Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Risk Joy

I'm raising three very different children.

My son, Sam is not necessarily a happy-go-lucky tween.  He's relatively serious and when he wants something done, it happens.  His humor is dry and witty and forward thinking. He is polite and very aware of how his actions are affecting others.  A typical type A, achieving, first-born through and through.

My oldest daughter, Kate, the 10-year old is smack dab in the moment.  When she's sewing or playing piano or dancing in ballet or cracking an egg, she's feeling the experience.  Rarely worried about what others think, she's fully connected to the present.

My youngest daughter, Claire, the 6-year old has been dancing in the nude since she could stand.  She laughs openly and loudly with and at anyone.  Her motto is that it's a good thing to like her.  I'm not sure that she could be more comfortable in her own skin.

As a result of their world views, they each experience and embrace joy differently.  Sam is cautious. He believes like me, that what goes up, must come down...and that the world is filled with a lot of suffering, so we should temper our joy to reflect our responsibility to the people who are wounded or marginalized.

Kate thinks it's extraordinary that baking powder helps to make pancakes rise and that you can make your own dragon costumes at home instead of buying them at the store.  She embraces a "tickled pink" world view--similar to a "wow, who would have thought that this could happen?" mindset.

Claire never fails to share that her classmate farts at recess and pretends like it wasn't him.  "I mean, come on, he has a smell, everyone knows it's him.  And it has a sound too. It sounds like this...." And then she makes the sound and Kate bursts out laughing.  And Sam says, "Claire what about the people in Texas and Hurricane Harvey?"

And part of me feels similarly, how can we carry on at the dinner table, talking about our day, sharing fart stories, while many, many people have lost their homes, their loved ones, their memories and are refugees trying to pick up the pieces?

The world is filled with so much heartache and unexplainable hurt.

And then, it struck me that in the midst of sorrow and the unknown, our responsibility is to live.  This is why people laugh at funerals and laugh while they're crying in the doctor's office and laugh after a scream fest with their spouses or their kids or laugh when they've behaved ridiculously.

Because stress, fear, trauma, uncertainty and angst can only be sustained and endured for so long.  The real task is to live and to live fully....fully in the pain and fully in the joy.

So, at the dinner table, I turned to my son and said, "You're right.  It's terrible what has happened to the families in Texas.  We must pray and donate money.  But we must also risk joy.  It's okay to laugh at silly things even though heaviness is happening in the world.  It's okay to tell jokes and funny stories, even when there are no answers for the greater burdens.  Our job is to live.  So, Claire, let another one rip..."

As the beautifully, brilliant poet, Jack Gilbert once said,

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Plight of the Good Enough Mother

We survived the first week of school.

Everyone made it out the door at o'dark thirty including my 7th grader, who has to leave the house at 6:50am for advanced math.

No one forgot a lunch or a parental form or a show and share item.  And somehow, I managed my sanity.

In an effort to make it all work out, I get up at 4:30am to go for a run, to be back by 6am to make scrambled eggs for my son who is scrambling out of his bed at 6:20am asking himself, why am I alive at this hour?

After he and my husband are out the door and I've consumed 2.5 cups of really fucking big coffee before 7am, I am in the shower reminding myself that I forgot to shave my legs yesterday, and well, there's really no time today. Furry it is...

Towel on my head, I'm getting my girls out of their beds, uniforms on, hair braided and Rice Chex in their bowls so that I can quickly put concealer on my dark circles and grab a dress to wear to my teaching assistant job at their school.

Back packs, water bottles, lunches, cardigans and keys in hand, we head out the door driving to start our day.

And all the while, I'm mindful of laundry, meal planning (why do I make the same 5 things for dinner?), my parents upcoming visit, scheduling the oil change, grading essays for my graduate students, setting up a fall display for my jewelry business, swinging by Target for a birthday present and tampons and shit, I forgot that canvas I promised I'd buy Kate for her dragon art project.

And that's just the minute to minute shit, then there's the larger questions...where will my kids go to high school?  To college?  Are my daughters going to be in therapy because they share a room?  Do I read enough to my youngest?  Do I pay attention when they're telling me stories or can they tell that often I'm catching bits and pieces while I'm doing three other things?  Will I regret not being more in the present?  Have I done them a disservice by indulging too much Kraft macaroni and cheese and not enough hummus?

God, I just don't know.  But I think that there are lots of women like me in their 30's and 40's asking all of these questions, all of the time.  And, we're tired.  And, we're cranky.  And we're spread.  And we're happy.  And we're grateful.  And sometimes, we're not.

But I shit you not.  In the 80's, I don't ever remember my mom vocalizing worries like whether our car was the safest model or which school would provide us the strongest college prep.  I mean don't get me wrong, she loved us, but I don't feel like she was consumed by us.

The plight of the good mother is to feel as though you are constantly pivoting, wanting the best all the time, afraid of making a false move, or worse yet, a move that you can't take back.

My hunch is though that most of the time, my kids don't know my inner crazy lady workings.  They know they are loved.  They're not going to try new foods.  I am going to yell over absurd things and they are going to push back because that's what kids do.  I am going to tell them that they are grounded for life because that's what moms do.  And, we probably both can agree that we will all survive and be more than just okay.

But sometimes, many times, I wish I could just start my 4:30am day with the thought, "You're more than good enough.  Your kids are lucky to have you.  Here's to grace and fucking things up.  This is the admission for a blessed, beautiful, messy life."

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Artist Within

The other day, I was talking to second graders. 

We were chatting about authors, illustrators and the difference between fiction and non-fiction works.

I shared with them that I really love words.  I am inspired by what they conjure up in my head and more importantly, in my heart.  I love how they string together and tell stories that people can see themselves inside of or find places that they want to explore or become.

And then, I asked them, "What do you love?" and then, "Raise your hand if you are an artist."

Most of the room raised their hand, but a fraction did not. 

So, I elaborated with, "Raise your hand if you like to write, to dance, to paint, to draw, to sculpt, to build, to invent, to experiment with wood, metal, Legos, color, food, canvas, construction paper, paint, fabric or if you like to sing or write songs or watch certain movies over and over and maybe even make movies on your mom or dad's phone or if you play an instrument or make your own music out of things lying around the house."

By that point, everyone had raised their hands and so, I offered, "Well, then, you are all artists.  Every one of you.  Each of you are a child of God and you were fashioned to create in the world as the creator has made you.  You were built to share all of you with the world.  And there is so much beauty and creativity inside of much goodness to share."

And then one little boy said, "Well, I guess I like to build, but I'm not very good.  My stuff breaks a lot and sometimes, it's too hard to make it over."

To which I replied, "Me too.  I'm not very good.  At least, not all of the time.  In fact, not most of the time.  Sometimes, I write and write and write in my journal and the only good that comes of it is that I reminded myself that today was a 'Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."  And that's okay.  But just when I think that I'll never write again, I can't help myself.  And, I just write a line or two, and then a flood of language comes pouring through.  Does that ever happen to you?"

They nodded.

The biggest lie we can tell is that our "making" in the world isn't worthy.  It is the very act of creating something, anything that wasn't there before that brings us relief from the practical and reminds us that we are more than punching a time card, getting our homework done on time, paying our bills, crossing milk off of the grocery list and mowing the lawn.

Putting pieces of our heart and mind and soul into the world is an act of love...a public service to the other.  A way of saying, "I'm here.  Meet me in this song, meal, book, painting, dance, conversation and help me feel alive."

I told my second graders that my home is filled with clay, chalk, paint, fabric, thread, a piano, movies, and more books, journals, sketch pads, Sharpie markers and paint than you can imagine.  I get tired of picking up all of the mini projects, but am inspired by watching my children put their heart into canvases on our walls and bits of stories and skirts and documentaries. 

We are all artists and the world needs us to color outside of the sing our song and to dance bravely, imperfectly together.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Rising

This week has brought a shift.

Two days ago, my children went back to school..and for the first time in over 3 months, I have had time to breathe, to reflect and to write.

And over the course of breathing through longer training runs, I can't seem to get this song out of my heart.  I'm sure you know it.  "The Rising" by Bruce Springsteen performed by Sting at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony.

I first heard Springsteen sing it in January 2009 at Obama's inauguration.  On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, on a cold winter day, he played his guitar, while an extraordinary choir bounded "Dream a Life" behind him.

The second time was when I traveled to Chicago to run a half marathon.  It was the night before the race and through the windows of the condo, I could hear him performing at Wrigley Field.  The entire crowd was on fire.  He was a force.  And they were lit up in every way.

A ball of nerves, worried about managing the L and a bus at o' dark thirty, ensuring that I stayed hydrated and fueled and of course, freaking about the random creaks in the bedroom of someone else's abode, I was a crazy lady.  So for me, on that night, it was the perfect song.

That was five years ago...and now, my children are growing. 

I have two years left before my oldest goes to high school and the "real" time for family movies, games of Clue, hanging by the pool, making pizza, telling stupid jokes and hours at home (other than sleeping or eating) are dwindling.

So, the other night at dinner when I spent a significant amount of time talking about Anne Frank and the definition of White Supremacy and how the name Neo-Nazi emerged and the president's response to the destruction and death in Charlottesville and watched my children's faces become glazed and glossed over, I thought, enough.

I am so tired of being angry at what a buffoon, cowardly, incompetent, divisive, self-focused, arrogant joke of a president we have; and equally as exhausted by the debilitating notion that we have to live with a lack of real leadership for another 3.5 years.  As such, I'm reclaiming my ability to rise and to represent my values, my hopes, my beliefs, my aspirations for my children and my community.

For me, the "rising" happens every day in every small home, walking down the street, in classrooms and coffee shops and over dinner with our families and with our the ways that we treat each other and the actions we take when it would be easier to not.

This year, my son has two new players on his football team which is intimidating when you're joining a group of boys that have been playing for over 8 seasons together.  I told Sam to be the first.  "Talk to them.  Welcome them.  Find out where they go to school and what they did this summer.  Invite them over.  Thank them for joining your team."

Likewise, Kate had a really good friend move far away and two new kids join her fifth grade class.  I told her the same.  "Sit by them in the lunch room.  Ask them what they like to do.  Find them at recess.  Tell them about the book you're writing or the song you're learning to play on the piano.  See if they like stories as much as you do.  Tell them that you're glad they're here."

My "rising" hasn't involved public protests, but it has involved a deep and intentional choice to rise in my own space and speak up for what is right...inclusion, hope, connection, vulnerability and truth and to speak against injustice...side slights, insensitive barbs/jabs and to try my damndest to nurture a new generation of children who feel loved, valued, believed in and not afraid.

I keep running to the song.  I keep believing that good can come. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

She Was Me

We were both in our 40's.

She had a boy and a girl.

We both loved to run...the half marathon, in particular.

She was passionate and brimming.

And, God damn it, she was beautiful; far more stunning than me.

While I was on the couch over vacation checking Facebook, I gulped.

She died.

Stage 4 Lung cancer and after a brief time in Hospice, was gone.


We met several years ago in a work capacity...colleagues, volunteers, co-creaters.

After she moved away from Omaha, we kept track of each other via social media.  I had hoped to travel and run with her; but never quite made it there.

Every time I had a race, she was one of the first to post... "Today is yours," she once wrote.  "Remember to breathe and look around.  There's a lot to see along the way."

And in her short life, she did a lot...traveled internationally, made it on to a national famous cooking show, started her own business and blog, loved her children ferociously and never let her friends forget how special they were to her.  Oh, and she hooked me onto a gorgeous Poppy lip stain of which I am forever in her debt.

So, when I found out she passed, I was furious.

Who would take a mother with children who need her?  What world would diagnose a healthy young woman with a terminal illness in the prime of her life?  Why is circumstance so cruel?

Not even my faith brought my solace. I was just writhing in anger and fear.  If this could happen to her, it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.

And I suppose we know that...that we are all mortal...and that we don't get to control the number of days we have on this earth.  That we are fragile.  That we are powerless.  That we are reliant upon each every way.

My last several fill in the blank (days, weeks, months, years) have been precarious.  I keep wondering who I will grow up to be.  I keep standing in amazement as my children grow, despite my pining for them to stay young.  I wonder in futility what will become of them and if I will have helped or hindered their development.  I beg of the universe to keep me healthy and to help me to be brave and not to live in fear.

But this is what middle age is...the immunity of your 20's evaporates, the exhaustion of your career 30's steadies, your friends begin to get diagnoses or divorces, your children grow and you realize that nothing is permanent.

And so, the joy comes in the screaming, the laughing, the crying, the yawning, the school supply buying, the towel folding, the sun screen applying, and the kissing goodbye and hello.

Goodbye for now, my friend.  Thank you for inspiring me to live in all of the moments...the good, the bad, the uncertain.  I promise to run my next race with you right beside me.  We'll take plenty of time to look around and take in the beauty.