Friday, September 29, 2017

I Was Loved Like That

There is a force that marks the busyness of fall, the inevitable hustle of the school year.

Days start early with big cups of coffee and bigger bowls of oatmeal and end late with practices, activities and the need to soak up Vitamin D before Daylight Savings time brings darkness on your way home from work.

There are things to remember like homework, quizzes, group projects, casual days, where you put your retainer and that deoderant matters. 

And the laid back coolness of summer falls on its' face as parents try to remember picture money, birthday presents, ballet tights, who's taking who to soccer and what it is that you had to get at Target, yet again.

And meanwhile, work doesn't stop, laundry grows, something is still sticky under the refrigerator, the pesky eye exam must be scheduled and school lunches are never ending.

And in between the sighs and sometimes the yells and many times feet barely in front of the other, you remember, I got to love like that.  Not everyone gets to be leaned on and counted on in this way.  And you realize, this is a window.  This need, in this way is temporary and surely, fleeting.

***

When I was certain that I could not give another part of me, Claire came bounding up the stairs.  "Good night, mama.  I'm not going to have another dream like the one last night.  You know, when the toad was standing on the stairs and screamed to eat me.  And you said, Not today, Toad. Not today.  No more nightmares tonight."

To which I replied, "That's a good thing, Claire.  Only sweet dreams for you."

Sometimes, being a hero in a dream, making macaroni and cheese for dinner, letting him stay up way past his bed time, helping to study for the 58th Geography test, buying fabric that will only be turned into another pile project collecting dust in my house, telling them today will be the best day ever and really meaning it...gives you a smile, a hug, a look of gratitude (even if it's unspoken) that says, I couldn't do it without you.  And in that moment, you get to know that I was loved like that.  A way that is hard fought and lives most of its' life in the mundane routine...but is incredibly sweet and true.




Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Safe + Strong

There are a few undeniable things that I know to be true of myself.

Since the age of 12, I have loved coffee.  Not a little bit.  More than you can imagine.

I am obsessed with books and newspapers.  Not the ones you read on a phone or an iPad or a laptop.  The physical ones that you hold in your hands, spread on your lap, and because you cannot help yourself, mark up with copious marginal notes to go-back to, when you need a reminder.

I like stories and I don't mind if they're made up.  Being in the presence of an engaging story teller is orgasmic.  And I love both a good character and a twisty plot.

I was born to be a mother.  And to that end, I am grateful (even with and especially because of the chaos) to God for the gift of Sam, Kate and Claire.

I mean it.  When I was little, I walked around carrying babies.  I thought about what I would name them and what I wanted for them (a real, tangible relationship with God, a strong, rooted family that they could always go home to, a rigorous liberal arts education coupled with a study abroad experience, true friends to share in the fun and the heartache, a partner who really gets them and wants to build a life of love, and a passion that if they're lucky, they can call a livelihood.)

And I knew from the moment that they came that I wanted to be the primary influence in their lives.  I wanted to read and share my love of language.  I wanted them to paint and create and grow and test and triumph all within a safe container.  I wanted to know them...deeply.



And to that end, I have always, always sought to protect them.  Not a little bit.  A lot.  I have taken the role of advocate for their physical, social, emotional and spiritual being very seriously. It matters to me who they spend their time with, how we talk to each other at home, that their opinions are validated and that their interests are cultivated.

I suppose it was fine while they were young to prescribe such a life.  But in six months, Sam will be a teenager.  And the concept of crafting a bubble of defined experience is no longer exclusively helpful.

The dichotomy of parenting is that we want two things simultaneously: safety and strength for our children.  And we all know that the only way to earn stripes of grit is to weather storms of uncertainty...the ones where no one is guiding the boat, except for you--no matter how much your mother wants to throw herself at the tidal waves and tell them to back the fuck up or she'll cut em. 

No, in order to ensure that we're raising independent, self-sufficient, capable young people is to give them room to fall.  And pray that they fall within a recoverable zone.  Or, that if they hit rock bottom, that they know we will be there as they claw their way back out.

And, if I'm being honest, that makes me want to vomit. 

I understand the theory of tough love, the reasoning behind letting your kid suffer the consequences and letting your little ones make their own mistakes...but it is definitively not an easy one for me to stomach. 

And yet, I must.  If I don't, my children will either rebel and go on a heroin binge or die in the wildnerness or live with me for the rest of my life...none of which seem appealing to me.

So, the question becomes...how do we keep them safe and make them strong, so that they can go into the world prepared for joy and heartache and not die a million deaths, while they fuck up and try to figure it out?

This is the work that I'm struggling with as I try to stop doing things for my son, so that he can grow into the man that God intends him to be.

If you have an extra prayer in your back pocket, shoot me one while you're drinking coffee and reading the paper and tell me a story of how it will all work out. This mama is slowly, but surely, learning the value of letting go.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Age Into Wisdom

I am 42-years old.

Like most women, I'm adept at hiding my age. 

I color my gray.  I wax my upper lip.  I run on a regular basis.  And, I pay good money to apply masks, oils, cleansers and sun screen while ingesting probiotics, vitamins and green drinks, in the hopes of concealing what my body is designed to do...decay.

This isn't odd given that society values youth.  We want to appear as though the years have been kind, especially as we stare down the second half of the show.

*** 

The advent of progress in modern medicine, industrialization, technology, the spread of information and globalization has made us believe that we harbor incredible control over our destiny.  And yet, the one thing we do know is that we are mortal.  One day, we will die, and we have no idea which day that will be.

No one knows this better than my mother.  She has spent nearly 20 years sharing the final years of life with residents of a local nursing home. Mothers, fathers, physicians, teachers, scientists, artists, husbands, wives, cyclists, economists...you name it, these people had big, beautiful, robust lives.  And regardless of the massive advancements they've witnessed, there are some nuggets of wisdom that are timeless.

The first is that there's no need to long for your 20's or 30's or 40's or (fill in the blank), because the truth is that you never lose the past parts of yourself.  You take all of it with you.  The blessings.  The fuck-ups.  The lessons learned and the one's you still can't quite figure out. And the beauty is that you have perspective.  From this side of the fence, you can see what mattered and what was just bull shit.

Secondly, when you're dying, you just remember who you loved.  You don't remember what you were mad about or who wronged you.  If anything, you wish you'd forgiven the thing you can't really recall long ago, because you'd love to give them one more hug or see their smile.

Next up, slow down.  Nearly everyone I know is plagued by some form of anxiety.  The constant race for more, shinier, better is exhausting and down right debilitating.  What we all really long for is  time.  Time to savor...everything.

Stop fixating on your personal happiness and share your gifts with another.  Joy comes from service.  You know what you have to offer, give it to the world.

Surrender to the unknown.  Sometimes, there are no answers and that's okay.  It is what it is.

And finally, to age is to grow a sense of peace and humility about the all-encompassing gift that you have been given, which is the gift of life.  So, if you can still run, jump, hug, have sex, laugh, cry, somersault...well, then, by God, do it without judgment, without reservation.

Today is a gift at every age.  May we humbly and graciously embrace it.




Monday, September 18, 2017

Kelly's Hot Mess Celebrates 6 Years!


I remember it vividly.  I was sitting in a Starbucks six years ago, exhausted.  My son, Sam was six.  My daughter, Kate was four and my youngest daughter, Claire was 9-months old.  I ordered a piping hot Venti Americano with extra cream and began to guzzle.

I was 40 pounds overweight.

My house was beyond disarray.

My hamper was begging me to do laundry.

My brain and my heart were flowing with thoughts that wouldn't leave and weren't getting better by feeding them.

I was knee-deep into being a stay-at-home mama and in that moment, other than sleep (which was sporadic and minimal), I had not a lot to call my own, including going to the bathroom.  My life felt in every way like a hot mess.

And so, I started writing.  About everything.  My time at Target, shit my kids said that no one would believe unless I documented it, my decision to start running, every race including a marathon that I ran, my desire to be a writer and to one day get a piece published, my dreams for my children, my love of everything associated with the word fuck and a cup of coffee, the challenges of marriage, sex, masturbation in the steam room at the gym, Catholicism, home repairs, politics, drugs, music, playlists, the desire to savor every moment while simultaneously wanting to run away, death, cancer, mammograms, divorce and I guess everything in between.

And I published my work...620 posts to date on the blog.  And then, I shared them on Facebook, Instagram and from time-to-time on Twitter.

I shared them, because I needed to know that I was not alone.

And then you showed up.

In all of your messiness, too.  And we commiserated.  And we celebrated.  And we cried.  And most of us have never met or seen each other in years (for some, it's been decades).

I've been at the gas station, the library, the grocery store, the coffee shop, my high school reunion and my kids' school and some of you have introduced yourself and said, "I read your blog.  Thank you."

And, I say, "God no.  Thank you.  You don't know how much I appreciate it."

And so to that end, I say, thank you for letting me share my insane, crazy, beautiful, mundane, messy life with you.  Just knowing that you are there, means more than you know.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Savoring Sam

I was feverishly working on some grading for my class, when my husband came in and placed this video in my lap.

video




Tears swelled in my eyes.  I remember it like it was yesterday.

Sam was 2.5 years old and Kate was a few months old.  I had just started staying at home and was knee-deep into finding my sea legs.  That was 10 years ago.

In many respects, not much has changed.  We still use the hell out of that white Kitchen Aid mixer.  Sam really likes butter.  We frequent the bookstore or the library at least once a week.  Sam still asks if he can have just a little bit more and usually, I acquiesce...and then, he pushes for a little bit more and I acquiesce and then, he takes a ginormous bite, because well, if a little is good, more must be better.

The thing that has changed is that in 6 months, he will be a teenager.  And in traditional adolescent development form, he pushes lots of boundaries.  It's his job.  He's supposed to see how much he can get away with.  And, being his mother, I'm suppose to pick my battles.  And, then when I do, we fight.

He's tenacious.  He doesn't like to back down.  He knows what he wants and when he wants it...usually, now.  He learned to yell from me.  And, I really, really like to raise my voice.  I can enjoy a good condescending rant and I know what it means not to take the high road, even when it's my job to model what it looks like.

Not long ago, I ran into a mom with a baby at the check out line at Target.  The baby was wailing and the mom was doing the 'hold her with one hand while you painstakingly try to put every last tube of tooth paste, greeting card, pair of socks, macaroni and cheese box on the conveyor belt' thing. 

I wanted to hold the baby (well, I didn't, she was full of snot and I don't miss that) or put the items on the belt for her.  But I know what that feels like and you just want to get in and get out without incident.  So, I just waited quietly behind her and didn't say anything, because she certainly didn't need my two cents.

But in my mind, I was silently saying...even though she's screaming, she wants to be held by you more than anyone...more than her friends, more than her siblings, more than her daddy.  Savor that.

Even though you're exhausted and it's been two days since you showered and you don't even know why you ventured out of the house, you're better for it and you're going to be amazed at all of the incredible, super human things you can do as a mother.  

That little girl in your arms will unhinge in you in ways that you cannot even imagine.  You will want to throttle her.  You will scream and yell and flail and ask her how she could be so ungrateful.  You will think about running far, far away from your abode.  But then, other times, you'll see her...the beautiful, amazing, extraordinary, unpredictable, make you more proud than you could ever imagine young lady and you'll think, it was worth it.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

God Don't Make Me

I've seen a lot of things in 42 years of life.

Friends and family diagnosed with cancer that I hope to see again in Heaven.

Friends diagnosed with cancer that I high-five in the park while running.

Dear friends who have lost their babies in the womb and others that were given minutes, days, precious weeks with them before they had to say goodbye.

Other friends who have watched their partners walk out the door, while they picked up the pieces.

Mothers and fathers who have lost their jobs, their quality of life, their will to live.

Hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods that have ravaged homes, neighborhoods, communities, memories and turned people into refugees fleeing the only life they've known.

I've seen children abused, neglected, humiliated and yet, hopeful, yearning not to repeat familial cycles as they beg for a shot at a dream.

Alcohol and drug use.  Rehab.  Accidents.  Tirades.  Promises that it won't happen again.

When you live long enough, you realize that the world is broken and that humanity is infinitely fragile.

And when you're in the thick of whatever you've been given, the first question or cry that comes to mind is, "Why?" and then, "When will it be over?"And finally, "Please, God, don't make me do this."

***

Not long ago, I was sifting through old letters and family photos, while trying to decide what I could do to catalog or memorialize them, I remembered a talk with my grandma while she was dying.  She lost her own mother when she was 16-years old and as an only child had to grow up quickly to care for her father.  Toward the end of her life after battling multiple forms of cancer, poked and prodded regularly with needles that could barely get at thin, withering veins, she said, "When times are tough, dive into the pain.  It's the only thing that will set you free and bring the joy."

The day before she died, I drove all night to get home and lay down next to her in her bed.  She couldn't talk, but I remember the Hospice nurse saying that she could hear.  I told her, "I'll live into the pain." 

It's a tricky thing.  No one wants to suffer or hurt, especially in a prolonged way.  There are times when a diagnosis is unveiled, but other times, it's smaller things on the horizon that we know we must find a way to endure (bad work situation, rough patch in a marriage, child struggling at school, an unforeseen expense) that we really don't want to.  And in many respects, feel like we're good people and we shouldn't have to.

But then, I remember what my grandmother said, "The only way out is through, even if you don't want to."  And so, it is.  The only way to experience the deepest beauty of joy is to experience the belly of sorrow.  Even so, I still cry out, "God don't make me."

Saturday, September 9, 2017

The Woman with the Flowers

I've lived in my home for 13 years.

And since my time in the neighborhood, I make a near daily ritual of walking or running to three adjacent parks.  On my path, I regularly see the "Flower Lady."

She fashions long gardening gloves, a thick, wide-brimmed hat and a chocolate colored coat that resembles a cloak wrapped tightly around what appears to be an 80-90 year old body.

In oppressive temperatures with no skin exposed, she tends her gorgeous flock of flowers.  Sunflowers, dahlias, hydrangeas, hollyhocks, peonies, lilacs, daisies...are all watered, pruned, plucked, weeded and loved.



And because she has a corner home on a busy street that I cross to make my way down a boulevard, I invariably bump into her and always smile.  She never speaks, rarely gives eye contact and almost always appears as if she's in her own world.  This has been going on for years.

Until one day, I saw a sign in her yard touting a book that she'd written and it stopped me in my tracks.

She's a novelist?

I vowed that the next time she was out, I would introduce myself, compliment her on her colorful flowers and ask about her writing endeavors.

That was a few days ago.

I tried, but no go.  She was knee-deep in the thick of her gardening practice, not interested in engaging a passerby.

And so, I started making up stories about her.  Maybe she lost her husband?  Maybe she isolates herself and tends her flowers to take away the pain?  Maybe she's a world renowned horticulturist?
Maybe she's dealt with people her whole life and just wants to be left alone?  Maybe this will happen to me after my children are grown and gone...I too will tend my plants outside and bang books away inside?

It's funny the stories that we invent about the people we see all the time but have never spoken to...the ones that we think we know...the people who make our coffee, hand us our dry cleaning, give our change at the toll, sit next to us on the subway.  Are they like us?  Could we be friends?

I imagine that if I pressed, she would talk to me.  And maybe she will the next time that I come running by, but until then, I'll admire her flowers and the spirit of writing into old age and the prerogative to share and not to share as life marches on.