on all the bad fruit and the poop paradise and other crap certainly doesn’t make any of it go away. A few years back, when I took an honest inventory, I realized I was giving all of the bruises on the apple of my life way too much attention.

And once I noticed my pessimism – once I named it – then I could finally start shutting it down.

How did I start shutting it down? Well, I decided to say “yes” more than “no”. It’s my attempt at a more spontaneous existence. I’ve been taking the sweet seconds to smile at my babies’ white tushies striding on top of their brown summer legs. Not always, but more often than not, I look over my shoulder at the sunset on my runs. And (this is the hard one) I’ve been pausing before I begin spewing obscenities and cursing people’s small-minded bullshit, and instead, using these moments as opportunities for grace. All these podcasts about how unique every person’s walk on this earth is, and how we can Make America Kind Again, are really starting to sink in. Still, I’d say I’m only at about a 65% adoption rate on this last one.

It takes practice to push all the fat winter flies and ingrown toenails of life aside and offer a larger portion of the pie to the positive stuff. But it is possible. I mean, the reality is that, even on the darkest days, there’s always a blue sky right on the other side of the clouds. (That’s some cross stitch shit right there, but you can still quote me on it.) I think once you make that decision, once you commit to think about what’s on the other side of the gray haze, you’re one step closer to peace.

Let’s be real, rain is always going to come. If every day was sunny we’d just take it for granted, right? But when those drops start to fall, you have a choice. You can pout inside a smudged window pane or grab your polka dot umbrella, some charming galoshes and a better attitude. I’m really trying to invest in the galoshes. It makes me like myself better.

And everyone else, too. The older I get, the lower my tolerance becomes for the pouters on the other side of the pane. The world is hard and scary and diseased. I. GET. IT. But I don’t need to sulk and soak in that sad bath with you every single day. It’s exhausting and, quite frankly, draining. Awareness is healthy. But when the heaviness of it all becomes an obsession, you’ve really just given up your power and turned me off. I’m learning to nourish the space between myself and the people with toxic tendencies, so that it can organically grow and buffer my soul.

Like anything, some exceptions will apply. Life can’t be like a season of Gilmore Girls. Things are going to happen. But, from this sunnier shore, I’m finding that pain can be beautiful, even healing. Long talks with someone who really needs your ear can be life-changing, for both parties. And that the uncomfortable stuff can be a powerful vehicle for personal evolution.

Is it all rose bushes and marigolds in my own yard all the time? Ah, no. And I don’t ignore the great tragedies of this world either. I don’t dismiss the just causes, or devastating diagnosis, or disturbing headlines. I don’t pretend to be so apathetic I can turn away from the morally corrupt circus playing out before us all in real time. It’s all still there. I didn’t abandon it. You can’t abandon it. But I’m finding that the more I lean toward the bright side, the easier it is to find the light switch on the darker days. The more I focus on fostering joy and putting a tight bandage on the infectious carcinogens that strangle my heart to contain them, the better off I seem to be. And the more powerful I feel.

One of my favorite people to talk to on the planet, recently told me that 99.9% of the time, your body breathes you. It’s automatic and involuntary. But when you breathe your body – when you take a moment to feel your stomach rise and fall and notice how your hair tickles your shoulders, and feel your daughter’s soft cheek against your own – that’s when you tap into the good stuff.

So, I’m into all that. Breathing my body and my people. Detaining the toxic bullshit and its carriers. And jumping into the joy parade. It’s my 3-step process for obtaining eternal optimism.

If you see me looking away – from an adorable baby with a mouth full of spit bubbles, or my girls smelling flowers or a sunrise painted with angelic brush strokes – just give me a little nudge. And dear God, please wake me up. Even if you think I’ll be mad. Because I never want to miss the hugs and kisses. I never want to miss the love. Or this life.

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.

Thoughts

Turtle Talk (and other stops on my road to being a writer)

August 31, 2016

How the hell did you become a writer?” an acquaintance inquired during a stalled start to the morning meeting.
“I mean, how does anyone choose their profession?” I thought, but instead replied, “I just always liked it.”
“Yeah, but like, no one really becomes a writer. Like, unless you write books, right?”

You never think something about yourself is odd until someone else flags it as odd. That’s what makes it official. You mean everyone doesn’t leave the last tissue because they like the design on the box so, so much? I don’t think the way I earn a living is particularly noteworthy, but I’ll entertain almost any question for the sake of content. I can trace the roots of this one all the way back to a little majestic dot on an elementary school map, called Turtle Town.

MiraclesWriting

While others were known to dabble, I made a career out of having an awkward phase. The beginning of my climb to peak unpolished adolescence arrived at age 10. In the fourth grade, I had spacey, jagged teeth and mousy blonde hair with bangs that easily flipped and frizzed at the slightest breeze or rush of activity. My lips were always chapped. I wore a rotation of sweatshirts with assorted appliqués over turtlenecks in contrasting shades (they never matched exactly because I liked to embrace my rebellious whims). My boyfriend, who wore hammer pants, was 2 inches shorter than me, and I was a meager 3 feet in stature. Things ended abruptly when he placed my Pound Puppy, which I had gifted to him against my mom’s wishes, in a sad, semi-rain-soaked brown grocery bag on top of my desk with a note that read simply, “Itz over. – Jon”. I knew nothing of myself. I was a sheep. A follower. The full extent of my ambitions for the foreseeable future consisted of marrying Dylan McKay, having a smile like Julia Roberts and moving like Penny from Dirty Dancing. (The fact that my parents allowed me to watch sex-tinged programming with prostitutes and “knocked up” resort performers is not for any of us to judge.)

What I didn’t realize was I had something going for me; A hand to gently guide me toward fate. I had Mr. Johnson for fourth grade and Mr. Johnson was the shit. In the midst of sleepovers where we made girls pee their pants and call their parents at 1 a.m. and clammy, sweat-soaked hand-holding, and the arrival of Gushers, Mr. Johnson went and turned our classroom into a microcosm and just waited to infiltrate our tiny, ignorant little brain saplings.

Every year, the students in room 23 would decide the name, mascot, and basic government and judiciary system of their pretend city. In 1993, the name was Turtle Town, the mascot was a fox – just kidding – it was a turtle, and the government was comprised of a collection of pinheads who liked to show off their turdy friends and make fart noises in the middle of films about migrating birds and what have you. But it was cool. We had elections and town meetings and learned all kinds of important life stuff without realizing we were being taught (such suckers). I can’t remember if it was my idea, or the teacher’s, but at some point, it was decided that Turtle Town needed a newspaper. It would be called Turtle Talk and I would be the editor.

I went to my parent’s office and took a giant accordion-style file folder and labeled the slots with sections – sports, front page, government, etc. I carried around a small spiral-bound notepad and pen and pleaded with my classmates to write fake pieces of news. “So, like maybe you left the town hall meeting with a stomachache because you ate bad porridge at the Turtle Top Tavern. Huh? Whatdaya say?” In the end, I discovered a truth that followed me for the next 23 years and counting: If you have the vision, and you want something written, it’s best to just ask the right questions and write the damn thing yourself. And so, I did. I slapped on my Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper chapstick and got to business writing horrific headlines and cheesy photo captions and exposés on Turtle Town’s public officials (the majority of which never made the cut). I fashioned that fabricated content into a true, tangible newspaper, piece by piece. Of course no one really gave a crap. How do you compete with an unstoppable TGIF lineup and Beanie Babies for Pete’s sake?

Followers be damned, the seed had been planted. I loved to write. I loved coming up with ways to tell stories and talking to people who’d done things I hadn’t and working with words until they formed the perfect linguistic cadence. (This last sentence may be a bit overkill for the work I was turning out at this time.)

Writing

Where Mr. Johnson left off, my high school journalism and English teacher (one in the same) picked up. This woman was a dead ringer for Miss Geist from Clueless. She had a sarcastic wit Amy Schumer would envy, sobering honesty when you really needed it and a hands-off style that just made kids thrive. She didn’t reach all of the kids in the school, but the ones she did, she changed. We were like a gang comprised of rejected members of the Breakfast Club. There were intellectuals, athletes and “outcasts”, but when we entered that corner classroom, tucked away from the social hierarchy, the subtitles dissolved entirely. We ate boxes of Lemonheads and troughs of Cheetos while we brainstormed story ideas and layouts. We made McDonald’s runs to clear writer’s block. It was an editorial-induced euphoria that kept me high for four solid years.

I wrote sappy editorials about saying goodbye to upperclassmen and being single on Valentine’s Day. I spent a solid week sipping sugary gas station mochas and pouring my emotions out for the intro page copy in our yearbook my senior year. My Miss Geist doppleganger, who by then was like a second mother, encouraged me to make a last-minute change of college for a better Journalism program and a leg up down the road. I followed her advice.

In 2002, Sex and the City was a female institution. You knew if you were a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or, God forbid, Miranda. I was studying Magazine Journalism in the Midwest and, culturally, could not be farther from the Big City storylines I relished so intently. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) was a student at a small all-male college a little shy of 2 hours away and they were looking for a female columnist for their newspaper. One sample article later, I was committed to pen a biweekly editorial on life through a woman’s lens. From the Hip ran for 3 glorious years. It was the closest to Carrie I would ever get. And while most of the questions submitted came from lonely independents who just couldn’t understand why the weekend lady visitors weren’t feelin’ their flavor, we did venture into some heavy early adult topics. If nothing else, writing that column made going to the bars super fun. “Hey, aren’t you From the Hip girl? Whoa! Wussup?” “Hey, you know what you should write about? Why girls don’t make any sense.” “Hey, you were wrong. That girl totally called the next day.” “Hey, you know what you should write about? [Insert late night radio show topic].” “Hey, your article cut into the football feature. I’m not mad though. I’m just sayin’ it was long.” Those were good times. I sincerely loved those times.

And those were the articles, with heavy sexual undertones and ridiculous subject matter, that I took with me to apply for my first job out of school; an editorial assistant at a food magazine. The publisher must have been on heavy pain meds when he hired me. My portfolio was sad, but my rate was cheap and I was eager to work like a typing mule. The magazine had zero money. Paychecks would bounce at least once a month and we were our own cleaning service. But the education I got in the five years I worked there was immeasurable. I went into immaculate kitchens with freshly butchered meats and cheeses I couldn’t pronounce. I learned about wine varietals and molecular gastronomy and organic farming. I was 22 when I started that job. It was a champagne experience on a penny pitcher beer budget. I adored my editor. I still adore my editor and I still call her my editor even though we haven’t worked together in seven years. She had her priorities right and was a sharp wordsmith. She shaped my writing and she showed me how to balance my work and personal life without sacrificing myself. She ran on her lunch hour, knew the best places to grab a beer and believed in the value of a Friday Coke. Every young writer needs an editor like that.

Eventually my writing turned into more of a job than a joy. I made some career turns and strayed from the rich editorial path a bit in exchange for a more realistic salary. It worked for a few years. But I know myself and I knew that I was missing the art of writing. Not just the piecing together of words with alliteration and spot-on syntax to reel consumers in, but the actual soul sharing and storytelling part of it. I started this blog, privately at first, as a way to quench that desire to express myself in that way. I needed an outlet to complement my occupation. And, 3 years later, here we are.

EnjoyItWriting

A man that I admire a whole heck of a lot said, “We write so that we can taste life twice.” He was referring to journaling. I think that is what this blog – and truly, many parts of my professional career – are for me. I’ve seen natural springs and traversed the steep hills of a maple syrup farm and flown in helicopters and hiked the AT and survived 7 years of motherhood, and I can relive those days any time I want. I can pull out a magazine or pull up an article and recall those sights and sounds and characters because I’ve shared them and they live somewhere outside of my forgetful mind. That is the gift that writing gives you.

You might love cleaning people’s teeth or educating young children or giving quotes on various goods and services. I love the sound of the keys when my fingers can’t keep up with my mind and the satisfaction of submitting a finished article. For me, it isn’t about showing up in your newsfeed or standing from the tallest podium in a room of screaming grownups. I just want to make people feel something. I want to elicit empathy and contemplation and exploration. I want to write things that inspire and engage people and make us hop off the hamster wheel for a few minutes. Not everything I write is going to do that, but I respect the process, and I respect rare gem you get when the words come together just so and set something off for someone.

From Turtle Town to this Desperate search for Superwoman, there’s just something about writing for me. I’m so blessed to have found it. I’m so thankful you read it. It’s so delicious tasting this life twice. Period.

Kids

Everything I need to know, I learned from JoJo going to kindergarten

June 2, 2016

Last Friday my oldest chick closed the book on her first year of elementary school and, as quickly as it came, kindergarten was over. She walked away with fewer teeth, a broader vocabulary and a whole new set of social skills. More times than I can count, as we sat conversing around our dinner table, JoJo would offer some emotional nugget that, if I really thought about it, correlated to some grownup social dilemma in my circle. See if you draw the same comparisons …

LastDayKindergarten

Be resourceful (and when deemed necessary, game the system).
About 3 months into the school year I got a call from the school nurse. “Hi there. I have JoJo here in my office and she is not feeling well. She doesn’t have a fever and we’re giving her a bit of Gatorade and letting her close her eyes.” She then cupped her mouth and drew the phone closer to say, “I really think somebody’s just not having a good day. This is the second time she’s been down here in 2 days.” As the year pressed on, there were more casual mentions of the nurse’s office. She had a hang sesh with her cousin there, she had her bud walk her down during art class, she went there for an ice pack because her knees hurt from running so much … I realized that something I’d been taught in my leadership classes might apply here – I was not asking the right questions. Once I began my subtle interrogation, I learned that, not only did the nurse have Gatorade, she also had Sprite, crackers and a sweet dose of one-on-one TLC. It’s like a 5-star luxury resort compared to, say, gym class. I couldn’t fault the girl for wanting an afternoon spritzer and siesta. If anything, I was impressed.

This was not the first or the last time my baby would go scamming for groceries. We get alerts when her lunch money funds are dwindling. “That’s odd,” Hank said, after I relayed that I’d received a low balance email from the school. “I just loaded like 50 bucks onto that thing a few weeks ago.” Turns out, you can log in and see your child’s spending history. Turns out, JoJo likes to add on a cookie, like every single day. Turns out, Doritos are just a little bit extra. Turns out, a cheese stick makes a great side. We were looking at page after page of incriminating purchases, accumulating 25 cents at a time. When I asked her about her a la carte selections, she informed me that you just ask the woman at the cash register to throw one on your tray and you’re good to go. She had no clue she was getting charged, and no clue we’d ever find out. Hank smiled that smile he smiles when one of his girls does something he finds endearing and just said, “I love it. I hope she always just goes for what she wants.”

Drama is relative.
At my age, a scandal typically involves inappropriate behavior, maybe some rage and always a few really bad decisions. For JoJo, the biggest scandal of the 2016-2017 school year came when she climbed to the top of the playdome, got yelled at by another kindergarten teacher and – wait for it – was sentenced to 5 minutes on the wall. I walked onto the playground to pick her up and straight onto OJ’s side of the courtroom. There were 3 criminals in the lineup, each more eager than the next to argue their innocence. We went to the car for a recess. “She’s just so interested in me and she doesn’t need to be interested about me!” she screeched with a blotchy red face. I’d never seen her so heated. “Listen, babe, regardless of what you think of her, she’s a teacher and she deserves your respect. You were probably doing something you knew you weren’t supposed to do, right?” “Maybe, but –” “And you can’t get in trouble if you’re always doing the right thing, right?” “Yes, but–” “OK, then let’s move past it.” But she couldn’t. It rocked her world like an old boyfriend showing up as a contestant on The Bachelorette or a late-in-life baby surprise would rock mine, and I gotta respect that.

Sleep is underrated.

The adjustment to full-time student had its hiccups, but perhaps the biggest was how much it wore our little bug out. One night at dinner, JoJo told us that she fell asleep in class and her teacher just let her sleep because she knew, “she really needed that nap.” Let’s face it, there are days (like every Tuesday) when you just want to put your head down on your desk and droll all over the TPS reports. I love that her teacher let that little snooze slide.

It’s who you know.
There are three battle grounds for grade school children: The cafeteria, the playground and the bus. I can still remember that first day I sat in my car and watched my delicate, dainty 6 year old take that first steep step up into the yellow tunnel of terror on wheels. She looked so petite grabbing the railing to hoist her tiny cakes up, only to slide quickly into the very front seat. That August evening I asked her who she sat with. “Nobody,” she replied. “I don’t know any of the older kids and they’re so loud.” But by the end of the second week, my girl was running that joint. What changed? Her two older cousins started hitching a ride a few times a week. To make matters even better, they were at her after-school program as well. Before I knew it she was regurgitating all of the fourth grade gossip and telling me fifth graders, “had her back.” Had her back from what, I don’t know that I want to know, but I certainly appreciated the support. #squadgoals

Stress and pain both pass eventually.
Do you ever watch your kids experience something and it brings back every distinct smell, thought and feeling you experienced at that age? For me, one of those things is this loose tooth nonsense. I detested the tooth-losing process. The initial wiggle, the tireless tongue prodding, the mental turmoil of committing to pull the little bastard out and then the sight of that alien formation with bloody points that just detached from part of your body. Those meager little calcium nuggets revealed every Fruit Roll-up, every Swiss Cake Roll, every Milk Dud, and left behind only a slight crater to take over the madness. Now I’m reliving the oral horror with JoJo. I feel her anxiety about the process transferring to me. We’ve gone through this 3 – one hard apple shy of 4 – times now and it’s always the same. She recognizes the wiggle that sent the baby tooth past the point of no return (typically because there is blood). This sends her down an emotional spiral of will-it or won’t-it hysteria. It comes out and she screams over a pain that she perceives in her mind and then instantly begins smiling at the realization that said pain actually never existed and the entire process is over. Thus, our heart rates can decline, the Tooth Fairy can make her triumphant appearance and we can all live to experience the roller coaster ride another day.

Compassion always counts.
Of all my aspirations for them, two of the characteristics I so badly want to instill in my chicks are compassion and empathy. The world is so fast and so careless. It’s important to me that they really see people and go out of their way to help when it matters (and it always matters). On our star chart we have a row for “Did something kind,” and I ask the girls what they did to help someone that day. If I feel satisfied with their answer, they get a magnetic star. Spike typically says things like, “I told Johnny that he was not a butt face.” But I always looked forward to JoJo’s answers once she started school. There are so many opportunities to extend grace at that age. She would say things like, “Taylor is getting a new baby sister and I gave her a hug,” or “Sonya was sitting alone at library, so I moved to her table” But my favorite was when she told me she escorted Anthony down the hall after he puked in gym. Because sometimes you just need someone to hold your hand and take you to the nurse after you blow chunks in front of a room full of people. With no judgment.

Embarrassment is temporary (but brutal).
I can still remember, when I was in fifth grade, I thought it would be “cool” if I opened my bedroom window and sat in it. I cranked it out, removed the pesky screen and let the tips of my toes meet the steep shingles below. My on-again off-again “boyfriend”‘s dad, who lived directly behind us, came bursting through his back door and screamed, “Get outa the window, kid! What the hell are you thinking?!” To this day when I see him I picture him shouting at me from his deck. I was so scared he was going to tell my parents, or my little boyfriend. But more than all that, I was so, so embarrassed. I didn’t know what I was doing was dangerous. Hell, that was where all the heroines in the movies went to look at the stars and sort through their thoughts.

So, as we parents often do, I made sure to hand down the same humiliation to my JoJo. On an evening bike ride she turned right in front of a car. Without thinking, I did what any model mother would do. I verbally assassinated her precious spirit in the center of the cul-de-sac. In front of anyone within earshot. I certainly wasn’t mad at her. I was frightened out of my mind and the words just sprinted up my trachea and exploded out of my mouth. She was quiet the entire ride home. When we walked through the door she collapsed in the entryway, with her knees up by her ears and her elbows crossed over top to hold her head. “What’s wrong, honey?” I inquired, ignorant to the fact that, although the pedals between the incident and our driveway had erased the confrontation for me, she was entirely mortified. “I’m embarrassed!” she sobbed as she lifted her head. And I went right back to my window ledge. I knew exactly how she felt. “I’m sorry,” I offered. “But you are the most important thing to me and it terrifies Mommy when I think you might get hurt. I shouldn’t have yelled like that.” As disconcerted as you might be, this, too, shall pass, little bird.

We all just want to be accepted.
It always feels better to be included than excluded. And, gosh dang it, when 8 girls are playing ninjas and there’s no room for 9, or they tell you swinging is stupid, it feels like someone kicked your puppy. I don’t know a single parent who hasn’t wanted to throw a stranger’s kid’s sucker in the dirt for ignoring or belittling their child on the playground.

Kidsbeach

No one likes an empty bucket.
There are occasions when children  say things far more profound than the most educated, enlightened adults. One evening, as I was whipping up a 4-course Taco Tuesday extravaganza, JoJo and Spike started fighting, which is crazy, because that never happens. (That italics indicates major sarcasm.) Anyway, after I launched into my typical retorts – “Guys, knock it off!” “Do you feel better after you hit her?” etc. – with little effect, the oldest chick stepped back a bit and put her hands up defensively. “Listen Spike, I don’t need you taking out of my bucket.” [Silence and inquisitive stares.] “When you say mean things, you take out of people’s buckets. And when you say or do nice things, you fill them up. I’m not going to empty your bucket, so stop emptying mine!” And that, my friends, is what you call an effective after-school lesson. [mic drop]

Feeling special is good for the soul.
Remember how cool it was when your parents or, even better, your pets came into visit you at school? In fourth grade my folks trailered in one of our horses for my Star Day and let me tell you, when that mare shit on the front lawn of my elementary school, I knew I’d climbed 4 rungs up the social ladder. As a working mother I more often than not have guilt about my inability to be a room mother, or a reading pal or a field trip chaperone. There’s always some activity designed to make me feel completely inadequate as an emotional support for my child. But when it counts, wild [pooping] mustangs couldn’t keep me away. Case in point, JoJo’s Valentine’s Day party. We stayed up late cutting pineapples into mangled hearts and shed our own blood skewering those F’ers onto bamboo sticks. We made a party snack mix that I won’t reveal here because I’m thinking about marketing it for profit it was so good, and portioned it out into 22 individual baggies. And when I walked in with those fruit kabobs and bomb-ass mix, my little lady lit up like the Eiffle Tower on New Year’s. I’m not one for praising your child every time they take a tinkle, but I am a big believer in the power of showing up when it counts and letting your girl get her day.

So there you have it. Follow the bold points, throw in a few servings of veggies and commit to move a bit every time Netflix prompts you with, “Are you still watching?” and you have a success plan for a healthy, happy, kind life. And you have JoJo and her tales of the kindergarten somethings to thank for it.

Thoughts

That was my last chance to be cool

May 18, 2016

“We were going to move to Michigan and grow medicinal marijuana … Wait, I didn’t tell you that?”
“No.”
“Oh, yeah, it was kind of like our last chance to be cool before we accepted that we’re just, you know, parents.”

FArm

One of my dearest friends (who shall remain nameless) has always ranked fairly high with me for her boisterous laugh and Devil-may-care disposition. This is a girl who bought a $500 pair of Louis Vuitton sunglasses on a mild buzz in Hawaii, only to break them rolling down a sand dune in Indiana. She barrels through life with the dance moves of Elaine Benes and the humor of Chevy Chase. And while I’ve never known her to be neither apologetic nor mundane, she’s incredibly endearing, with a backstory that will break your heart and a loyalty that can’t be deterred by distance.

When my friend got married and then, a few years later, had a little nugget, it meant a change to her usual shenanigans. It’s all fun and games when you get to be the crazy aunt, and blow into town with hot pink-colored bubbles and 10 pounds of chocolate then go home when their diarrhea sets in, but when the scoots are on your hands, it’s a messy adjustment. And while, like all new mothers, my sweet friend was relishing her new role, she had also undergone a mini identity crisis. I was seeing her on the other side of that crisis, fresh off accepting a new 8-to-5 position with a bank chain.

“You know how in your 20s you waste all of this time just assuming something cool will pan out?” she said. “Like some brilliant, badass job will just fall in your lap and you’ll live this amazing life. Well then I think you spend your 30s just slowly accepting that none of that shit is actually going to happen, and that a boring desk job isn’t just ‘to hold you over’ and you’re a mom now and, not that that isn’t wonderful, but you know … It’s just so … not what I thought. So, we thought we might start a pot farm in Michigan. But we aren’t now. So … I guess this is it!”

I sat there feeling so oddly connected to what she was saying. The conversation got me thinking about all of the Michigan pot farms in my past. Naturally, as a writer, I was going to move to New York City a la Carrie Bradshaw and write a tantalizing weekly opinion column. Then I was going to write a side-splitting non-fiction book that put me on the Oprah circuit to stardom. I was going to run off and hike for a few months straight. I was going to write a screenplay. I was going to be that woman who runs (in a sports bra and shorts only) behind my jogging stroller. I was going to start a creative firm with 2 of my best girlfriends. I was going to freelance in the mornings and explore in the afternoons. I was going to give a mother truckin’ TED talk.  I’m not the best mathematician, but I can estimate with a great deal of accuracy that I did 0% of those things.

NYC

And it all left me wondering when in the hell we all just gave up on being cool?

I mean, I dabble in cool things, sure. I partake in the occasional adventurous hour or two, but on the whole, all of those big assumptions of fame and splendid accomplishment from my 20s just fizzled out. I don’t know where they went, exactly, but I’m guessing it was off to some other 20-somethings ego. I started to envy the fact that my free-spirited friend actually went so far as to explore her medicinal marijuana operation. She at least entertained the notion that cool had not evaporated entirely in the presence of her smart wardrobe and comfortable working woman flats. I can’t remember the last time I considered such a move without including the words “401k” or “accrued time off” or “career path”. Blech! Who am I? What is this pure vanilla caked all over me?

Every night when I finally power down and roll to my side, I try to touch base with God. I thank him for my family, for my home and for my health. I ask Him to place His hands on the ones who are hurting or suffering or sad. And last night, I asked Him to make me a vehicle for something meaningful. To type it, it seems a bit self-important. Like I think I’m destined for greatness or something, but that’s not the intent. What I mean is I don’t want to waste my days or my words. I don’t want to wake up in my next decade of life feeling like I conceded all of the best things I have to offer in exchange for stability or savings that sit in a bank. I want to be open and gutsy and do something bold for the betterment of someone. I want to be cool for the greater good, gosh dang it!

Thoughts

A most beautiful pain

December 3, 2015
I saw a man down on the ground fighting for his life. I was a passerby for one of the most gut-wrenching, heart-aching moments one family probably ever faced, and it won’t leave me. It seems the universe is peeking around every corner lately, sending me evidence that life is fleeting and fragile and fast.

We were about 2 miles into the Galloping Gobbler race on Thursday. I ran with Britni (who you might recognize from my half marathon posts) and my friend Jackie, who happens to be a nurse. We were coming up to a turn when we heard, “Get to your left! Stay to your left! To the left, folks! Keep to the left!” There was a group of people, likely some of them family, standing around and a bit of motion near the ground caught my eye. A gentleman, probably in his 40s, was down on the ground and another person was performing chest compressions. I’ve never seen someone in such a severe situation; teetering on the edge of life. Jackie calmly explained that there were already plenty of people assisting and as we made the turn she thought she saw his arm move. Shortly after, the ambulance and fire truck arrived. The rest of that day and each day since, I’ve thought about that man. I’ve thought about this stranger and imagined a scenario, not knowing whether it’s his truth. I imagine his family signing up for a fun race, maybe it was even their Thanksgiving tradition. I imagine them coming out on that beautiful, unseasonably warm morning, taking a group photo and smiling. And then the unimaginable just struck through them. I’ve asked around and heard he is alright, which is a huge relief, but I just can’t get the image out of my mind. Hundreds of people running around one man’s tragedy; A constant motion while one family’s life stood completely, startlingly still.

waterfall

But like I said, the weight of life has been on my mind a lot lately. Researching a story, I recently visited a needleworking group. These women contribute intricate, hand-crafted blankets, hats and shawls to perfect strangers and want nothing more than the feeling of being needed and valued in return. I spoke with several of them one on one. I asked questions like, “How long have you been crocheting?” “Who taught you?” and “What’s the one piece you treasure most?” I looked into their eyes, the nucleus of their worn, wonderful faces, and I watched them relive the facts as they searched for answers. They recalled grandmothers and aunts, moments spent crafting precious blankets for first grandchildren, and time spent in the meditation of their craft after the passing of partners. I spoke about my girls and each lit up like they’d held each one of them in their arms. They would say, “Enjoy it, dear.” and “It just goes so fast.” and “Ah, bless you.” And I felt it. I felt how fast it is going to go.

 heaven
We had several friends facing their first holiday without a parent or grandparent this year. When I sat down the other night to write about my own traditions, it wasn’t lost on me how so many of the people I loved were going to have to make new ones in the absence of their mom or dad. We take Christmas morning for granted. We do. We take our phone calls and potato salad recipes and hugs completely as they come without considering what an original treasure we have. One of our friends, who lost his mom way too young earlier this year, put out a beautiful post about how he’d come to realize that to avoid the pain of losing his mother, the gift of ever knowing her would have to be taken away, and so he would take the pain.

Last week I was helping someone work on a piece to remember their grandmother and it got me thinking about what makes us. How, in the end, we are truly composed of ten trillion tiny moments and a million memories. How we pick up and carry our children’s memories for them, before they are ready to hold onto them. I thought about the thread and fabric of a person’s soul and how it’s woven from people and words and laughter. That’s what really matters. That’s the good stuff that makes every worthwhile wrinkle and scar worthy of a story.

With the reality of loss constantly looming, all I can do is be thankful for this life. For the people who fill its hours and the gifts I have been given. I hope I can accept what I can’t hold on to and cherish the memories I can. I hope I can make waves and ripples of positive change. And mostly I hope I can be the kind of person who’s worth the pain, because receiving love like that is the most beautiful thing there is.
Tune in Today

Crafting my mission statement

July 25, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 8.46.14 AMTune in today to see if she can … Write a personal mission statement.

I recently sat through an intriguing presentation in which a third party researcher shared data, gathered from employee surveys, for the purpose of revitalizing the company’s mission statement. I never realized the weight a mission statement holds. The adjectives have to be on point. There can be no room for misinterpretation. Are we forward-thinking or reliable? Are we compassionate or determined? Bold or safe? Familiar or daring? It has to be a testament to a brand’s hard-earned reputation and accomplishments, but also a promise of progression and prosperity. Listening to how passionate people were about pinpointing the ideal word to explain an establishment inspired me to do a little market research of my own.

I am writing a personal mission statement.

Now, in order to compose an accurate depiction of who I am, as well as who I aspire to be, I first turned to those who know me best. I grouped the participants into categories: Husband, Kids, Immediate Family, High School Friends, College Friends and Work Friends. I then sent them all the same text (Except my husband and kids, of course. They take forever to get back to me.) that read: “Hey guys! Doing research. If you had to describe me in one word, what would it be? BE HONEST!”

The responses.

Husband:
Organized
(Editor’s note – I have always wanted a man to call me, “Organized”. After reading this draft over my shoulder and seeing the intent, he changed his word to “Boundless”.)

Kids:
Love

Immediate Family:
Planner
Willful
Determined
Obsessive
Structured
Detailed

High School Friends:
Loyal
Silly
Thoughtful
Honest
Trustworthy
Disciplined
Caring

College Friends:
Witty
Real
Genuine
(She clarified, “Not to be confused with Genuwine, who wants you to ride it, his pony.”)

Work Friends:
Passionate
Focused
Down to earth
Personable
Fun as hell
Friendly
Hilarious
Humble
Dedicated
Outgoing
Funny
Motivated
Awesome
Amazeballs

I know this seems like a big ego stroke, but hang with me here for a bit. It’s not about fueling your self esteem so much as it is an exploration of what you’re putting out into the universe. Just like the researcher’s data tells a story for a corporation, these descriptions tell the story of how I am perceived, for whatever reason, by those who’ve known me in all the different points of my life. My immediate family has the entire 32 years to draw from, my high school friends have nearly as much history, and so on. What did my coworkers really see in me and what am I in my daughters’ eyes? I think of myself as one thing, but that doesn’t necessarily match the consensus. Some of the words truly surprised me, and I think that alone was worth the time it took to pound out a mass text. (It also triggered some pretty sweet text threads with my all-time favorite folks.)

This is where it starts to get interesting, and kind of geeky, but really more interesting than geeky. For reasons I can’t explain, I love a good word cloud. No? Not so much? OK, well, the cheese stands alone … Anyway, I took all the words people sent me and I plugged them into a word cloud generator, and it looked like this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 9.53.32 PM

Then – hold onto your hats – I wrote a free-flowing, unfiltered paragraph about how I view myself using the same tool. I was going for the stream of consciousness thing, and included what I struggle with, what I think I’m good at and where I’m trying to go. It looks a little different:

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 8.14.57 AM

I find it all fascinating. The way we view ourselves vs. how others view us. It must be mentioned that we tend to be both harder on and more honest with ourselves than our peers are. So, while my work friends might have had glimpses at my “obsessive” tendencies, they would be more likely to reach for the word “determined” for the sake of goodwill and friendship. While, conversely, I am more than willing to toss negative adjectives into my word cloud because I am constantly evaluating my weaknesses in an ill-fated effort to improve. It makes me wonder what a compromise word cloud would look like; one where I’m kinder to myself and my social circles are brutally honest.

In the end, this is where I landed, for now. The beauty in something like this is how well it plays with amendments and revisions.

mission statement

Now, it’s your turn. It takes a phone (what the kids are using to send text messages these days), an honest group to survey and your choice of word cloud generators. Go write your mission statement and then live it in the boldest fashion possible.

Until next time …