Friday, December 22, 2017

Making Rainbows, Remembering Wonder and Feeling It All

"Look what I can do with my eyes," the little girl said. She had a giant red and green bow in her hair. Her voice was husky for a tiny little human who is only three. Her dress was covered with Christmas trees and ruffles, lots of ruffles. "I look into the light [she paused and looked out the window] and then blink and guess what, I can make rainbows with my eyes. I see so many colors everywhere," she said excitedly stretching her hands out wide. "Did you hear me? I can make rainbows with my eyes!," she said almost losing her breath she was so excited. She couldn't believe her newly discovered superpower.

That happened last week at work. I work in a preschool full of three-year-olds who teach me things like rainbow powers every day. They also teach me about finding joy in well, almost everything. It's raining? That means puddles to jump in! It's snowing? Well come on, that is just ridiculously exciting and magical and gosh, isn't the world amazing? These kids will make even the hardest of hearts melt and truly see and feel the wonder of being alive. Not just at Christmas, but every single day.

I'm so grateful to know these kids. Especially this past year because man, it's been a weird one. The political upheaval and mean-spirited compassionless agendas in our government are coinciding with my ever-changing perimenopausal hormones, my middle forties (maybe a midlife crisis?), my children becoming mini adults who drive and get jobs and have independence, and more financial stress than I anticipated.  It's a lot. Especially for someone with mediocre coping skills at best. 

Planning ahead has never really been my strong suit. I don't know what I envisioned this stage of my life to look like. I do know that it looks better than what my mother's life was like at this age and for that I am grateful. (And really, who could have ever predicted Trump? I don't know how to write a blog anymore without mentioning how affected I feel by the president and his supporters and how it all feels strange and unsettling and frankly I am still shaking my head with dismay...)

I am also grateful to be married to a pretty amazing person who encourages me to remember the good stuff about life and know that how I react to it just is what it is. He reminds me what he said to me when we first started dating almost 20 years ago. "You bring so much color to my life," he told me then and reminds me now. "You feel more than I have ever or will ever feel in my life," he said/says. "You make me see things differently. I love you. You make life interesting," he said/says.

Feeling a lot is my super power I guess. It's so good when it's good. But when there is a lot worry about, well, it can be exhausting. It can also get a little out of hand. 

The other day I sent my very patient and saint-like husband this text:

"We can't afford the extra car insurance, I forgot to take out the trash, I missed the sign-up sheet to volunteer in Wade's class, Roy Moore will win that election and the polar bears are starving to death. I can't take it Tim! [insert crying emoji/exhausted emoji, broken heart emoji]"

That night I turned off the news and tried to watch a movie with him. I randomly checked my phone and saw the social media posts that Roy Moore hadn't won. The other guy in the Alabama election won. I cheered and cried a little. It felt like maybe things were going to start making more sense, at least politically. 

Since that night, the news went back to being up and down, just like my hormones. Bills get paid but still the car insurance for a teenage son driver does seem a bit impossible to add. Hopefully we'll figure it out. We take steps forward and back and back and then forward. Doing the dance. Riding the ride. There are moments of pride and joy, and moments of stress and exhaustion. Through it all I am trying to let go and feel it all but not get carried away with worry. 

The other night I was sitting in my living room trying to keep my eyes open, trying to stay awake waiting for Peyton to come home. He's had his license for a few weeks and my god is it nerve wracking (even for a non-feeling/non-worrier). I was squinting at the tracking app I have loaded on my phone following the little bright blinking green dot that represented my son driving. The light from my phone made me squint even more than usual. Then I looked up at my Christmas tree and the lights all blurred together, and I saw a bunch of rainbows. I smiled remembering my little friend's super power at preschool. I exhaled with relief when Peyton pulled in the driveway and the blinking green light said "Peyton has arrived at home."

These next few days over the Christmas break I will be looking for rainbows and remembering the lessons of my preschoolers--finding joy in anything and everything, dancing the dance, riding the ride and truly feeling the wonder of being alive.

Here are a few reasons/moments/people from the last couple months that make me love being alive...


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Ch-ch-changes--Thanksgiving, Hope, Life

Over the years I've spent Thanksgiving in a lot of different places with a lot of different people. 

There were the Thanksgivings as a kid where I would excitedly watch the clock and wait for my grandparents to arrive from Alabama. We would eat and eat and watch football and play and talk. I remember falling asleep in sleeping bags on the floor with my sister and brother and cousins listening to the grown ups talk. There were a few Thanksgivings after my parents' divorce spent meeting and eating with new people that would be my step-relatives, and then eventually my ex-step-relatives. Thanksgivings spent in O'Hare Airport Gate B 22 with my brother and sister missing our connecting flight  going home to Michigan from my dad's house in Nebraska. There was that one Thanksgiving when I was 20 I spent in Amsterdam with friends, that was a good one. I also spent several Thanksgivings serving turkey at soup kitchens in Pittsburgh. A couple Thanksgivings I spent with friends who had no place to go like me. Years later my first child was born a few weeks before Thanksgiving and I remember being overwhelmed with joy and hormones and swollen breasts at my in-laws for turkey dinner with my newborn in my arms. There was the Thanksgiving night I spent with my sister in the ER waiting room after my mom broke her neck falling down the stairs. There was the Thanksgiving we forgot to defrost the Turkey like characters on a predictable sitcom. 

Thanksgiving 1980-something. 

Me with new friends and wearing a beret in Amsterdam.

My picture of Amsterdam that looks 150 years old. Ha!
Two weeks as a mom not having a clue what I was doing. 

What a turkey. Oh my god, what a cute little turkey JT was.

One constant has been change. I haven't always gone to the same place with the same people and had the same meal or the same happy or sad experience. I should be better at change than I am.

The world feels crazier than normal right now and changing so fast. I've never really been someone who has been that affected by, or to be really honest that compassionate about, those "trigger alerts." But Jesus, I get it so much more now. I feel like the entire year has been a trigger. This administration. Social media. Things I thought I believed but now question and vice-versa. My kids growing up. Losing control. Setting boundaries. Being firm. Being understanding. Balancing compassion and fear and strength and vulnerability. Getting enough sleep. Wishing I could do more. Wishing I didn't feel so much. Wishing everything didn't feel like it was constantly changing all the time so fast. But also grateful for some of the changes. Holy shit. Ahhhhh.

I wish I had someplace to go that I 've always gone this Thanksgiving. I want a constant that feels comforting and safe.  

As usual in times of turmoil I turn to my beloved pop culture. I watch movies like Planes, Trains & Automobiles. I love that movie. I watch Young & the Restless and General Hospital. I delight in the fact that Victor and Nicki are still fighting and loving and trying to get the family together on Y & R.  And that the Quartermaines are still trying to figure out what the hell is going on with Jason on GH. The same things I was watching in 1987!  My comfort zone.

But as I look back on the years and think about this year and Thanksgiving, I am reminded of other constants. There was always laughter. Even in the emergency room that crazy Thanksgiving my mom broke her neck, my sister and I found things to laugh about. Like how the first person my mother asked for when she woke up in the hospital was Justin Timberlake. 

Another constant...there has always been somebody. Whether it was friends or family, my babies or strangers in the airport, there have been people to connect with and talk to and be with. For that I am grateful.

Every Thanksgiving I can remember has been filled with some kind of hope. Hope that the turkey will defrost. Hope that everyone comes to visit. Hope that everyone will get along. Hope that everyone recovers. The thing about getting older is that you've been through enough to know there's another side to things. Even though the world is making me uncomfortable and tense and confused, as I look back I see that we've been here before historically and it's led to great change. I feel hopeful that we can figure this shit out--our government, our communities, our families, parenting teenagers, disagreeing with love, respecting each other, finances, my grandma's dressing recipe, global warming and all the rest of it.

I'm grateful for laughter and hope and perspective. And that there are soap operas that are still on TV. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Acceptance--Confessions of a Middle Age Sports Mom

"I take Xanax during the first quarter of every game."

"I eat like a Labrador stomach would explode if someone didn't stop me."

"Pass the chips."

"I did the least amount of volunteering this season because I was intimidated by all of you."

Insert nervous laughter after each one of these phrases and picture a middle-age woman with bad roots and tired eyes. Now imagine a group of very put together women staring at her not exactly sure what to say. The scene has been set. Not for a bad dream or a joke. Nope, this was the scene of my first Football Mom Lunch a few weeks ago with the high school varsity football moms.*
(*All the varsity football moms were incredibly nice to me.)

I don't know what made me act like I was sitting on my therapist's couch. It's pretty true to form though for me to over talk and say stupid shit when I'm nervous. Even though I am in my 40s and have reached a level of acceptance that can only be had once hormone levels have spiked and bottomed out multiple times (yeah, I'm one big perimenopausal punchline)--I still got nervous and did the whole over talk/over reveal thing. 

Maybe I did/do it because it lowers all expectations of me and there's only going up from there. Maybe it's because I really believe in keeping it real. Maybe I did/do it because it's just who I am, and I guess I can accept that.

I have to accept that I am a nervous, worried, overtalking, always keeping it real kind of mom who doesn't care what people think but totally cares what people think at the same time. I have to accept that not everyone is going to think that's charming, or want to talk about hormones, or like my kid, or like me. 

I have to accept that I might always eat too many chips and need Xanax at Friday night football games. But I also am accepting that I am learning to be a better "sports mom." I'm learning to be more supportive of my kids and what they are passionate about even though I worry about them (a lot). I'm also learning to lean on other moms and families and support their kids and their teams. And I'm learning that I kind of like watching my kids play football.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Bracelet

After Wade was born I was a bit overwhelmed. Having four kids and a husband that worked all the time was a lot. I felt like I needed to walk around the world saying I'm sorry for [insert any topic like being late, my kid throwing a fit, my bad parking job at Kroger, my baby crying, not brushing my little girl's hair, basically failing at everything]. So my girlfriend made me a bracelet (pictured below) to inspire me to own it and stop apologizing to the world.

Some of the letters have fallen off, but you get it...

She got me to admit to myself and everyone my truth at that moment, being a mom of four little beings was consuming my life and even though I got a little overwhelmed and showed up a little late and lost the PTA paperwork, I loved my kids and my life and I was doing the best that I could at that moment to be the mother/person I wanted to be. I quit apologizing..."I'm a mother of 4. Fuck off."

Here's the thing, I never wore the bracelet and certainly never said it to anyone (okay, maybe to Tim once or twice). I hid it in a drawer in my kitchen and pulled it out when I felt like apologizing to the world for my shortcomings. It helped. 

I found this bracelet the other day. I hadn't seen it in almost  seven years. But you know the universe/God/whatever force you believe in has a way of showing signs to you just when you need to see them.  

When I started this blog Wade, the fourth baby that inspired the bracelet, was a toddler. Life was intense and busy. Looking back, it was mostly wild and colorful and loud and chaotic and silly and exhausting. It was also sweet and more simple than I really appreciated. That's how it goes though right? I mean just like I didn't appreciate my thinner thighs or wrinkle-free forehead in my early 20s...hindsight can be a bitch. But it also can remind you that time is the bigger bitch.

It has all gone so fast and seemingly goes faster and faster every year. 

When my kids were little I worried that I would get lost in all the beautiful chaos and have no identity but "mom." I worked hard to get involved in politics and advocacy, wrote a blog, landed a few fun freelance gigs, met amazing artists, traveled to conferences around the country and co-produced a live-stage storytelling show. I hustled to create a balance of sweet young children and a creative, political life that fulfilled me.

It worked for a while. But then my kids' schedules started making my projects harder to do. The freelance hustle became harder to commit to and I needed jobs that had a concrete pay structure. I started working two part-time jobs. I had to say no to a lot. And sometimes I said yes when I should have said no and I let people down. I volunteered but had to cancel. I started resenting my yes's and my no's and my kids' busy lives and started apologizing to everyone about my shortcomings.

Then I found the bracelet. And just like all those years ago, I had to get real with myself again. I had to say some tough no's to some amazing creative opportunities. Because to be the mother/person to the four children I love more than anything, I have to be fully present as possible. That bitch Time taught me it goes fast and I don't get a redo.

When I was a teenager my parents weren't around, mentally or physically.  They were going through their own heavy shit and boy do I have so much more compassion for what they had to figure out back then. I'm not mad. I'm just going to do it differently. My past is probably motivating my present. I don't know what I'm doing really, except worrying a lot and loving a lot and setting boundaries and really trying to not take things personally and trying to do the right things and say the right things and just be here. And my four children are pretty wonderful and smart and funny and challenging and well, I'm a big fan of theirs.

I will start saying more yes's again someday. And for real, wait until they grow up and I write the book or a storytelling show about their teenage years. Here's my working title- "Mom of 4, Fuck Off.--How To Be An Imperfect, Mindful yet Forgetful, Mostly Successful, Always Loving, Unapologetic, BadAss Mother."

Right now nothing makes me happier than all my kids around my dinner table telling stories and laughing. NOTHING.

Here's some of the stuff we've been busy doing the past month....