Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Day of Heaven and Hell

I was driving my youngest to preschool when I got a text from a good friend.  It went something like this...

"If you could replay one day from your life eternally that represented Heaven on earth and likewise, Hell, which ones would they be and why?

Apparently, she was listening to a radio program that asked this question and she started pondering it.

Immediately, I retorted back with something shallow and not well thought through,  "Heaven would be a continual day at the spa and Hell would be a day of doing laundry and dishes and making lunches for all of eternity."

And then, she sent back an extraordinary message that really captured her most perfect day and the perfectly fucked up one.

And it was sobering.

We all have different versions or visions of mini-Heavens and Hells on earth.  We know what it feels like when our head hits the pillow and we're truly happy in our hearts, grateful for the gifts that we didn't deserve that all seemed to fall into place, just for us, right in the moment, all in a days time.  Similarly, we know how devastating it feels when the worst of life's circumstances and the most tragic of times fall upon us and it's all we can do to pray for a new day wishing it all never happened.

These glimpses into pure joy and pure heartache remind us that we're mortal, that our time on earth is finite and that everything except for the relationships we nurture and cultivate is disposable.

And so, I started wondering, are the Heaven days just a perfect gift?  Nothing that we worked for or that we earned, just a nugget of joy to be enjoyed?

All the same, are the mini-Hell days given to us so that we might learn something through the pain and despair or are they equally as random with no larger, more profound life lesson attached?

If you don't believe in an afterlife, are these experiences or encounters on earth windows into the dichotomy that exists all around us?  Heaven/Hell...Good/Evil...Love/Hate...Joy/Sorrow.

I don't know.  I just know that it's easy to recall when you had the perfect day and when you had the farthest thing from it.  Moments of Heaven and Hell trapped within our limited understanding as we journey through this life.

So, as I ended my texts with her, here's to many more Heaven days and thicker skin to endure the Hell ones.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Make Amends

We'd been talking about it for weeks.

Our middle child, Kate (7) was preparing to make her First Reconciliation (sacrament whereby one confesses their sins to a priest and asks for forgiveness) last night and she was feeling anxious and unsure.

Why do we do this, mama?

One of the most important skills you can learn in life is how to make amends for the ways that you've hurt yourself or others in this world.  


Part of being human means that you're going to make mistakes.  You're going to say and do things that will hurt others and you need to be remorseful and to ask for forgiveness.  You don't need to confess your sins to a priest to be forgiven.  God is always with you.  At any time and all the time, you can talk to God about what's weighing on your heart or mind.  Maybe you haven't treated a friend very kindly at school or maybe you've been picking on your little sister or fighting with your brother.  At any time, you can pray to God and talk to Him about making better choices and being more loving.  Sitting down with a priest just helps you to practice and to be accountable for your behavior to another human being.

Are you going to do it too?

I am.

What are you going to say?

I think I'm going to share that I'm sorry for the ways that I don't appreciate the many blessings in my life and that sometimes, I look at other people's lives and think that mine would be better if only I  had their things.

That's a good one, mommy.  I think I'm going to say that I lied.


Not like a big lie, but kind of a lie.

You can share anything that you want.

Going to Reconciliation helps you when you need to say I'm sorry to someone face-to-face. It's not an easy thing to do.  You may be embarrassed or really sad or scared.  But no matter what, when you've hurt another, you need to let them know how sorry you are for what you've done.  It's called making amends.  And even if they don't accept your apology or forgive you, you still need to try.  It's one of the most important things we can do to take care of each other in the world.

Sorry that I'm mean sometimes.

Sorry that I yell sometimes.

Sorry that I don't say thank you all of the time.

Sorry that I rush you more than I should.

I love you.

I love you more.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Unfolding of a Character

You stayin warm?...

I know, right...I'm dyin on the vine out here. Everythings one ginormous, fuckin icicle.

It was gettin old and needed new tires, but I never imagined it would break down when it's two degrees outside.  When is this bus gonna get here?

That blows. Where you headed?

To my mom's.  She needs help with her groceries and other stuff around her apartment. You?

Shit. Work...where else would I be goin at 7 in the morning?  

Bus pulls up.  Julia and Dylan get on.

My friend and I were lamenting about how hard it is to convey dialogue in a short story format.  You want the reader to feel what it feels like to be a middle-aged, single mother down on her luck sandwiched in between her two dependent kiddos while also managing the needs of her ailing, elderly mother.  And, a brilliant, punk ass kid in his early 20's who can't quite get it together, resolute on rebelling against the system but trapped by it all the same.

Without a messenger, the only thing you have is words and unfortunately, so much of the meat in dialogue happens in the non-verbal...the ways that we look at each other or look away or touch the other or want to, but don't.

And so, as Anne LaMott teaches, you try to get under the skin of the character and inhabit it, so that you can clear as a pin point articulate what they would and would not do.  The tough part is when you you're not a single mother or a punk kid in his early 20's.

So, you just keep at it...banging it out, erasing, rewriting, rereading, reimagining if the whole thing is plausible and if it's not, can you suspend the reader's disbelief long enough to entice them to come on the journey?

Yesterday, after school, while getting Kate (7) ready for ballet, she asked me what I do at my computer.  I told her that I'm usually doing one of three things: writing, paying bills, or listening to music or all three.  And then she said, what do you do when we're at school?  To which I responded, that list is much longer.  And then she said, what did you do before we were here?  And I said, you mean before you were born? Nodding her head yes, I replied, I can hardly remember.

And it's true.  Just as I'm inventing characters for stories, I feel like I'm constantly reinventing me.  It's the nature of the story, the journey, the unfolding of the life.  And much as I'm completely oblivious to where the story line will go with Julia and Dylan, I'm equally as unsure about myself.

The good news for both are that the possibilities are limitless.

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Lived

It was really cold this weekend...really cold.

The kind of cold that has you curled up in fleece and flannel drinking copious amounts of peppermint tea praying that you have enough milk in the fridge because you can't bear to go out into the wind.

But finally, on Sunday morning, I grabbed my boots, headphones, a shovel and headed out to do my part.

And while my fingers were frozen and I was cursing the polar vortex above us, this song came on Pandora...

I don't know why I hadn't heard it before.  But it hit me.

A few of the lyrics in particular.

Hope that you spend your days
But they all add up
And when the sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup

I wish that I could witness
All your joy and all your pain
But until my moment comes
I'll say...

I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second
That this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived

And in that moment, I realized, that there's so many things, so many experiences, so many parts of their lives that I won't get to witness.

If I'm lucky, I'll get to see my children fall in love, maybe find a partner to share this crazy life with, have children of their own, start their own businesses, travel to far off lands...who knows? 

But they will live (God willing) for so many more moons beyond the time that I'm here.

And so, more than anything, I want them to jump at every experience, to show up even when they're unsure, to get back up again when it didn't work out, to embrace the hard stuff, to leave it all out on the field and to know that in my brief moments here that I tried my best to do the same.

All of it really is such a gift.  So, why not live it broken bones and all?

I don't know how much time had passed while I'd gathered all of these thoughts.  I just know that the drive, the walkways, the patio and the car were all cleared when I looked up at the sun and thought, my back hurts.  But it's done. 

And then it was on to hot cocoa, whipped cream, Scrabble and living the life I've been given for that day with the people I love.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Heart of Understanding

I woke up this morning with a long to-do list feeling less than.

It's not an unusual emotion for me which is why it's both exhausting and debilitating to give in to the feelings that I'm not enough on a fairly regular basis.

Planning my day while carelessly sifting through my news feed, I came across a headline that a few days ago, an amazingly holy man, Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hahn was admitted into a hospital suffering from a brain hemorrhage.

If you're not familiar with Thich Nhat need to get yourself to a local bookstore or peruse Amazon for one of the 100+ books he's written and savor your acquaintance.

As a brief overview, he's a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk who has dedicated his 88-years to a life of non-violence, peace and understanding.  His writings are powerful, poignant, simple, and hard to embrace, especially for this Westerner.

I first found him in my philosophy courses in undergrad and then in my comparative religion classes and finally, by my bedside for life.

The first book I read was "The Heart of Understanding," and on a day like today, the following passage resonates wildly.

In the West you have been struggling for many years with the problem of evil. How is it possible that evil should be there? It seems to be difficult for the Western mind to understand. But in the light of non-duality, there is no problem: As soon as the idea of good is there, the idea of evil is there. Buddha needs Mara in order to reveal himself, and vice versa. When you perceive reality in this way, you will not discriminate against the garbage in favor of the rose. You will cherish both. You need both right and left in order to have a branch. Do not take sides. If you take sides, you are trying to eliminate half of reality, which is impossible.

I spend much energy and time judging the parts of me that are deemed bad or less than...trying to eradicate them in favor of what I think is favorable.  But the truth is, I can't.  I've tried really hard for a really long time and for me, it doesn't work.  In fact the harder I try not to judge or to feel less than, the more that I do.

Instead, I think Thich Nhat Hanh is encouraging us to live with both.  You can't know the deliriousness of joy until you've felt the gut wrenching cringe of sorrow.  You can't appreciate unconditional, nonjudgmental love until you've been slapped with selfish, all-consuming behavior.  You can never extract the bad, the hurt, the fear, the wrong, the evil...the best you can do is to recognize that it exists alongside the good.

The journey is to journey with both of them forever.

It's a daunting task.  But unfortunately, it's not negotiable, it's the beauty and the pain of life.

The faster that we stop fighting and the sooner that we embrace both sides, the quicker we are able to savor all that life has to offer.

I pray that I can have 88-years to live out these ideas.  What a beautiful life.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Target Never Disappoints

Let me begin by sharing the items in my cart at the check-out lane:

  • (1) Zombie Strike Targeting Scope Clear Shot Nerf Gun
  • (1) Mega XD N-Strike Elite Nerf Gun
  • 5 million Zombie Strike and Mega N-Strike bullets
  • 1 Frozen Elsa doll
  • Heavy Whipping Cream
  • Coffee
  • Sugar
  • Flour
  • (1) Lemon Verbana Soy Destress Candle

It's 4:00 in the afternoon and my favorite midtown Target store is in desperate need of back-up cashiers, because this is what my daughters are doing...leaning into each other and through clenched teeth and shaking faces, they're screaming in operatic voices, "Let it GOOOO...LEEETTTT ITTTT GOOO...TURN AWAY and SLAM THE DOOR...I DOOONNN'TTT CARE WHAT THEY'RE GOING TO SAY...LET THE STORM RAGE ONNNNN...."

I'm quietly losing my mind trying to decide if I'm going to spike my Americano before or after I get into the car. 

And then, he pulls his cart up behind mine, assesses my stuff and says, "Wow, looks like it's one of those days, huh?"

Um, yeah.  I guess. (Girls still singing.  Sam begging for gum.)

To which he turns to my kids and says, "Hey kids, give your mom a break," smiling while he's scolding them.

No, it's good.  They're fine.  

"No need to know when enough is enough.  And sometimes, when it doesn't come from mom, it's received better."

Actually, ass wipe, my kids don't acknowledge strangers and if you're gonna take on that crusade, you'll have to hunt down every other aisle of kid in this joint.  It's the nature of the Target game.

I didn't really say that, but I just turned around and never spoke to him again while I told my kids that I loved their singing.

I know I've said it before, but I really hate it when random people interject their helpful ideas onto my children.  If my kid is running into oncoming traffic, yes, that's a different deal and much appreciated.  But if I'm hanging with annoying kid behavior in public for a short while, you can too.  We're at Target, not at a fine dining establishment.

And make no bones about it, I tell my kids to simmer down plenty, often with a few choice words...but that's my job, not anothers.

So as we were headed to the car, I snapped this shot of them, to remind myself that they're pretty awesome, even if from time to time, they annoy me and other crazy Target shoppers.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Fail Better

I can't remember what I was listening to...

but I do remember that I was driving and I was alone and it was glorious.

You know those moments where you're zoned on autopilot, driving to some location that you could navigate to in your sleep and all of a sudden, you hear something in the background that catches your attention.

It must have been a program on NPR and the interviewer was quoting the famous Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, to which he said,

"Ever tried.  Ever failed.  No matter.  Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better."

And I was riveted. 

Lately, I've been passionate about the concept of imperfection.  After so many moons of needing to be in control, worried about what others think or how I'm perceived, I've decided that the messy life full of authentic, real, raw relationships is the place I want to be.

I just simply don't have the energy, the means or the interest in putting on a show.

That said, there are parts of me that want to get better and I find that when it gets down to it, I will push, but often stop when it's clear that if I push harder, I will most likely fail.

This happened to me during my most recent race.  I really wanted to PR or set a new personal record.  Once you run a race of a specific distance like a half marathon, you have a benchmark time.  Every subsequent race allows you the opportunity to run it faster or to arrive at a new PR.

Not knowing the course since the race was in its inaugural year, I decided that I would join a pace group.  The question was do I join the group that is 10 minutes faster than my current PR or 10 minutes slower?  Do I start fast and try to keep the pace or do I start slow, conserve my energy and then shoot out of the gate with a few miles left?

I started with the slower pace group because this is who I am at heart...radically fearful that I won't be able to hack the pace.  And then literally less than two miles in, I took off, because that's also the person I am, fearful that I won't actualize my full potential if I don't and not very good at staying the course.

I was jamming for the first 10 miles and then, the monotony of the course hit, my mojo started waning and all of the sudden, I saw my original pace group not far behind me.  Instantaneously, I kicked it into gear and ran as hard as I could vowing that I would leave everything I had on the course.

I PR'd but only by two minutes...not a huge win, but encouraging nonetheless.

In 2014, my mantra was "Fuck Fear."  It served me well.  I ran my first marathon, a 78-mile relay race and a half marathon.  I started writing more.  And I got closer to pushing the envelope with relationships that were important to me.

In 2015, I'm leaning towards, "Fail better."  I want to go bigger, bolder, harder knowing that I'm absolutely going to fall on my face in the process, but that there won't be any regrets hanging by the wayside.

I read today that Sam Simon, co-creator of The Simpsons is dying of colon cancer.  He's giving his $100 million fortune away to charity.  At the age of 59, he said that cancer, while painful and heart breaking teaches you very quickly about what's important.  And it's not money.  It's going after what makes your heart sing and helping others pursue their dreams along the way.

Maybe we should all seek to fail better.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Good Life Halfsy

It had been an extraordinarily busy week.

And of course, I had a jam-packed weekend and could not fall back asleep after I woke up this morning at 2:30.

Today was race day.  My last half marathon of the year and I was full of jitters.

I stumbled into the kitchen and turned on the coffee pot while I fumbled to light a candle and breathe.

Pouring mountains of cream into my coffee and dumping granola into my yogurt, I sat at the kitchen table and tried to remind myself that I'm stronger than I know and that I can endure and I will do this.

Here's me all anxious before we made the trek to Lincoln for the half.

Because the race started at 9am and the kids really love the environment, we decided to take them.  They had fun making signs and getting their water bottles and snacks ready.  I was surprised by how remarkably helpful and engaged they were.  The travel in the car seemed to be going swimmingly. 

Until, my three-year old, Claire quietly said, "I need to go to the bathroom," and then 2.2 seconds later, threw up all over the only outfit that I had for her...which seemed to cause a perpetual chain reaction for her brother and sister who began simultaneously screaming..."ROLL DOWN THE WINDOWS!!!! ....I THINK I'M GOING TO BE SICK!"

We high tailed it into a local fast food joint.  My husband cleaned the car and I cleaned Claire.

With moments to spare, I made it to the start line a little frazzled, but equipped with plenty of hugs, kisses, prayers and encouragement from my fam.  Lesson chocolate milk and iPad usage first thing in the morning on a long car ride.

Sans kids, I saddled up to the start line and thanked God for the beautiful weather, the amazing crowd and the fact that other than a yucky chaf wound from my camelbak, I was starting a race injury free.  It was glorious.

The clock started.  I clicked my Garmin.  Turned up my tunes and started breathing through the fear.

The following are pics of me along the route...

Here's two miles in...

This is six miles in...

Along the way, my favorite signs were:

"Clearly, you can endure...Call Me!" and "Toenails are for Sissies," which was lovely given that I'm a pro at losing them.

All in all, I couldn't believe it, I was running like a rock star and feeling amazing.  All of it was a gift. And then up and over a big hill and through the finish line...a medal and yummy food.

Here's my family...

They were the best part.

So, now, I have to decide what to do in 2015.  What races should I try?  Another full?  A different state?  There's lots of options.  While I may not know what the new year will bring me, I do know that pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and staring fear in the face is an incredible gift.  And for that reason alone, I'll always find myself at a starting line with the hope of crossing the finish line.

Thank you Good Life Halfsy.  You were good to me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

For the Love of Kate

Most everyone who meets her knows that she is my daughter and I am her mother.

This is Kate.

 And this is us.
We are literally two peas in a pod...similar voices, mannerisms and communication styles...there is no denying that we belong to each other.

Except when we're trying to get things done and my house sounds like this...

"KATE....K.A.T.E....where are YOU?  Have you brushed your teeth and laid out your uniform and grabbed your shoes?"

Oh yeah, mama...don't worry...I'm coming.  (ensue singing or humming or reciting of a prayer or a talk between two fairies.)

"For the love of all that is good and holy, Kate...where are you and why haven't you done what I've asked?  We're going to be late."

That's right, problem...I'm on it.

And this is the story of my life with her.  I live 99% of my life in the future and she lives 99.99% of her life smack dab in the present.  She is a budding artist, a constant repurposer of every material she can get her hands on, a dancer, a singer, an illustrator, a lover of color and fabric and a thinker of really big, really bold ideas.

She is not a multi-tasker, a strategist, an activist or a do-er.  No, she is in love with every detail of every moment exactly right now and the concept of time or projects to be completed alludes her.

How can this be?  We're cut from the same cloth.  She's my mini-me.  We're two peas in a pod, right?

And so it was last night as we were trying to finish up a First Reconciliation workbook that I lost it.

"You're not paying attention.  Focus on what we're doing.  You don't need to spend so much time drawing the pictures.  It's the words that matter."

And then I stopped.

I looked into her eyes and she was deflated.  Crushed.  Exhausted.

And I was so upset with myself and my response.  How cruel of me.

Kate's entire world is pictures, color, moments, details.  My world is words.

I turned to her, grabbed her arms, held her and said, "I'm sorry.  I promise to stop rushing you.  Show me what you're creating."  And her face lit up.

Laying in bed last night, I realized that God brings us the people we need on purpose.  While Kate might look like me in many ways, she is Kate and I am Kelly.  She teaches me to appreciate the beauty and the miracle of the here and now.  And maybe I help her to organize the beautiful mess along the way.

I love her to pieces and have to remember that God gave her to me for a short time not to mold in my image, but to help foster her own. 

Because of who we are individually but also interdependently, I see many "show down" moments in the future.  I just have to remember at the end of the day that a hug, an I'm sorry and the belief that it's most important to be who you are trump the necessity to be controlling over another, especially someone you love so much.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mama to Mama Encouragement

There aren't very many people grocery shopping at 9am when you drop your kiddo off at preschool.

There's no line at the in-store Starbucks.

No one's rushed at the deli counter, so they actually smile at you when you take your time to assess which meats and cheeses are on sale.

It's quiet, so you can mindfully check items off your list and methodically make your way aisle by aisle to gather the specific things you want, instead of scooping up shit and throwing it into the cart just to get the hell out of there.

Instead of feeling exhausted, you feel accomplished.

You carefully place your items onto the conveyor belt grouped by how you want them packaged, not stressed by which child is going to whine the loudest for Starburst or worse yet, those God awful, suckers that look like pacifiers...they disgust me.

No, shopping sans kids is a beautiful thing.

So, when I passed a mom in the produce section with a young toddler and a brand new baby who was crying that horrible, gut wrenching, won't stop sob that indicates that they don't want to be in the car seat or are terribly hungry or both...I gotta admit, the first thought that popped into my head was...

Sucks to be you.

I'm so done with and over the baby days.  And even though my purse still resembles a glorified diaper bag, it does not have a single tube of ointment or bottle or wet wipe to speak of.  Praise Jesus.

Gathering my apples and bananas, I high tailed it into the meat section joyfully tuning out the cries of the infant.  Sipping my Americano, I continued to gather my items and think about what I wanted my day to look like feigning some semblance of control.

And then, I got to the check out line.

She had beat me there.  And God help her, she had her hands full in every way.  Her toddler was screaming for candy.  Her baby was still crying, except that now, she was trying to hold him with one hand while putting the food items on the conveyor belt trying not to drop anything.

I have been there so many times.  I know exactly how it feels.  It is a gut wrenching, sucky, sucky spot to be in and there's nothing you can do except endure it until you can get out to the car to nurse the baby and give the kid his bag of M&M's.

So, I just decided to speak up.

Sucks, doesn't it.

She flipped around with a look of horror.  "I'm sorry."

Oh God...don't be.  You're in the thick of it.  The trenches.  I have three of my own.

"Really? I've only taken them both to the store alone once.  I knew I shouldn't have tried it this morning."

You're doing an amazing job.  I nearly strangled my oldest when he threw a tantrum while I was trying to rock the baby and get the food out of the store.  And really, the only way it gets better is to keep taking them.  Keep practicing.  But really, you look amazing.

"Thank you.  I needed that."

I felt so happy unloading my groceries.  This, I thought.  This is what we need to do.  We've got to build each other up as mamas.  The whole deal sucks at any given time.  It's enough to drive you to fill in any addiction you want.  So, more than ever, we must encourage instead of judge.  It's only been a few years for me since I was in that spot.  It's no fun.  But it's doable and so worth it.

All that said, I was still so, so happy to get in the car and turn on NPR instead of Vacation Bible School songs.  Oh sweet no children bliss.