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 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'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 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, 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 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.