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.