Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holiday Gatherings

Two days ago, I spent the majority of the day schlepping backpacks and my children in and out of airports.

Travel, particularly, holiday comings and goings bring out the best and worst in people.

Airline attendants adorned in elf hats, brightly colored red and green Santa plaid hand out candy canes as children skip down the walkway eagerly anticipating their grandparents' big smiles and hugs on the other end of the flight.

Juxtaposed to the sweet moments are the harried ones, where someone is frantic to get on the next flight or is grappling with a sobbing little one confined to a seat with painful air pressure that can't be managed when you can't chew gum and unplug your ears.

My absolute favorite, new travel moment occurred in the Phoenix airport when a woman brought her dog into the bathroom and "Reginald" decided to venture underneath his stall and hang out in mine watching me as I tried to take a shit.

Mindful, that this was all kinds of fucked up, I kept waiting for the owner to yank Reginald's leash and force him to go back into her stall.  Instead, she just said, "Come on, Reginald.  Give her some privacy."  To which, he said, "Fuck you...I rather like watching this girl take care of her business." Lovely.

If you can get past the craziness of flying with children especially, when it never fails that one of your daughters will puke up her lunch as you descend over the mountains, causing you to want to barf but requiring you to hold it together because you have to be the grown up...

well then, you'll make it to the dinner table with all of the amazing crazy cats gathered.  And you'll have a little wine and then you'll polish off the bottle and then, you'll open a new one, and realize that you're not driving for a week and that you're cell phone carrier sucks an asshole in the house you're staying in and so, if you're going to garner intelligent dialogue, now's the time to do it...even if you find yourself going on a diatribe about well, the most important subject one can study in school.

To which, the majority of the table responded with math.

And, I thought, that's insane.  It's of course, reading and writing. 

At the end of the day, communication is what makes the world go round and your ability to state your needs while being able to decipher the needs of the other and ultimately, mesh the two...to me, seems vital.

To others, the consensus was that the world is comprised of black and white; right and wrong and that at the end of the day, no matter whichever way you slice it...one plus one equals two.

Pshaw, I lamented.  This is why I hate standardized tests.  They are not a good measure of what one brings to the table.  If you want to know who I am and what I know, sit down and interview me.  Ask me elaborate questions.  Make me probe and give you details.  Life cannot be summed up in multiple choice answers or true and false statements.  The answers to life live in the gray...at least for me.

And this is where holiday gatherings are a hoot.  Because really, when else do you find yourself engaging in these semi-heated, traditionally meaningless diatribes of banter until all you have is time, booze and a head full of thoughts?

Thank God, we didn't talk politics.  I can't easily get home from here and I fear that I lean a little too far left for my better half's family, but I am abundantly grateful that they put up with my wine-induced, feminist soap boxes. 

I suppose that's the beauty of family.  We find all kinds of ways to love each other, especially when it involves opening sparkly packages, gathering around yummy meals and watching our little one's grow.  Here's to the holidays...

Friday, December 18, 2015

Suck a Little Less

I can give you a laundry list of all of the things that I suck at...it's a beaut really...equally as expansive as it is lengthy.

My hunch is that if you're a mother, my list feels similar to yours.

Lamenting about my sick kids and upcoming Christmas travels, my dear friend listened kindly to me as I dumped my shit and then proclaimed, "You know you're going to be a new woman next year.  All you're really longing for is space.  Room to breathe, to write, to run, to not be needed at the drop of a dime, space to be with you, again.  Next year, when they're all in school...well, I think you won't feel like you suck so badly."

After getting off the phone with her, I lugged my kids to Target and became that parent who refuses to referee her kids in the toy aisle because she has to buy birthday presents, teacher gifts and just doesn't give a fuck if the volume gets a little too high because her Starbucks latte that may or may not be spiked with fire water is all that she can muster.

Somewhere between the, "ALL RIGHT, ALREADY...pick a gift and let's round it up," my Kate turned to me and said, "It's okay.  You don't have to worry so much.  Everything's okay."

Instinctively, I wanted to belt out, "Yes I do have to worry or else nothing will get done in this household."  But then, it occurred to me.  She's right.  I don't have to worry...at least not with the frequency that I find myself.  I don't have to be a self-proclaimed mother sucker extraordinaire.

The reason that we can all relate to each other is because at the end of the day, the business of parenthood is physically taxing, emotionally exhausting and spiritually debilitating because it matters.  We care about the well being and ultimate after math of what our kids become.  We pray that they don't grow to carry the same burdens that we feel as adults.  We want to carve out a childhood that fosters all of the hopes and dreams we have for them...and that's fucking hard work when they're sucking the life out of you at every turn.

It's hard.  But it's not impossible.  And, in the end, it doesn't have to be fraught with fear or worry or rage.  I told my friend that I fully expect all three of my children to be paying someone to shrink their brain on a couch.  If they're anything like me, they'll be therapy whores.  It just feels really good to tell someone who doesn't know you and is being paid to listen what keeps you up at night.

That said, I think I can give myself the grace to suck a little less.  There's no need to give two shits about a clean house or folded laundry or any of the random to-do's that I'm constantly pondering.

My hunch is that we're all doing a pretty good God damn job as parents.

We can afford to trust in that and worry a little less...it might make an adult Starbucks beverage at Target taste a little better.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Let the Light In

I think this happens to me every year.

But I forget.

I want to attribute it to the onslaught of gift buying, card sending, preparation for upcoming Christmas travel, teacher thank you goodies, holiday parties, sick children, cold weather, lack of a running routine and general harriedness...but again, I don't know.

I'll grant you that I'm a sucker for change.  A 60-day challenge.  New book club.  Motivational mantra for the upcoming year.  A break-out opportunity of any sort.  My heart skips a beat for newness and most of the time, my general malaise is resolved by doing x, y or z thing and my outlook changes.

But as of late, I just feel sad. 

Sitting both at a fabulous Jason Isbell show last week and strangely enough the following morning at mass, I heard two messages that won't let me go.

The first from the lyrics of Isbell's "Different Days" and secondly, our deacons' homily made me mindful that often the right thing to do is the hard thing.  And that as believers, it's not so much that God is exhausted by our "bad behavior," it's more so, that he's probably bored watching the cyclical patterns of how we live. 

We vow that we believe in God, a higher purpose, a greater calling.  And then, we go out into the world and get sidetracked with our favorite sins or coping mechanisms.  Overcome with guilt and remorse, we repent and vow to do better.  And then, we sin all over again battling the same demons that emerged yesterday and the day before. 

Hence, the sadness.  Is this the human condition?  Can we do better? 

It's a crazy thing staring down the end of a calendar year when you're 40 years old.  Suddenly, you start to become intimately aware of how you've always done it so much so that you can predict exactly what's going to happen after the tree comes down, the stockings get laid to rest, the company finds their way back home and you have to remember to change the year on the checks you write.

There's comfort in that.  The more years you have, the wiser, in theory you should become about all of it.  But sometimes, there's a wiggle, an itch, a fear, a worry that it could be better and you could be laying other things to rest that are hard to do, but often are the right things to let go of.

And maybe, in the new year, it's time to let the light in.

And to find flickers or small openings that deserve an opportunity to emerge because they're illustrations of who you are when you're not afraid or bounding back and forth between habitual old patterns.

I have struggled with fear my entire life.  Fear of embarrassment.  Fear of regret.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear that it's too late.  Fear that I've fucked it up too badly to get a chance at making it better.  Fear that I'm a fraud.  Fear that I'm alone.  Fear that I'm not enough.

All of these statements are true and false depending upon how much credence I give them and whether they live in the light or they slink around in the shadows of the dark.

Instead of being sad or afraid, as I approach the final two weeks of this year and head into the new one, I want to try-on the light and see what it feels like to have it hurt in a good way...letting go of that which doesn't serve me, in the hope that the parts dying to emerge have a safe place to land.

I suppose you never know until you try.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Ode to Claire on Your 5th Birthday

Dear Claire,

Let me begin by saying, how did we get here?

This morning we woke up and you were officially five years old.  Holy smokes!

They say that some children come to their mothers with a deep intention to change them in ways that at the time seem impossible, but later upon reflection are profound.

You, for me are that child.

We couldn't be more different really, you and I...you with your blond hair and petite, sweet little smile and frame.

You who inhabits her body so completely and fully that I'm often exhausted and overcome by the boundless energy, purpose, determination and sheer tour de force that you bring to brushing your teeth and putting on a pair of snow boots.

You with your love of song...any melody...a myriad of tunes...constantly singing, continually moving your arms, legs, fingers and toes to the beat of well, your own deal.

I think you were the lucky one...the third in the row of ducklings...the youngest...but definitively, no longer the baby.  And you'll forgive me when I say that your birth order has imbued you with a gorgeous, raging, truly stunning, "I could give two shits" attitude about fear or what others think of you or what a "little girl" should or should not do.

"Hell yes" seems to be your mantra all wrapped up in a princess dress, a tiara, a crown, mismatched leg warmers, a preferred commando get-up and a staunch belief that macaroni and cheese should undoubtedly be the only meal of choice.

You are loud and brash and strong and tough and you don't. ever. let. up. when by God damn it.  you want. it.  And, I'm not going to lie, it kills me.  Like boiling over the top makes me want to throw that Kraft Macaroni and Cheese cardboard box right in your direction.  But then, I see you working it out in your mind.  It makes perfect sense to you.  So, why not fight for it?  And for that, I give you props and I pray that you never lose your chops or your nerve or your edge.  In so many ways, I want to be you when I grow up.

And this is it for us, Claire Bear.  Our last year home together, just you and me.  Next year, you will be in kindergarten full-time and I will cry.  I'm sure of it.  I'm also confident in the fact that you will not.  You are ready.  Born ready to tackle the unfair world and to bring it to its' knees with your big heart, your tireless love, your cup so incredibly full and your belief that everything is possible if you just want it badly enough.

So shine on, my five-year old.  Make this an incredible year as I know you will.  We couldn't be more proud or grateful to have received the gift of you for another day, another year, another season to learn...even if it taxes the shit out of us...what it means to live your life, all five years of it with gusto and glory.

All my love,


Monday, December 7, 2015

A Moment of Celebration

We're such good partyers.  The whole lot of us.

We get invited, most of the time, off the cuff...to a room jammed full of people--that we either know tangentially or have approximately 2 minutes of common ground with--exploding with poor acoustics and loud music such that we're not really hearing what the other person is sharing, nor most of the time do we care--while simultaneously drowning ourselves in wine, beer or the like.

We want to be entertained--passively receiving stimuli that doesn't require intention, purpose or authentic connection.

The truth is that as a culture, we don't really know how to celebrate...to come together in community with anticipation for the gathering; to create space that accommodates real, raw connection that says, in this moment, above all others, I celebrate you and us and what we mean to each other.

Tonight, I got the rare opportunity to do so.

I've been meeting for one year with a hodgepodge of amazing misfits....women that have come together month over month with intention to bear witness, provide a safe space of encouragement, a container of strength and an indomitable communal spirit that says, I believe in you and what you intend for your life and the world.

In many respects, it has been both the most liberating and exhilarating part of my 2015.

Tonight, as we said goodbye in celebration, we were tasked with writing 2-3 minutes of what we know for sure post this whirlwind of a year.  And because, I am quite literally an open book with the hope of writing a book and staying viscerally connected to what my heart believes...this is what I wrote.

what i know for sure that deserves celebration...

i am a maker of words
a story teller
a bearer of truth
a woman that makes a difference in the world

raw, real, afraid
unsure, bold
a woman who has experienced hurt and sorrow but is not mired in shame

i am a mother of three
brash, bright, wild-eyed beauties
who i yearn everything for
and for whom I have given my everything

strong particularly when weak
rooted in those who have
come before
a bearer of hope and wisdom.

That's it.  We toasted each other, cried, hugged and left with the intent that we would all walk out the door sharing each other with the world--different, changed, grateful and hopeful for 2016.

As we embark upon a season of gathering, both voluntary and obligatory, my prayer is that our hearts can find moments of reflection and wonder as we pause to celebrate, intentionally with one other.  I have a feeling that the intention could change the entire encounter...which may be a celebration in and of itself.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Spirit of Generosity

Maybe its because the volume of arguing and subsequent refereeing this week had been off the charts...that I was taken aback.

Somewhere between my Sunday morning dose of the New York Times, a hot cup of coffee, a quick shower and running out the door for mass, I saw this.

Sam was helping his little sister, Kate read music and master a song for her afternoon lesson.  He was kind and compassionate especially when she was ready to throw in the towel.  He seemed to know how to guide her in a way that was palatable, when she had been kicking and screaming otherwise.  Calm and steady, his approach was both surprising and simultaneously reassuring.  By God, they actually do love and care about each other.

Which is a silly thing to say...but sometimes, well, many times when the shit storms are coming fast and furious, you wonder as a mother whether you did the right thing by having more than one.

And as I watch them maneuver through homework, ballet, friendships, talent shows, family gatherings, sickness and Elf on the Shelf joy...I'm mindful that much to my dismay, they're getting big.  Sam is turning 11 in February and Kate is 8 turning 38...which leaves nothing to be said for our youngest, Claire who turns 5 next week, but believes she's a grown woman as well.

And the truth is that I want a lot for them.  I have really, maybe exceedingly high expectations.  But at the very tippy-top of that list, above all else for a long way before the second item is kindness.  I yearn for them to have a heart of kindness and a spirit of generosity.  And when they see someone in need, I want it to hurt badly enough that they think...what can I do to help?

Paralyzed by watching our latest presidential candidates parade while simultaneously, standing horrified by the mass shootings that now seem to take place at the drop of a hat, I have never been more certain that we have lost sight of one another and that ultimately, in every way, we belong to each other.

And the belonging doesn't have to be in grand gestures, it starts at home.  It starts by putting your arm around your crazy kid sister who drives you bonkers and who on most days you wish would vacate the planet, but for a brief moment you're willing to overlook all of that to help her find a b flat.  It starts by saying, I don't know you, but here's something of mine that I really don't need that you could use and that's enough.

In the end, it's just not that hard.  To be kind to another with a smile or a quarter or a lift or a prayer or a coat...it's just what you do and it doesn't take that much time or skin off your back.

As they grow, I want all three of them to lean on each other.  I want them to have the kind of relationship where they instinctively depend on the other, even if they don't always agree or most of the time, don't.  I want them to model with each other what I hope they'll give to their fellow neighbor.  It's just too important....for today and for always.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sadness in the Season of Advent

I was bent down, hands crossed, hunched over in prayer when I heard a sniffle like someone grappling with a cold.  When I looked up from the pew at Sunday mass, I saw her.

A woman.  Maybe my mother's age doing the exact same thing--head curled over her devout hands, eyes closed, tears streaming down her face.

And it struck me this first Sunday of the Advent season, that the holidays are not only bright and beautiful, filled with magical childhood wonder, hope and promise--but also, sorrowful and sad remembering those who are no longer here to share it with us...along with those who are dying and the recognition that this may be the last family gathering with them at the dinner table or putting an angel atop the tree.

It's also a time of reflection and for some, regret, wonder, heart break and the expectation of the first holiday away from what has been tradition in the past.

As I tried not to watch this beautiful woman asking God for whatever her heart longed for...unable to get her out of my mind...I wanted to tell her, it's okay to cry.  Just as easily as it is to smile in the next moment looking upon all that is left, trusting that with time, it will be okay.  But most people, including me, are afraid or ashamed to cry in front of others.  And likewise, when the person hurting is doing the crying, the receiver has a hard time knowing how to make it better for them.

The lesson for me at mass this morning was that wishing someone a "Merry Christmas" is a beautiful gesture, but at the same time, I need to be mindful that not everyone is in the same place of festivity and holiday cheer.

Sometimes, we just have to be okay with a little sadness in anticipation of beauty around the corner.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Who Would You Be

The tree is up.

The Christmas cards have shipped...at least that's what the email claims.

The Santa Wish Lists have been made.

The first ice and semi-snow has fallen.

Black Friday specials are hitting us from every direction.

And as is traditional with me, when the cold weather hits, I try to stay active but outside of the every- other-day run, I find myself hunkered down in our bungalow with lots of books and a favorite television series. 

I know I'm late to the party, but my new ridiculous obsession is the HBO series "Newsroom," created by the off-the-charts fabulous Aaron Sorkin.

If you don't know it, here's a trailer from the season one premiere...

The show is now knee-deep in it's third season and if I weren't a mother, I swear to God, I would binge watch episode after episode, hour after hour, day after day, until it was done.  As it stands, I've been staying up until midnight for the past few nights savoring every word that the brilliant Aaron Sorkin has written.

And this is the question...if you weren't putting up the tree with all of the ornaments labeled with "Kate 2013" and sweet little hands and angels....if you weren't signing the names and ages of your children to the dutiful holiday card...if you weren't responsible for getting them to and from ballet, piano, football and the like, what would you be doing?

I would be Maggie on the"Newsroom."  Bright, neurotic, incredibly hard working, willing to do whatever it takes to get the story right and in constant dilemma over making her love life work.  And then, I'd be Mackenzie in phenomenal heels running on espresso while she guides the hearts and minds of her senior reporters and producers to make the news, not an entertainment show.

And these are the silly things I think about...what would I/will I be doing when the center of my universe isn't motherhood?  And if I were doing it...would I be happy?

Do you ever play that game with yourself?  Where you re-trace your steps and think?  Hmm...if I'd only have gone to graduate school for that thing or stayed in that city or took that job...would I be in a newsroom?

My husband just laughs at me.  He knows that I can barely stay up past 10pm which means that I can rarely watch the news let alone produce it.  He also knows that I can't stand the idea of hurting someone's feelings let alone ripping into them to ensure that I get the facts precisely and accurately right while being the first outlet to announce it.  He also knows that the idea of being wedded to my job has never really worked for my soul.

But somewhere deep inside, there's a part of me that yearns to know that woman and to see who she'd be if she'd been born in a different age, at a different time, under different circumstances.  Would she live in a major market, catching the scoop with a team of people just as under paid as she convinced that the American people deserve to know the truth?


But most likely, she'd be living in Omaha, Nebraska stringing popcorn and cranberries along the tree figuring out how to keep Santa alive for her children.

Sometimes, though, it's fun to think about life in an alternate time and place.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Exhaustion and Gratitude

'Tis the season...

For all of it, baking pies, decorating cookies, carving turkeys, gathering around tables, breaks from the office or the classroom, travel, families, late nights, bottles of wine, mugs of hot cocoa, screaming, laughing, remembering, waiting for your family member to remind you of that one time that you did that one thing that you wished had just never happened...it's the holidays.

This weird amalgamation of the almost passed over Thanksgiving, Chanuakah, Christmas tree/lights, New Years parties, resolutions and then boom...your ultimate dedication to turn a new leaf and make 2016 your absolute best year ever...just as soon as you get the God damn tree down to the curb along with the fucking Lego boxes that these ungrateful ingrates have left all over the house and your in-laws hit the road and the office lets you have a real vacation without 2,500 emails from John who apparently could give two shits about family time and goes in to "catch-up" over the weekend.

And today, for me, was the start of the madness.  The day before Thanksgiving.

Like a dip shit, I went to Trader Joes along with a bazillion of my closest friends and my three children.  I've frequently lamented how my kids whip around the aisles with those miniature red carts and make minced meat out of the innocent shoppers who are simply trying to make a discerning purchase.  With the volume of traffic today, it left very little room to go crazy.  Instead, the last minute shoppers made stink eyes at my littles and mentally told them to fuck off while they pilfered the shelves searching for organic pumpkin puree.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I thought, before the pies, wouldn't it be fun to let the kids take their hand at making chocolate chip cookies from scratch.  And then the measuring cup filled to the brim with brown sugar got thrown into the Kitchen Aid standing mixer and little bits of chocolate sugar cane affixed themselves to every crevice of my kitchen and the inside of my jeans and bra.

I screamed.  I doled out mean words.  And then, like usual, I felt guilty.  Son of a bitch!  Why can't I just let everything go to Hell in a hand basket and be okay with it?  They're only little for a short time.

Every year, I vow to do better...to spend time being grateful in the moment instead of distracted by the to-do's and the continual being behind the eight ball in the eleventh hour of everything in my life.

And so today, I focus on the serenity prayer and this quote by Marianne Williamson, whom I love...

"The only way to gain power in a world that is moving too fast is to learn to slow down.  And the only way to spread one's influence wide is to learn to go deep.  The world we want for ourselves and for our children will not emerge from electronic speed but rather from the spiritual stillness that takes root in our souls. Then and only then, will we create a world that reflects the heart instead of shattering it."

'Tis the season to make yourself and the world the way that you want to be focused only on harboring the blessings and not the minutia of the to-do's.  No one will remember everything you didn't do...they'll only remember that you showed up, imperfect and real.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Inconclusive Results

Four days ago, I got a phone call.

I was sitting in my driveway, while the kids were gathering up their 452 articles of clothing, backpacks, books, shoes and wrappers.

It was the doctor's office telling me that the routine mammogram I had done the previous week had inconclusive results.  There was an area on my right breast that needed further review which meant a digital mammogram and possibly an ultrasound.

Initially, it looked like the earliest I could get in was 12 days later until I called the following day and proclaimed that someone would see me ASAP or I would make an appointment someplace else.

In the end, I waited 3 days.  Three excrutiatingly long, painful days.

I had a baseline mammogram done when I was 38.  The one I had recently was the second to mark my 40th year.  Everything came back fine from my baseline so I didn't think it odd when my OB mentioned that for convenience I could get my mammogram done in the mobile van in their parking lot.  I mean it did feel a little different walking up to a blood mobile van with a painted boob/flower on the side and I kind of wondered if someone was streaming YouTube video of my ta-tas, but I quickly let that go.

Until the call came.  And then, all I could think of was death.  I made a short list of candidates for my husband to remarry...women that know me and what I would want for my children.  I established that my life insurance policy was intact and hefty enough to keep he and the kids afloat.  I told my closest friends that I wanted lots of "fuck" iterated in my eulogy and printed on the program.  And then, I started thinking about all of the opportunities I'd squandered, the places I didn't go, the people I didn't tell I'm sorry or I love you to or both and then, I lost it.

One by one, my friends started texting me and sharing their own stories.  Apparently, getting a call back or a letter indicating that a mammogram showed an area of concern is not an uncommon thing.  While waiting in the lobby of my daughter's ballet studio curled in the fetal position, a little girls' nanny came over to comfort me and share that she had the same thing happen....and while terrifying, she made it through.

My mother jumped onto the scene like a fucking lioness.  In fact, when it came time to go back for the digital work-up, she went with me, even though the radiology tech looked at us like we were a little on the strange side. 

And when the radiologist walked into the room with the results, he said, good news...your scan is clean...I thought I would cry but instead, my mom and I jumped up and down like school girls. 

And here's what I learned.  Women all over God's green earth should be given permission to talk about this more.  Turning 38 or 40 or whenever a woman goes in for her first boob squish is scary and akward particularly, if she has a history in her family or feels a lump.  Compounded with stories of friends who have battled bravely and blogs documenting the lives of beautiful young mothers who have had to say goodbye too early...make the idea of receiving a phone call or letter with the words 'inconclusive results' a death sentence.

And sometimes, it is very, very serious.

But for many, it is simply the process of using more sophisticated technology to determine a more accurate result that does not mean instant remarriage of your spouse. 

After driving home in the sunshine, this is what I vowed....if you are reading this and one day you receive a letter from your doctor that says, 'inconclusive results,' please call me or email me or text me or scream into the universe and I will hear you.

I will do for you what my mother, family and friends did for me.  I will wait with you.  I will hold your hand when you need to go to that dark place because neither you or I know.  I will run with you and cry with you while the wind is whipping your face.  I will drink with you...anything you want to...wine, coffee, tea (my friend gave me an amazing black tea concoction).  I will pray with and for you.  I will talk with you until you fall asleep.  And when the appointment arrives, I will go with you so that you are never alone.

I count myself lucky this year.  Next year may be a different story.

But what I do know is that I am not special.  I am not unique.  Women have been going through these private scares for decades and they don't have to.

We are stronger together.  We are more courageous united.  And even if we are afraid, we know how to comfort like none other.  The trick is letting someone be there for you during the limbo, the unknown, the no-guarantees wait.  But if you do, no matter what the doctor says, someone, hopefully, many someones will be with you on the other side.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Assemble Your Tribe of Misfits

The other day, my daughter, Kate (or Katherine as she now likes to be called) bounded home from school and belted,

"My favorite people are the ones just like me."

I paused and felt queasy in my gut. 

I've always been a fan of difference and have encouraged my children to gravitate toward people and experiences outside of their comfort zone.

Concerned, I began to probe.  "What do you mean?"

"I like kids who like art, read books about dragons, eat apples with the skins on and share their lunch."

With a huge sigh of relief, I replied, "Me too."

And then, I began to really think about what she was saying. 

I like people who are like me too.  My favorite beings on the planet are those that let me be me.  The ones who I can curse around, share a glass of wine with on my couch and who tell it like it is with no lessons learned just because life is not always easy, even with a positive spin. 

My friends come in every shape and color and some have more years on this earth than I do, but many have less.  They are kind and real and not afraid to say that they don't know.  They show up even when I mess up.  They don't keep score and in general, their cups are more than half full.

Assembling your tribe of misfits gets a whole lot easier when you realize that your energy is finite, there are only 24-hours in the day and the goal of living isn't to impress every last person you know.  Rather, the journey is to find your people and then to nurture them. 

My people have morphed over the years into a varied band of crazy kind, insanely generous, uber creative, hugely plain, lovely people who are trying just as hard as I am to go to the bathroom by themselves and not warm their cup of coffee 4.8 times in a day.

And so yes, I agree with my 8-year old.

My favorite people in the world are just like me.  And honestly, I could give zero fucks about trying to gain admittance into anyone else's tribe.  I like mine.  We're quirky and weird and deeply lovely. 

And most of us like the skin on our own apples.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Old Enough

It was a hard week.

Monday, we discovered that Sam, our 10-year old needs braces.  $4100.

Tuesday, at 8:30am, my husband phoned to say that he needs a root canal.  No fun.

At 9:30am, he called again and asked me to sit down. Our oldest Honda was going to Honda Heaven. It had finally, after 13 years, bit the bullet.

By 1:30pm on Wednesday, we were at the dealership.  And now, I drive a van and am lamenting why I ever judged before.  The side doors rock my world and the fact that I can drown my ears in podcasts while the kids watch a video makes me more happy than you can know, in addition to the fact that all of their friends can pile inside.

To round out the week, on Friday, I started my period and had a mammogram.  I do not advise getting your boobs smooshed onto a plate when your hormones are raging and in general, you don't want a soul to even bump your ta-tas, let alone transform them into a pancake.

That said, here I sit.  Sunday night.  The kids are asleep.  A candle is lit.  Tea is cooling in a cup and I am so tired and so emotional and so well, feeling my station in life.

As my youngest daughter, Claire was brushing her teeth, she asked me if I was 58.  I looked into the mirror with her and said, no I'm 40, why do you ask?  To which she replied, I just know you're old.

And it's true.  I am old.  Old enough to a know a few things.

Money comes and money goes.  In my life, with three children, it feels much more like it ebbs than flows.  But nonetheless, I have more sometimes than others.

Losing your car or your tooth or your job is not an unbearable crisis when you have the counsel of good friends, the love of your family and faith to see you through.

What is hard and scary and seemingly insurmountable is when you read a Facebook update that a friend is enjoying a fun hairstyle before the chemo takes over....or a little girl the same age as yours is fighting a scary and perilous battle with a form of pediatric cancer...or 100+ people who happened to frequent a public place in Kenya or Paris have lost their lives at the hands of utter and absolute unspeakable madness.

These things I am old enough to know.

And there are moments in my life like Thursday afternoon, when I sobbed in my kitchen because I just couldn't breathe wondering how to make it all work six weeks before Christmas.

But then, I breathed.  In and out.  In and out.  Over and over again.

And I remembered, I've been here before.  During college.  In graduate school.  Giving birth.  Quitting my job to stay at home.  Standing along my two-month old baby during a hospitalization.

I can do hard things.  We all can.

We're old enough to know that.

And we're also old enough to know not to judge others in the process of how they do their hard stuff.  Because the good times come just as easily as the hard times.  And sometimes, there's no rhyme or reason or silver lining.  It just is.

My mom told me that character comes when you take it, the good and the bad, and endure, not alone, but fully.  She said, "Wait until you're a few decades older, you'll appreciate how powerful it is to truly know in your soul that the material things that break are meant to, so that your spirit can be tested and your tenacity and faith can rise."

Here's to being old enough to rise to that which matters.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Getting Shit Done

Dead on my feet lamenting that nearly every room in the house had something lying on the floor that needed to be tossed, put away, cleaned or reassembled...I turned to my 8-year old, Kate and said,

"Wouldn't it be great if we could summon the fairies and they would quietly and blissfully put everything away while we closed our eyes and paid them with our gratitude?"

To which she said, "We can all be fairies and work together to make our home shine."

God damn it.  Why do children have to ruin a perfectly good moment by relaying something sentimental and so fucking heartfelt that you have nothing left to do other than to plaster a fake smile across your exhausted-ass face and whistle while you work?

Her comment stuck with me as I've been reading and re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert's latest masterpiece, "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear."  Gilbert's mantra is that all of humanity are co-conspirators with inspiration.  Essentially, ideas are just as real as the people who bring them to life and are literally searching for their partner in crime.

The trick for us makers is to show up every day, open, ready and willing to do the work.  That means putting one foot in front of the other or in my case, one finger upon one letter upon the keyboard or alternately, one pencil stroke upon the paper.

Inspiration much like magical fairies are few and far between.  But what is certain is that much like doing the dishes or the wash or mowing the lawn or gathering the groceries, shit needs to get done.

Honing your craft comes from persistent diligence understanding that every now and again, an incredible idea will land when you least expect it, but until then, you'll be writing, painting, singing, dancing, actively moving and engaging in your life...much as you would pick shit up off the floor and tidy your abode.

It's simply part of what you do everyday.  And the very best line you can say to yourself is that you made a really shitty something or other today versus "I was too scared to even attempt to put myself in the world. Hence, I have nothing but the 'put away dishes' to show for myself."

And so, I can say that as of late, I have quietly and not so gracefully been learning how to make my craft of writing a daily priority...treating it as I would anything else that deserves attention in my life....trusting that over time and with enough consistency, inspiration will shine upon me and I'll deliver a line or two that makes my heart sing, but until then, I'll turn out shit dutifully. Because that's how you get shit done.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Fantasy of Me

In my mind...

I wake up the first time when my phone alarm beeps at 4:30am.  Snoozing is simply a waste of time.

I grab the perfect pair of running pants neatly folded by the side of the bed and kiss my husband wishing him a nice long slumber as I greet the day.

I mozie downstairs and dutifully turn on the coffee pot while intentionally bypassing the ginormous heap of Halloween candy that sits taunting me atop the refrigerator.  Who needs that?  I'd much rather have an avocado, coconut water, kale smoothie.  My body is a temple.  Processed foods are the devil.

I lace up my shoes and trade my expletive laden playlist for silence and the sounds of nature.  Ah, what a blessing it is to be up before 99.9 % of the world has said good morning to the day.

I run hard like can't catch your breath...up hill after hill... until I want to puke...it feels so good...kind of jog...and round the bend just in time to make my children's peanut butter sandwiches complete with finger smiley faces and notes filled with x's and o's.

Hot breakfast on the table for everyone.  I quickly jump into the shower so I can greet them fresh and fancy.  It's important that everyone start the day feeling good.

Kisses and hugs, I'm now off to the grocer, the dry cleaner and to volunteer at two different schools only after I write for at least an hour and do a few pilates core exercises for good measure.

Dinner in the crock pot, a quick call to mom and muffins baked for a friend...I'm off to push the youngest in the stroller while excitement abounds across my face wondering how my big kids' day treated them.

Stop me, if this is you.

Because it is definitively not me.  And even the exercise of writing it is helpful as I realize just how ridiculous I've gotten in my head fantasizing about all of the things I suck at and all the things I should be doing.

I hit my snooze button no less than three times in the morning.

I swear to God I sleep walk downstairs to inhale those fucking Kit Kat minis like it's my job and I don't even give a shit.  I pop the wrapper right in their trick-or-treat bag and then blame them.

When I run, which has been few and far between lately, I scream in agony and pray that I make it to the next tree.

My children are lucky if I remember to throw 2.2 carrots in their lunch filled with cheetohs and said mini Kit Kats and hot breakfast is reserved for a time and place far from the school week.

On any given day, my running garb smells like a combination of a giant vagina and an asshole.  I've run in them so much that Oxyclean says shut the fuck up...I aint Jesus.  Dinner in the crock pot often turns into mush and muffins to my friends, well, they're pretty good but they happen with far less frequency than I'd like

Given how much I belittle my gifts and talents and lament all that I'm not.  I've decided to adopt the following mantra...

Let's adopt it together and fantasize that we are enough, in every way, on any day, all the time.  Deal?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Lamenting the Third Child

Maybe the older two were hard at this age as I well.  I honestly can't remember.  Beautiful amnesia, I suppose.

Maybe their favorite response was NO as well and their sense of entitlement was off-the-charts.

Maybe I've grown older, grumpier, easily agitated and less able to turn my frown upside down. 

As of late, I keep saying that life will get easier when Claire turns five...except, I think I've been saying that since she was two.

My youngest and third child, 'Claire Bear' is four going on 44...a ball of piss and vinegar wrapped in a petite blond haired, blue-eyed body that when pushed to the brink (which is frequent), will make you wish you'd stayed under the covers.

She is sharp with her tongue, quick with a stink-eye and delivers a precise and excruciating kick to the shin that would send any grown man or woman to their knees.

And Holy Hell is she persistent.  When she's decided that she wants what she wants, you'd be better off sticking a fire poker into your left eye than to try and negotiate.  And I should know, my graduate degree is in Conflict Resolution and this girl can 'out whine' you on any day of the week.

To put it bluntly, she fucking wears you down.  I mean that in the most loving way possible.  By 8pm, I am knee-deep into the pinot noir searching for anything on Netflix to take the pain away. 

And while I feel guilty that she is our last and that my days are numbered until she starts Kindergarten and is in school full-time, I just need a break...or for her personality to shift.  Instead of the head-strong, domineering, passionate force to be reckoned with, I'm in need of a demure, passive, gentle, sweet child to call my own...not the spawn of...

I'm sure I'm writing this in a moment of weakness when my period is one its' way; I've inhaled far too much Halloween candy and she just pushed my buttons far too many times in an 8-hour window of time.

But God damn it, what is it about the third child? 

I stand in admiration of people who go on to have fourth, fifth, and so on children.  This means that you have definitively garnered your place in Heaven among the saints.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Autumn-The Years Last, Loveliest Smile

I woke up this morning freezing.

Fumbling toward my night stand, I grabbed my phone and saw that the temperature was 34 degrees.

Wandering down to the kitchen, I lit a candle and dutifully clicked the coffee pot while I grabbed a fleece sweater and curled up in a chair waiting for the liquid gold to brew.

Because it's pitch black outside at 7am, no one wants to get out of bed, including me.  But the reality is that fall is slowly saying goodbye and with only a few days left of October, the craze of the holiday season and winter will soon be upon us.

I have such a love hate relationship with this time of year.  I always beg for an Indian Summer...one that will last with 65-70 degree days far into November and snow that will only come lightly with big puffy flakes just in time for Christmas, while only leaving a dusting on the drive.

I want weather that warrants cups of tea, cider, chai and coffee, but not the kind that has me chilled to the bone, finding my way to the tub on a daily basis.

I yearn for red, orange and yellow leaves that stay well past Halloween and crunch as I walk my kids bundled to and from school...but not the wet ones that sink into the cracks of my drive and make it impossible and gross to gather into yard waste bags.

I beg for pause.  An opportunity to be slower, to reflect, to be more mindful...but not so much so that I find myself lazy, apathetic and filled with consternation about all of the projects I should have gotten done but now have no energy or interest in accomplishing.

I pray for renewal.  As the end of the year winds down, I seek the time to be grateful for all that was and hopeful for all that is to come.

I guess, I want for a lot in a rather complicated, particular way.

Staring down Daylight Savings Time on Sunday morning...I say, thank you for sunshine earlier in the day but boo to 5:30pm dark drives home.

And as Autumn stands in the corner singing his song of farewell, I say, I'll miss you.  I think I can bear the winter months as long as you promise to return again in the not so distant future.

"Autumn...the year's last, loveliest smile."  William Bryant

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Business of Being a Parent

I met this lovely woman the other day.

She came to tune our piano.

We struck up a conversation about how long she's been engaged in her work; what I do for a living and the state of raising good kids in a time when the world is spinning faster than we can sometimes manage to hold on.

After she finished making our ivories shine and downed the remainder of her cup of tea, she remarked, "I get it.  I understand why you were a mediator.  I could sit here and talk all day and tell you my life's woes and probably feel better on the way out the door."

"Well, that's very kind of you to say," I smiled, "but I hardly think my three children would concur.  They're certain that I invented marathon yelling and Olympic nagging."

She laughed and said, "I never had kids of my own, just lots and lots of music students.  I could tell the ones who had parents really in their lives and those that were just shuffled from one place to the next. Keep up with it.  Pretty soon, they'll be gone.  Good luck with the lessons."

She left and I went to the kettle, poured hot water into a mug and watched as the tears stained my cheeks.

Parenting is bliss and shit all in the same breath.  It's the feeling that you just want to run away to a place where no one needs you while simultaneously, putting them on a shelf so that you can treasure the moments when all the stars align and pick them back up after you're rejuvenated and ready to get back into the game.

It's the moment when your four-year old proudly holds up her Hello Kitty jack-o-lantern beaming with joy and seconds later screams at you because you can't find her fairy wand.  And you "ALWAYS lose her stuff."  Yep, fuck me.

It's the time when your eight-year old completes her first dialogue journal entry all on her own and after reciting the sweet words blasts, "You're making lasagne?  Why?  What am I going to eat for dinner?"  Yep, fuck me twice.

And then, your 10-year old comes back from a Boyscouts outing to the City Council and shares how his question was selected and how cool it was to meet an elected official and then blurts out, "Why does Kate get to have a friend over?"  And fuck me thrice.

But, but, but....as she so aptly said, one day, they will leave...all three of them...so help me God, no 30-year old grown child will be living in the basement. 

And so, as Claire held her fairy wand shoveling homemade lasagne into her mouth while Kate scooped grapenuts into a vegetarian pie hole and Sam proudly called his friend to secure a play date, I thought...somehow, someway, all is well...and it's okay to cry when they leave and to cry when they stay wishing they would leave or that I could leave.

This is the business of being a parent.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Moth to a Flame

I have this really amazing friend.

She's much more like a sister who knows my soul like the back of her hand.

We live in different states and so the only real way that we catch up is over the phone.  And often when we do, we find ourselves in these "Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey" type dialogues.  The other day, she was lamenting about a homily her priest delivered when she happened on the rare occasion to be worshiping in the house of God sans her kiddos.  His words gave the both of us pause.

The gist of the message went something like this...the human condition is such that we run toward that which is futile knowing that we'll never quite get what we want, but all the while, not being able to help ourselves from chasing that which we cannot fully have.

i.e. a moth to a flame.

In it's simplest version, I equate this concept with my constant internal dialogues regarding food and diets and losing weight.  They go something like this...tomorrow, I will begin consuming meal replacements for the rest of my life and I will be happy.  Which lasts for approximately two hours until someone comes home with a doughnut or I remember that I have a bag of chocolate chips in the freezer and then like a dog in heat, I shovel the sugar into my pie hole.  And then, tomorrow in the shower, I vow it all over again.

In the more complex version of the priest's message, we recognize that as human beings, fallible, broken and constantly tempted, we are drawn toward sin.

And we all know which ones are our favorites.  Maybe, you closet shop and keep the goods in the trunk of your car until after your better half has vacated the premises.  I am of course, not speaking from personal experience.  Maybe, you binge watch episodes of fill in the blank when you should be doing something else for the good of the household.  Maybe your temptations are more dicey.

Either way, the challenge as human beings is to decide to not chase that thing that will only send us spiraling into greater guilt, frustration or regret.

But how do we do it?  How do we get off the rat wheel?  How do we decide that all of life is not futile and that indeed habits can be broken, patterns can be changed and that even if the flame is bright and glittery, we will stay away?

The poet Rumi says (I'm paraphrasing)...

All of life is divine

All of life is a temptation

All of life lures you

While at the same time, keeping you stuck in your attachments

The key is to never long

For anything

Then, you'll be free

The problem, of course,

is that you are human.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Choices From My Eyes and Yours

I pride myself on taking the high road.

Particularly, when it comes to my kids.

I bite my tongue and pick my battles more often than not.

But this morning was a whirlwind of converging shit storm factors that led my 4-year old and I into a raging battle of the wills.

To be fair, I will preface my commentary by admitting that I had no business getting up at 4:30am to take a boot camp class.  It's a fucking miracle that I didn't kill myself or the girl standing next to me.  Every time I looked at myself in the mirror, my mouth was as wide as the room yawning.

So when she came bounding out of her bedroom wrapped up in a kitty blanket demanding chocolate milk, I will admit that my patience was at an all-time low.

Kindly stirring the syrup into the milk, I asked her to get dressed for school.  Returning in a summer get-up (which is probably again my fault for not cleaning out her closet), I told her to look outside at the rain and reminded that she needed something warmer to which she shrieked, "I'll wear what I want.  It's my school."

Fine, 'freeze' was my first thought.

And somewhere between her bitchy response and my internal one, we found ourselves screaming at the top of our lungs about striped tights, yogurt or bananas for breakfast, brushing teeth with the paste that she says tastes horrible and getting out the door without 50 billion stuffed animal friends.

I drop kicked her ass out of the car and cheered the whole way home.

Until pick up, when she shouted to her friends, "Goodbye Suckers!  My mom's here."  Standing mortified, she barreled out of the joint and ran directly into the parking lot, nearly getting hit by a mini-van, while all of the mothers dutifully holding their children's hands nearly had a heart attack.

Screaming again in the car, I howled, "Do you want to be squished like a squirrel?  You can't run away from mama...you're turning 5 in a few short weeks.  You know better."

To which she replied, "Can we swing through Starbucks and grab a vanilla bean frapuccino before ballet?"

With a primal squeal, I glared, "Are you kidding me?  Absolutely not.  I'm not rewarding poor behavior." 

Two minutes later, she started to cry and said, "Why do you always get everything YOU want?"

And that is where my story officially begins, the moment that I lost it.

I'll paraphrase because I'm fairly certain that I blacked out and was replaced by my inner wounded child or a demonic presence....

"Everything I want?!!!  I absolutely do NOT get everything I want.  Not even remotely.  Do you know what it means to be an adult?  To have to make choices that have real consequences and to sacrifice for the greater good of the family...to have to decide how to be a good steward of your time and money and energy all the while second guessing whether you could have done it differently or better while being mindful that you're not getting any younger and that the clock is ticking."

Approaching a stop light, I looked in the rear view mirror at a little girl with tears in her eyes.

Epic motherhood fail.

Pulling into the driveway, I turned around and said, "I know you think it's easy to be a mommy and that I tell you things to do all of the time and get to have dessert when I want and tell you that you can't.  But the truth is that sometimes, well a lot of times, it's just as hard to be your mommy as you feel like it is to be the kid.  Maybe we should say that we're sorry to each other and try again?"

She smiled, gave me a hug, hopped inside, changed into her ballet leotard and from her room screamed, "Can we still go to Starbucks?"

Ah, the joys.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

State of the Union on Sex

It's no surprise that I like to talk about sex.

I've written about how I bring up the topic in conversations at parties particularly with unsuspecting types who invariably spit out their adult beverage when I poll them on the following:

How much sex are you having?  What's the standard for couples in long-term monogamous relationships?  How do you gear yourself up when you're tired?  How do you keep it interesting when you've been married year over year?  How do you manage your partner's libido in conjunction with yours?  What happens when you have kids and they suck the life force right out of you?

At this stage in the game, most of my friends are married and have been for a while.  The majority of them have children and all of them have jobs that frequently require travel away from their spouses.

A few of my friends are single, some with and without kids.

And depending upon who I'm talking to dictates what the state of the union on sex looks like at their abode. 

As I reflect back on my 20's, it makes me laugh to think about all of that sex.

All of that sex coupled with disposable energy, income and freedom.

Now that I have children and am entrenched in the day-to-day grind of keeping it all afloat, sleep often seems infinitely more appealing than peeling off my clothes to do the nasty.  And when I probe my married sisters, they say the same.  No disrespect to our partners, but a hot bath, a good book and a cozy bed is a terribly attractive mistress.

But if you talk to their husbands, they're convinced that all of the neighbors are getting laid and they're in a season of drought.  I think this is because when men gather, they don't talk to each other about the state of sex at the other person's house.

My single friends envy that I can have sex whenever I want with someone that I don't have to worry about getting an STD test before I share the sheets.

My mother who works in a retirement community says that you can't believe the amount of vibrators and after dinner activity that permeates the place.

So, as I look to the future, potentially when I'm in my 80's and my children are grown and gone; peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese are a thing of the past;, my bedtime doesn't look like 10pm and my bank account isn't reflective of catholic school tuition; I think I'll become a pole dancer, in my own home, of course.

I hear all of the 80-year old Mrs. Robinson's are hot and up for anything.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Happy Birthday, Mom

This is my mom and today is her birthday.

She turned a very young 63.

I've written about her before.  How for example if you've never met her, you would know that she is my mother simply by the sound of her voice.   She is soft and kind and way more sugary sweet than me.  Her smile will melt you and even if you're not the "huggy" type, you'll embrace her because she instantly makes you feel wanted and loved.

She has five children and 10 grandchildren and all of them love her to pieces.  When she comes to babysit, she sets the littles off on scavenger hunts and listens while they play the trumpet or the piano or watches them "Whip" and "Nene" or paint or play American Girl dolls all while expressing how big they've gotten and how beautiful they are.

If you need anything, no matter how small or large, it is yours...with absolutely no expectation of reciprocity.  There is literally nothing that she has to have because I've literally watched her give away most of her possessions at any one given time...with the mindset that you can't take it with you.

And if you want to know the the power of elbow grease combined with the unconditional love of the heart, watch what she does for a living.  Serving as a resident liason for amazing elderly people in their final days, she teaches yoga; dances the Jitterbug; prays when they are scared; calms their family when they are weak and gives them hope as their faculties are failing.  If you've not seen her in action, I can attest that it is holy work and not for the faint of heart.

All of this combined with her physical beauty.  She makes no bones about coloring her hair, taking care of her toes, maintaining an active exercise regimen and drinking a glass of wine or two or three...whatever it takes.

And as I look at her, I know that I am blessed to be her daughter.  At the age of 40, I pray that I get many, many more birthdays to honor and celebrate with her.  Many more times to say thank you for teaching me the power of sacrifice, the meaning of hard work, the declaration of love.

If I thanked you daily, it would not be enough.

Happy Birthday, Mama...we love you...xoxo

Monday, October 19, 2015

Appreciation Appreciates

We've been meeting now for 10 months.

This amazing group of women and me.

I'll never know how I got an invitation to this cool club; but I am blessed none the less.

And in the time that we've gathered, long enough to physically birth a baby; we've been birthing and transforming and shaping ourselves in the world right before our eyes.

Tonight, we took a step toward manifesting our intentions by participating in a sacred ritual.  Surrounded by candlelight and stones, we assembled a council of appreciation...an opportunity to honor "the other" and to share in a very personal way what their presence has meant in our lives.

It was vulnerable, emotional, powerful and so God damned rare that I wish I could harness the energy and pull it out of my back pocket when I'm in need of courage, back bone, will, determination and memory that indeed, others see me in a light that I don't often view in myself.

And this is how it goes right?

We're so willing to see the light in others....the gifts they bring, the ways that they make the world and our lives so much better.  But when it comes time to appreciate who we are...we cringe, second guess, over analyze, dismiss, self deprecate, fill in the blanks with the things we lack instead of all that abounds.

At least that's what I do.

But at the gut level, we viscerally know that what we appreciate appreciates.  That which we cultivate grows.  Whatever we tend to flourishes...both the positive and the negative.

So, if we decide that we're not enough based on fear, lack of experience or past performance...well than, it's self-fulfilling and we probably won't.

But if for one moment, we believe in what others see and choose to appreciate who we are; we gradually build the strength to honor that maybe, just maybe, we are enough.

Most likely, we are more than enough.

The exercise of looking another in the eye and saying, "This is why and what I appreciate about you," is tremendous in and of itself...but the act of looking yourself in the mirror and honoring who you are and what you bring is where it starts.

Day over day, month over month, year over year...those beliefs become truth and that truth is what changes the world...one word at a time.

Paying Attention to Mary Oliver

Do you know Mary Oliver?

The American, Pulitzer prize winning poet from Provincetown who has written some of the most beloved poems our planet has seen.  She's recently come out with a new book of poetry called "Felicity," but one of my all-time favorites, which seems odd to share in the dead of Autumn is "The Summer Day."

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Maybe it's because I went on a long run yesterday that felt more like summer than fall infused.  Or maybe it's that I've spent my morning buried in laundry and dishes listening to Mary Oliver being interviewed by Krista Tippett, the host of "On Being."  Or maybe, it's because as of late, I've been acutely aware of what it means to be attentive to the little, particular things that abound in my life.

Like the grasshopper.

The trail was flooded with them yesterday and I kept feeling compelled to look down for fear that I'd be the culprit who smooshed one of them as they seemed to be bounding out of every crevice.  But they didn't seem afraid, they kept jumping and hopping on each other and eventually, onto my leg which had me squealing as I motored by. 

After a weekend of single parenting while my better half and oldest kiddo were on a camping trip, it hit me.  Paying attention to the particular is the key to moving through general malaise.  It's being intentional with the world instead of taking it all for granted.

Which led me to another of Mary Oliver's brilliant pieces.  It's the third part to "The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac" installation written after she was diagnosed with cancer.

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you're in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.
You could live a hundred years, it's happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

According to Mary Oliver, intentional living begins when we choose to give our full attention to the moment which spins and molds and morphs and flows into our devotion which ultimately, creates a life.

So often, we keep waiting for the big, revolutionary experience...the vacation, the trip of a lifetime, the promotion, the renovation of a kitchen, a bathroom, the new lease on the shinier car, the countdown to a 30-day extreme body challenge, the pinnacle, the summit, the peak. 

Meanwhile, a million grasshoppers have jumped, leaves have changed, children have grown by inches, the temperature has shifted, the sun has come up and gone down day over day.

All for you and all for me.

But have we noticed?  Did we pay it attention?  Honor it?  Express gratitude?  Linger in it for a little longer?

For me, I can say no.  It's just so much easier to be consumed in the distractions and the minutia of the living part, until I stop and give myself permission to put those tasks on hold and take in the utter mystery of everything from a grasshopper to a red leaf to the color of my children's eyes.  And when I do, I am astounded.  Truly.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Wise Words

Two nights ago, I had a dream that my grandmother and I were doing the dishes.

It was post a big holiday meal with all of my siblings and their children, aunts, uncles and parents milling about.

But because it was present day, I was the only one who could see her.  She's been gone now for seven years.

Somewhere between the mounds of mashed potatoes, turkey drippings, gravy boats and pie, I asked her...does it get any easier?

What do you mean, she replied with kind eyes and wrinkly hands.

Just...well...all of these questions, worry, longing, seeking, wonderment in the world.

I'm not sure that you really want it to go away...sometimes, the exploration reminds you of what it means to be alive.

Throwing cutlery into the dishwasher, I replied...but I look at them, these other women, wives, mothers, friends, random acquaintances at the grocery store and they are fine...they don't seem to be wondering, craving, desiring like me.  Why can't I just be like them?

Well, they've either not asked themselves the bigger questions or they have and it's too painful or exhausting to fetter out the truth or they've asked and have come to peace with the answers.  Everyone's on a different journey.

Fuck the journey.  I'm tired of asking and worrying all the time.  I just want to know.

Want to know what?  said my Kate, all eight-years of herself in the dream.

And when I turned around, my grandmother was gone.

I woke up feeling disheartened like the time as a child when I thought I had a Strawberry Shortcake doll under my bed, excited, I jumped down, peered my head under only to realize that it was just a dream.

My whole life I've asked questions and rarely am I satisfied with the answers.  Often, one source of information is not enough.  As my dear friend says, "Are you crowd sourcing again, Kelly?"  I don't think it's a mistake that I was a philosophy undergrad major or that my graduate degree is in Conflict Resolution or that I write about the places that feel broken or wounded or gray or where the longing happens.

It's just that sometimes, I don't want to keep searching.  I just want to rest and let what is be enough.  The problem is that it doesn't last very long before I'm scratchy, itchy, throwing out the questions to the universe, looking at the colors, feeling the music, listening to the stories and secretly hoping that I fade into the peace my grandmother referred to in the dream.

I guess it's true that everyone is on a different journey...mine just happens to be filled with lots of question marks and dialogue.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I feel like I've been walking around in a haze of to-do's.

With the mindset that I'll breathe or relax or settle in once this, that or the other thing is done.  A kid to this birthday party.  A carpool ride to that swim meet or football game.  Groceries in the cart.  Bills paid on the computer.  Thank you note in the mail.  Clothes folded and put away.

And post my last race, I've been doing what I traditionally do which is to hang up my running shoes instead of lacing them up and letting myself enjoy this gorgeous fall weather.

But yesterday afternoon, somewhere between cutting the carrots and celery for the chicken noodle soup pot and mixing up the cornbread batter, I finished, "Lit," a memoir by Mary Karr, my new girl crush.

And embedded in the final pages of brilliance, was this line that won't seem to let me go.

"Maybe all any of us wants is to feel singled out for some long, sweet, quenching draft of love, some open-throated guzzling of it."

Holy Fuck.

I think this is why falling in love is so catatonically powerful.  It's the endorphin, adrenaline, all consuming rush that physically transforms how we look at the world.  And it's not just romantic love. 

One of my dearest friends just had a beautiful baby over the weekend and holding her in my arms brought back a flood of emotion remembering the first feeling of embracing my three children.  The smell, the warmth, the dream come true.

In a strange way, it can happen with possessions.  For a singular moment or passage of time, a new home, car, sweater, pair of shoes, collection of vinyl or even food can send us reeling in awe and thrill over this shiny, comforting piece of us.

The hardest part is that it's fleeting.  The nuance fades.  The novelty wears away.  And the yearning returns.  And what is it exactly that we're yearning for...

I think Mary Karr would say that we're yearning to be singled out; to be desired; to feel alive; to be made new; to no longer go through the motions. 

And as we get older and recognize that our opportunities for newness changes, we have to cultivate them at every turn...otherwise, we find ourselves roaming from point A to point B lost in a stupor.  Today, in the parking lot at preschool, I discovered that one of the mothers has a sister who lives in Paris.  She told me that if I could get away with my pen and paper, I'd have a place to stay.

Hmmm....maybe this is the sort of "sweet, quenching draft of love," that I'm in need of.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Relentless Pursuit of Blessings

There's this funny dance that I do in my life.

I suppose it's a balancing or more aptly, juggling act rather than a choreographed number.

On one hand, I fully believe everything good in my life comes from God.

On the other, I equally subscribe to the notion that it's my responsibility to cultivate my blessings.

For example, for the last nine years, I have been given the gift of staying home full-time with our three children.  While it's not a perfect set-up, I do my best at any given time, to savor our experiences and not to take for granted that if there's anything we are rich on...it's time and hugs and "I love you's."

Likewise, my legs work.  I can move them regularly.  They take me from point A to point B with little to no residual damage.  And so, I feel compelled to use them while I can.  I run and run and run.  And in the moment, try to appreciate the burn in my glutes and quads and to keep going, largely because I can and mostly because there will probably come a day when I can't.

So, essentially, to whom much has been given, much is expected.

But what do you do when you've received blessings that you don't want to cultivate?  Does God just keep giving them to you...sort of chance after chance...until you accept or surrender?  Or is that the power of free will?  You get to reject the seemingly "good" that comes your way, even if others would think you're an asshole for doing so.

Not long ago, I had an opportunity to interview for a full-time corporate opportunity.  Monetarily, it would have been a huge economic blessing for our family.  It would have made the prospect of Catholic private high school for three children, an absolute no-brainer.  But every part of it felt foreign and wrong to me.  I kept making myself want it for the place it would render our bank account, but I just couldn't.  I know...I feel like an ingrate even typing the words.

Slap in the face; piss in the wind; hole in the ass...who knows what I am?

I guess what I'm trying to be is more authentic, more connected to the parts of me that scream connection and passion and positive change in the world...it just sometimes feels at the expense of maybe doing the obvious right thing.  I mean come on, our parents had jobs at AT&T for 30+ years complete with pensions, retirement and medical benefits.  They did what they had to do.  It was simply a means to an end.  No bitching.  Just a cold beer or glass of whiskey at the end of the day.

And to that end, I am a firm believer in Elizabeth Gilbert's mantra


I just wonder if it's okay to decide which blessings feel best given the season, space and time.  And when one does, if we are then spiritually, practically and pragmatically bound to give it all we've got.  If so, my greatest sacrifice has come in the form of my dedication to motherhood...we'll see what else God has in store. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Do Over Morning

I was tired.

When the 4:30am alarm went off, I did not want to get out of bed and before I re-entered the house post my spinning class, I already knew that I was going to be a bitch.

I tried talking myself out of it, anticipating all of the ways that my children would be slow to rise; my husband would hit his snooze button religiously; I would have to remind them over and over again to grab some article for their back pack and to hurry it up.

Knowing that I had a full day on the horizon, I just didn't have the strength to take the high road.  And for that, I'm apologizing now.  Because rarely am I an explosive bitch.  No, I prefer the fingers on a chalk board, continual nagging until everyone is miserable and begging to get the fuck out of the house.

All of this is coupled by the fact that the neighbors are replacing their driveway and walks and so the concrete trucks constant banging, grinding and thudding add fuel to the fire in the background.

But after I got everyone on their way, I thought, why didn't I suck it up and just go through the paces and do my duty?  Everyone is doing it in one form or another in households all across the world, trying not to go ballistic maintaining the morning rituals.

Instead, while putting the dishes away, I dreamed of a day when my children own complete responsibility for putting ice packs in their lunches, ice in their water bottles, a reading book in their back packs, clean, brushed teeth in their mouths, braids in their hair, gym shoes on their feet, deodorant in their pits all in the 45-50 minutes that they have post putting their sleepy, waking-up feet to the floor.

I'm certain that I'm asking too much.  The truth is that hardly anyone wants to get out of their warm beds, especially while it's still dark outside, to prepare to go to the office or the classroom.  We'd all rather sleep until we naturally wake, eat cold pizza for breakfast, stay in our jammies, not worry about client projects or Social Studies tests and play in the sunshine.

Here's to finding a better way to help each other make the inevitable more manageable and definitely more loving.

Here's to the do-over morning tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

An Afternoon Reflective Siesta

The past few afternoons, I've given myself permission to close my eyes and take a nap.

I curl up in what our family fondly refers to as the "reading chair" with a cream colored afghan, a breeze blowing through the window, a bright orange cup of tea and I...fall asleep. And, it's bliss.

When I was studying abroad in undergrad, I remember thinking how crazy it was that every afternoon, banks, businesses, cafes and open air markets all shut down in honor of the roughly 1-3pm siesta.  But they did.  And so, we too were forced to follow suit.

We let our bodies just slow down.

And this is what's happening to me...it's what does happen to me.  As fall makes its face known with changing leaves and cooler temperatures, shorter days and plants that slowly die, it's a good reminder to gradually choose a different pace...one that welcomes the seasons and honors the cycles of life.

While I was slumbering the afternoon away yesterday, I had this vision of my children grown calling each other to secure details about returning home for the holidays.  I remember feeling happy that they were close as adults and that they were excited to return back to where it all started. 

And then, I started counting.  Sam will be 11 in a few months which means only 7 years left before he heads off to college.  Kate is 8...a decade more for her.  And Claire is turning 5...so 13 more years and they will all be gone.  Is that possible?  Do you ever play this game with yourself?

At that point, I will be 53.  I can't even imagine what that will feel like or what I'll be doing or if I'll have an opportunity to take a blissful afternoon siesta.  Will I still be writing, running, reading, teaching?  Maybe I'll be in Tuscany taking a real siesta in a foreign land.  Either way, at that point, I will not be the only adult...my children will be as well.  Maybe they too will be writers, runners, teachers.

Regardless of who any of us are at that point in time, I hope I will always remember these serene moments of one blanket, one cup of Chamomile and three hearts beating outside of my own that feel very much just like mine all wrapped up in the changing of the seasons.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Core Fears

Usually by this point, post my Market-to-Market 76-mile relay race, I would have written a fun and semi-raunchy blog post documenting the experience.  And, I'm sure I will complete with pictures and descriptions of my crazy, amazing teammates.

But not until, I process what happened last week.

It rocked me and my family to the core.

Our neighbor discovered someone peering into our window.  Which launched police being called, motion detector lights being installed, talks with the kids about strangers and anxiety the likes that I haven't felt in a very long time emerging.

Do you have a nightmare or a worst case scenario...something that if God forbid it ever happened, you're certain that you'd never recover from?

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is the inability to protect my children.  I have dreams about how I would rescue all three of them if there was a fire or my exit strategy if we had an in-home invasion.  As a child of the John Joubert generation and later as an adult learning about the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard and the three young girls that Ariel Castro held captive for years...there is a visceral part of me that wants to vomit and die thinking about the prospect of that kind of Hell being a reality for my children and my family.  I know that every parent feels the same.

And so when we experienced this violation, my first inclination was to pull the kids out of school, board up the windows, take on home schooling and never let them leave my sight.  Until my husband proclaimed, we absolutely will not live in fear.  We can take security precautions, but we will live our lives...that means that we'll mow our lawn, water our plants, play in our backyard, ride our bikes, talk to our neighbors, engage our mail carrier, laugh and live and so help me God if that rat bastard has any inclination to return, I'll strangle him with my bare hands...that sort of made me feel better.

And now, I have to wake up and remember that scary, hard things happen but we don't have to be paralyzed by them.  The mark of living is the choice to be resilient, to decide that there is too much good to be mired in the taste of the bad.

I will seek to be courageous, even though I feel afraid.  And will also remember, that at the end of the day, when it comes to my kids, I am a lioness.  Heaven help you if you try to put them in harms way. Because there is no question that I will fuck you up and make you wish that you'd never lied eyes on us.

See, I already feel better.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

What's Happened to Us?

Maybe it happens every election cycle.

I'm not sure because the truth is, I really don't pay much attention.

Despite my choice to not view the debates or to engage in the commentary regarding our presidential candidates, I find myself slamming into it in the worst spots...at school pick-up, reading posts of my friends on Facebook or Instagram, at family gatherings and now with my son who shared a song that he and his buddies made up on the playground about Trump.  Which, I have to give them credit, for fifth graders, it's quite good.

The song lyrics much like the off-handed comments from others are steeped in sarcasm at best and vitriol at worst.  And given the doozies that he has been sharing with the world, well, I'm hard pressed to defend him.

On the heels of this on-going circus act is the testimony of Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood regarding its' use of federal funds.  The alleged abuse of funds and ethics of the organization has launched a tirade of public scrutiny at best and sheer hatred ugliness at worst.

Not long ago, we were entrenched in the Ashley Madison scandal and decided who was really bad based on what the database shared, before that it was whether or not Gay marriage should be legal and before that it was racial profiling and retribution by police within communities and before that it was whether states should have the right to legalize marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes and before that, it was whether parents could leave their kids in the car when they went into a store to run a quick errand and before that, it was whether you had the right to take your own life through assisted euthanasia and before that it was whether women should be able to assume positions of leadership in the church and before that, it was...

It always seems to be something and the only thing that we all seem to be getting really good at is judgement and condemnation.  We know how to draw lines and how to decide who is standing on the right side.  We've decided who's going to Heaven and who's going to Hell.  Who should be ashamed of themselves and who is living a morally upright life.  Who is worthy and who doesn't deserve our time and dollars.  Who has a right and who doesn't.

And somewhere in the mix, we've forgotten that the only moral mandate is to recognize that we belong to each other...plain and simple.  What does your neighbor need?  An egg, a cup of sugar, an ear to share the pain of what's going on in her life, a babysitter for her child as she's had to take an extra job on to make ends meet, a hug reassuring her that it will all work out, her lawn mowed, her walks shoveled, a wave as you're pulling into the driveway, an invitation to come share a meal, a few flowers from your garden.

What does the world need?  We need each other to take as much time practicing compassion as we do self righteousness.  We need to admit that individually, we don't have all of the answers...but that collectively, we may figure it out one day.  We need to vehemently believe with all of our hearts that every person matters.  We need to find common ground and build instead of making it our life's work to tear each other bit by bit apart.

We need to leave a legacy.  Our children deserve more.  Our planet deserves better.  There's too much good on this ball we all inhabit to waste our days running in circles for the good of our egos. 

It starts with each of us...doing what we can, where we are, consistently tending and growing our plot.  I can't even imagine what the dialogue or songs we sing might look like if we did.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

If You Could Change One Thing

One of the 589 things that I adore about Autumnal weather is being outside.

Walking, running, watching the leaves fall, sipping coffee on a porch swing, pushing a stroller through the park and accompanying my children on their walk home from school...all bring such joy to my heart.

So it was yesterday that the three kiddos and I were chatting it up on the school/home journey and this question presented itself:

"If you had the power to change just one thing in the world...big or small...what would you choose?"

To which my son, Sam responded with...I think I'd make it so that we always had summer.  That way, we could swim, ride our bikes, not have to worry about homework, camp outside and never be cold.

Kate, my middle daughter busted in with...I would take out all of the bees and replace them with fairies who sprinkle glitter instead of stings all over the world.

And finally my four-year old Claire Bear shouted out Disney Land.  To which I said, you would remove Disney Land?  No...mama..we would go to Disney Land every day.  In fact, the world would be Disney Land.

Very quickly, Kate piped in with, but we can't do that, we're not magicians or Fairy Godmothers.  And her comment reminded me of a quote I once heard credited to Pablo Picasso which is that all children are born artists until they're told that they're not.

I think it's true about our lives.  We are entitled to have everything that our heart desires until we decide that we can't.  To be fair, maybe we can't have everything at the same time or in exactly the way that we envisioned it.  But the desires of our souls are powerful and there for a reason. 

When Sam talks about wanting summer all year long, he yearns for freedom from obligation and more time to play.  Kate wants a world free of bees that represent sting and pain and heartache in favor of fairies who are magical and whimsical.  And Claire wants Disney because for her it connotes laughter, fun, pure joy and time with people you love.

As we were rounding the bend heading up the hill to our house, Sam said...what about you?  If you could change one thing, big or small, what would be your wish?  For a brief moment, I thought, I'd love the power of prophesy to know that it's all going to be okay.  That these varying decisions I've made along the way, largely grounded in faith and hope will all pan out.  But instead of trying to explain that to him...I told him that I'd like to replace dinner with chocolate ice cream. 

He liked that idea.