Lucky number 13

Today is my husband’s and my 13th first-date-aversary. That’s 13 years since we first got together at a starbucks and he told me his dad was gay and I told him my family was crazy and that I was too. Thirteen years. Thirteen years since we started fumbling through life together. It’s been a messy thirteen years. Messy; as in I have bipolar disorder. Messy; as in we had three kids in 5 years. Messy; as in my dad died and I fell apart. Messy; as in how have we made it 13 years?

This morning, in the mad dash of getting the kids ready, we forgot about November 16th. We forgot it had been 13 years, we didn’t have time to think about our first date, we had to wrangle a 6 and 7 year old. Just as they were out the door I saw the snack bag that my son left on the counter. “No fu@&ing way!”, I said to myself and then my 2 year old repeated it. No to time to worry about that;  I flailed through the house with it in hand (in my hot pink crocs no less) and burst out the door in pajama pants and a tshirt into 40 degree weather to pass it to him last minute. “Bye!”, I yelled with my foggy breath in the cold; and then more quietly as they drove away “happy anniversary….”. As my voice trailed off I heard the 2 year old giggle at me and I couldn’t help but laugh this deep, organic laugh; not the kind that sound pretty and sweet, but the kind that accompanies real joy and gratitude. Gratitude for 13 years with my best friend. It sounded like my Daddy’s laugh. I looked up to the picture of him at the top of the stairs. He has a smirk on his face. I can hear a favorite Carly Simon song faintly in my head…”it’s the stuff that dreams are made of, it’s the slow and steady fire, it’s the stuff that dreams are made of, it’s your heart and souls desire”

What a lucky, messy 13 years.

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On being cool

Six am is the time each morning when my iPhone spouts forth a dreaded, blaring wake up alarm. Well, actually 5:45, but six is the second alarm, the one I actually get out of bed for. From that point forward, for the next hour and a half I am sprinting toward the finish line of getting two elementary-school-aged kids out the door. The number of factors involved in the process makes my head spin just thinking about it which probably explains why motherhood has been gasoline on my PTSD fire. I’ve had some solid trauma therapy recently, so I’m calmer more often, but every now and again I end up spitting flames out of my eyeballs at my kids for not being able to find their shoes (how do you lose your shoes- everyday?) or being asked for the fifth time to brush teeth and choosing to ballet dance naked in the bathroom mirror and other such offenses. I always feel bad afterwards and we’ve had some really rough mornings in the last three years; for a lot of reasons, only some of which are related to kids dawdling.

Today went a little better than some. I’ve made some responsibility charts with sweet little pictures I drew myself and places to put checkmarks and all the things. On the days when it works I might even get my coffee early, before the 2 hour auto shut off leaves me reheating it in the microwave. Yum. Today, the charts worked. Today, I drank coffee hot. I was even feeling a little proud of myself and feeling a bit cool drinking my coffee in a fancy pottery mug when I looked down at my feet. I hate being barefoot in my house because of the crumbs and stickiness associated with the gaggle of children I birthed so I wear shoes. The easiest ones are birkenstocks. The easiest thing to wear in the morning is a bathrobe. Today I found the short one first. So, there I was pouring coffee, feeling cool when I saw the birkenstocks and the short bathrobe combo and the truth hit me.8D5DD7AC-9B86-4123-87E8-87AF7D9CE01F

I’m not the least bit cool and I never will be again. I’ve had the realization in such a jarring way twice before. Once I was dancing in my van listening to music with bad words because the kids weren’t with me. Blurred lines, actually. I might have even felt sexy, can’t recall. The other time I was cleaning the bathroom and dancing  listening to Justin Timberlake. I definitely felt sexy, I do recall, until I stood up and caught a glimpse in the mirror of myself 9 months pregnant in a maternity sweatsuit. It was pink. I was dancing. I was not sexy. I was not cool, unless I was going with the way some people say cool to mean “neat” or “interesting”  or to indicate a low key attitude around a topic or event. As in “how cool (neat) that your mini van has 17 cup holders and removable seats and can carry a sheet of plywood” or “that’s cool (interesting) that you can carry one kid in your arms and wear the other on your back in a cool (neat) backpack contraption” or “that’s cool (whatever/ doesn’t bother me) if you want to dance your enormous pregnant self around a bathroom listening to JT and accidentally breathing fumes.”.

I’m more ok with it than I once was. Mostly because I’ve learned that I value different things than I did when I was cool (if I ever was). I value time, and hot coffee and not feeling crumbs on my feet. I value 17 cup holders in my van and baby wearing and comfortable sweatsuits and bathrobes. I value my family’s joy, a reasonably organized home, a life with meaning and purpose. I do not believe you have to have children to have meaning and purpose or joy or validity, but that is where I have personally found mine. I sometimes find myself enamored with the instagram accounts of my friends who chose a path different than my own. I look at their pictures of life in big cities with fun parties and cool friends. I used to do it with a touch of envy. I’d think “how cool”, why can’t I be cool. But I am cool. I’m neat and interesting and I try not to bother people. And, for now at least, I’m sharing my time with three little gremlins who still think I’m the other kind of cool and I’m not telling them the truth until they tell me. And it’ll be cool.

October 14

 Moment upon moment this morning I have found myself frustrated, annoyed and angry. Finally, just a bit after 9am, I crawled back in bed and turned out the light. After tossing around trying (and failing) to get comfortable I sat up. I had an overwhelming empty feeling and suddenly I was crying. “I want my Dad…”, I mumbled through the tears. A few seconds later, I whispered “I want my Dad…” and a few seconds after that, “I want my Dad” until several minutes later as my fists banged the mattress I sat upon (my husband having closed the bedroom door and ushered the kids downstairs) I cried out in great big, heavy, sobs “I WANT MY DAD!”. I had no more breath then. I collapsed into the pillow, a mess of snot and tears. I feel a little better now. I needed a good cry. There are moments when I can say to people lovely cliche things about losing him. And then there are these moments; these moments where I get honest with myself about how it’s the saddest I’ve ever been about anything, ever.  Sometimes the best I have looks like this. My psychiatrist says one’s best changes from day to day. I wondered this morning what it was about today that made my best look so sorrowful and hopeless. What was it about October 14? I thought about it, then checked the day of the week on the calendar on my phone. There it was, October 14, 2014. It was a Tuesday evening. I was about 8 weeks pregnant, my husband was at a meeting and I was exhausted when Dad called. I could tell he had bad news. “I’m not dying”, he began, not knowing he was wrong. He was, as it turns out, dying. Over the next months the stage 4 melanoma diagnosis was cemented and a year and a half later he was gone. I miss him everyday and I always will. 

Maybe the cue was the way the weather feels this time of year; or maybe the way the light falls or the look of the trees, but whatever it was, my body remembered, long before my mind.

Knowing what’s good

I got a message on Facebook last night from a friend who was worried she might have put her young daughter in preschool too early; a decision she had made confidently just a month ago. But the message was nearly panicked. I could feel her anxiety as I read the words. “Do you think I put her in to early? She only goes 2 days a week and it’s just for a few hours, but I’m having second thoughts. There are kids younger than her there but I’m wondering if she’s too young. I thought I was doing the right thing by socializing!”

I have three kids 2, 5, and 7. I have spent years immersed in mom guilt. I know it like the back of my hand. Little did my friend know it, but she was having one of those new fangled appointments with a doctor over the computer and I was the tele-doc. Diagnosis: mom guilt. I asked her if something had happened and then I asked her if she was being hard on herself. The answers were yes and yes. Something had happened, but not at preschool. The something was that she crossed paths with a mom-shamer of the worst kind, another mom. She works in the kids department of a bookstore (which makes her an even more awesome mom than she already would’ve been) and, while providing customer service, had some small talk with a mother who had a child similar in age to hers. All it took was that one woman with her opinions to shake the confidence of a perfectly good mother over a perfectly good decision.

I’m married, happily, to the father of my children, but that isn’t the case for every mom. People have circumstances in life, things that shape them, things that happen to them. My friend is single. She works and her parents help with childcare for those hours, but the rest of the time she’s pretty much flying solo on her parenting journey. That’s something I can’t imagine. I stay home with my kids, or in the mini-van driving all over God’s green earth to shuttle them places, and I cannot wait for their dad to come home at night to help tackle the task of dinner, homework, bath time, and bedtime; a literal falling sprint toward the promise of rest for ourselves. Sometimes that “rest’ looks like me crying about how bad I screwed up being a mom that day, but at least I have someone to hear me cry. My friend, like lots of moms is going it alone and that’s a big deal. I wish the woman at the bookstore had known, or even thought about the fact that 2 days of  3 hours of preschool for a 2 year old could mean that her mom could poop alone, or drink hot coffee or read a book with pages that aren’t cardboard and about colors and shapes. I wish that she had known that being able to do those things would make a world of difference for my friend’s mood. I wish she had thought about how the 2 year old would be that much more nourished and enriched by the preschool environment and that her mother would be able to give her more focus and be more present if she had time to do laundry and run errands alone. I’m not sure why she didn’t think of those things. Actually, I do know. She didn’t think of them because they didn’t apply to her. Her situation was different than that of my friend. Her situation made 3 the best age for her daughter to start preschool. But I know nothing about her situation and I’m not going to judge who she might be. I do wish she hadn’t shamed another mom, though. I do wish she hadn’t shaken the confidence of a woman doing her best. We all need affirmation, love, and support. We could all use a cheerleader somedays.

I told my friend she was doing just fine. She wrote back that she had needed reassurance and then said this; “I know what’s good for us”. Something I wish I remembered more often. I know my children and their needs and the needs of our family. I know what’s good for us. Trusting ourselves as parents is important because our children can’t trust us if we can trust ourselves.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Real mom solidarity is when your kid has to poop at the grocery store and there is another mom dealing with the same situation and, after what feels like an eternity, you ask your kid **by name** if they’re almost done and the other mom’s kid answers “almost” because they have the same name. This is not where I saw my life going…

What they don’t tell you…

“Mom! Mom! I had a nightmare, but it wasn’t about ET!’

My eyes pop open to the dim blue glow of the nightlight and my 7 year old standing 10 inches from my face. “Awesome”, I whisper, genuinely thrilled for her–she’d been worried before bed.  I reach my hand out to hold hers; the best middle-of-the-night-celebration gesture I can muster.

Nightmares are an every night occurrence in our home. So is bedwetting (different kid), and night sweating (me). I haven’t slept through the night in more than 8 years. I doubt my bladder could make it anyway (even if all the stars aligned and no one woke me up) because, three kids later the ole pelvic floor just isn’t the same. And you know what? It never will be. Neither will the fluffy, belly squish pouch of loose skin that makes bikinis out of the question unless I have $5,000 for a tummy tuck. You know how I know how much a tummy tuck is? I asked a plastic surgeon. I asked him in a follow-up visit after my daughter stepped on a shovel three-stooges-style and he had to repair her face in the ER. I asked him after the shovel stomper pointed out the spider veins in my three month postpartum legs and we all had a nervous giggle and he said “we can fix those” with an awkward smile.  I asked him before I knew how much *less* money we would have when that three month old third baby started eating real food; the kind you have to cut into a million pieces before they eat it. I asked him because I thought I’d care, but that was before I knew I wouldn’t have time to care.

So, the tummy tuck is a no-go along with a thousand other things we thought we would have time and money for. And it isn’t a complaint, but an observation of what no one tells you about parenting. Maybe it isn’t that they don’t tell you, but rather that there aren’t words for it, you just have to do it to know. I guess parenting is a pilgrimage in that way and many others. It’s a journey, sometimes arduous, with much ritual, to a holy place in search of greater spiritual meaning. I see the beauty, really I do. I know the journey is the thing.  I just would have loved a heads up about things like hand-foot-and-mouth disease and loose skin and saggy boobs, and how bad it stinks to wrestle a kid into a car seat amidst a parking lot of onlookers. I don’t know that I would’ve paid attention, I thought I knew everything back then, and I guess I’m kinda glad because interwoven with all the tough parts of motherhood that I was unprepared for are morning snuggles, dance parties, dandelions with short stems picked by little hands; hands that evolve from tiny baby fists to fumbly fingers that make beautiful creations and mother’s day cards. No one mentioned how lovely it would be to have tiny arms wrapped around my neck, or how my heart would nearly burst with each “I love you, Mommy”. That’s what sustains me on the days when I’m tired, the days when I’m lonely, the days when I’m making calls to poison control, or fighting the high chair battle with a stubborn 2 year old in a restaurant. It’s that stuff; and at the end of the day, that’s what I really remember about this life I’m living. Somehow the annoyances fade away and love lets me start over. I hope and pray that the same is true for my children (and my husband for that matter); that they wake up each day having forgotten my short comings, temper losses, mommy rants, lost field trip permission slips and recipe fails and that they see the beauty in the ashes that is family.

Upcycling for the win

I don’t know that this actually counts as up cycling, but I repurposed my formula dispenser this week. In case you don’t know what a formula dispenser is, it looks like this:

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It’s a magical little contraption that allows you to measure servings of powdered formula ahead of time so that when you are out and about you can prepare formula more simply and without carrying a huge formula can in your bag. A life saving tool for all formula feeders. I used these for each of my three kids, and for some reason still have one that has been hanging out on the dish dryer wasting space. Well, waste space no longer, dispenser friend. Because you are now a semi sweet chocolate chip dispenser that is convenient to hide on the high shelf in my room until the kids aren’t around. It’s like tic-tacs, but better. It’s unlikely that I will have a one-and-a-half-calorie experience with this method, but I’m feeling really good about it just the same.

Distance

I walked my Dad’s property in my mind this morning. I am currently unable to visit it in person partially out of unwelcomeness and partially unwillingness.

A few months before I was born Dad purchased the property, which is in Virginia, sight unseen from Germany. He and my mom were living there because he worked as a mechanic for an aircraft company that was contracted with the US military. My Dad loved that land before he ever set foot there the way a father loves his unborn baby. Even though he hadn’t met it yet, he was bonded to it. His best friend (who he bought it with) took pictures and sent them overseas and my Dad lined them up just-so and pinned them to a cork board so he could see the landscape. It was nothing back then, 80-some acres of hills and fields in a very remote part of Virginia. He loved that place with his whole soul, so much it nearly consumed him. He dreamed of living there, which was impossible (or seemed to be–he later made it happen). There was no running water or electricity in the area and with nearly a mile long rocky mountain driveway only a 4 wheel drive could make it in. Sometimes even those couldn’t get in. I remember going there as a kid. It was one of my favorite things. We’d wake up early on a Saturday and drive up with coolers packed for the weekend. We would stop along the way for fried chicken from Bojangles and I’d always get queasy winding the mountain roads to get there. It was so worth it when we did get there, though. It was miles away from the bustle of a city. It was crisp and fresh and in a sweet way, terrifying. I learned a lot of things there; real, raw, experiential things. I remember believing I’d struck gold when the glimmer of mica caught my eye while playing on a dirt hill and the way my heart fell when Dad told me it wasn’t. I learned other things that made my heart fall there too. I learned by experience what it feels like to say goodbye to your hero. It’s the realest, rawest truth I think I’ve ever learned, with some close seconds to follow.

Dad had his wife call me on a Thursday. It was his eighteenth month since a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. A mole on his scalp had gone and turned our worlds upside down.  His health took a sharp decline that day and he asked her to call me. I went to see him that very hour. It was raining as I drove the mountains and valleys to get there and for the better part of the almost two hour drive I cried out to God aloud. I didn’t beg Him for my Dad to magically not have cancer, I didn’t beg Him to make the whole thing a bad dream. What I did beg for and plead for was for Him to be ever present in the experience and that my Dad would know Peace, Comfort and Love. And I begged Him to help me survive losing my Dad. That sounds trite when I read it, but with my history of manic depressive illness (I know there’s a new name–bipolar disorder– but I always felt like the old label describes me best) I knew my survival could legitimately be an issue.

I did survive. I’m still surviving. I’m almost 9 months in to my life on the planet without my Dad. It’s the heaviest weight my heart has ever had to bear. So heavy it sort of shut me down for a while. I had to move through that to be able to do life. It felt like wading through jello, but with an added disorientation. In the midst of navigating that, for a variety of factors, it was made clear to me that I was no longer welcome in that place and that none of my father’s personal belongings would be made available to me either. I’m not someone that cares a thing about money, but I do love sentimental items. I would have loved to have the Christmas ornaments I made for him when my brother and I were kids, or a pocket knife or a shirt. I want to be a bigger person than to need a physical thing to remember my Dad, but if I’m giving myself grace I think that’s just a way we all grieve. Either way, I have no choice other than to accept the way it is and the fact that for now, the only option is to walk the land in my mind.

I close my eyes and call on memory to drive me there. I know just the way it feels to start up the driveway from the dirt road. I know just the way the car would move when we turned this way or that. I can nearly hear the scratches of a thin, stray branch against the car window. It’s a feeling of 37 years worth of drives into the hollow that stir in my soul, better than any video I could take. And once the car stops and I go to “get out” my feet feel many different ages at once. The six year old me is queasy and stretches and pulls in the fresh air as teenager me hauls board games into the little cabin Dad built. Simultaneously the twenty-something me laughs with my Dad on the porch and the thirty-something me unloads a car full of kids, eager to spend time riding on the all terrain golf cart with “Bear” exploring the same land I grew up on, the land where my Dad’s body was buried; far from my reach.

My son is five, he says we should take flowers and hold hands at his grave and pray. The mere idea makes my breath catch and my heart drop. It physically hurts when it happens, and folds me up in sorrow. I don’t know what would happen if we went without permission. I’m not sure I’m willing to find out right now. I haven’t been there since his funeral, but even then I had begun to detach from the place, from the tangible parts of who he was and what belonged to him. Sitting in the classic wobbly chair on a fake grass mat under a tent I processed a lot of things. I stared right into the eyes of the old preacher (a friend of my Dad’s) and he into mine as he spoke of the promise God made when He sent Jesus. I knew when I walked away from his casket that sweltering afternoon it would be a long time before I might be near him again. That has proven both true and false. He is near my heart each day; in my memory of his voice encouraging me to persevere, in my voice as I pronounce words the way he did and in the way my hands and feet look like his. He is as near to me as ever. I often wonder if heaven is much closer to us than we think and that because of our limitations as people we just won’t understand until we are there.

2 wrongs

I put my debit card in my pocket the other day and forgot to take it out of my jeans. I didn’t spend any money the next day so I didn’t notice it wasn’t in my purse. Then the next, next day I picked the jeans off of the pile of clothes in my room that are too clean to wash and too dirty to put away and wore the jeans again–American eagle specifically says not to wash often to “maintain the character of the denim” or something like that and I love them for the reduction of laundry (and guilt). I was rushed that morning (and every morning because 3 kids under 6) and I headed out the door without my purse. I didn’t realize until I pulled up to the drive-thru at Dunkin Donuts to get my life-fuel: coffee, because 3 kids under 6. Feeling defeated, I was about to drive away when I remembered that I had accidentally left the debit card in my jeans and it was still in my pocket. I don’t know of many times when two wrongs make a right, but if you love coffee like I do you know how right that styrofoam cup felt in my hand that morning. Later, I thought about how two mistakes had happened and yet I had received exactly what I needed. Then I remembered old mistakes too numerous to count that are scattered throughout my past: misuse of my body, turning to the wrong people and things for comfort among others. I recalled fresh mistakes too, a snappy word to my husband, haughty eyes in the morning rush, forgetting gentleness and kindness and gratitude, giving in to selfishness and anger. Yet I always receive what I need in life. I’ve always believed God worked things for our good, but when I look at the real world example of my own life and all the wrongs made right and I know it to be true. And I’m so grateful.

Direction

One of the last things my Dad said to me in the weeks before his death was “it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there, as long as you’re headed in the right direction”. It’s embarrassing, but true that he was referring to my clutter problem and specifically my laundry room, but it applies to most of life. I wrote the quote on an index card this week and tucked it in the corner of the bathroom mirror. There’s something about looking at oneself a mirror. A moment of self evaluation. My Dad talked about that too. About being the kind of person that you can be proud of when you look in the mirror. I see the quote often and simultaneously, my reflection. I ask myself many times a day, “am I headed in the right direction?”…sometimes that means “did I create more laundry than I washed?” And sometimes it means “did I mess up and hurt someone’s feelings out of my own brokenness?” But all the time it helps me remember that progress is more important than perfection. And sometimes small victories aren’t small at all. None of us will ever be whole on this earth. God promises that after we leave here but not while we’re of this world. None of us will ever get “there”. It’s imaginary! Like “normal” is imaginary. The journey is the part that is real. And the direction is what matters.