Saying Yes to Sloth Backpacks (& dreams)

On July 1, I embarked on my biggest writing adventure yet: a novel. I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was 8 or 9 years old. This obsession coincided with my newfound love of Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew was my hero: independent, smart, determined. I wanted to write something like that–something that would make a kid not want to put the book down until the very last page.

Then I made a mistake. I let an adult in on this dream of mine. And, as adults sometimes do when they think they’re just being pragmatic, this adult laughed and said, “But what are you going to do to earn money?” For some kids, this nay-saying would’ve only made them more determined. But I was a pleaser. And my self-esteem was shaky at best. So, what I heard is, “You may love writing. But you don’t have what it takes to make it. Go find something attainable. Something that doesn’t require any real talent.”

Even as I got older, when it was clear that I could write–that people enjoyed reading what I wrote–I stuck to academic writing. I can’t do creative writing at all, I’d say as if it were totally no big deal. And then I’d make some offhand quip about how I’d let other people write the stories, and I’d just critique them. Which, you know, denied my own dream, belittled an entire profession, and also managed to be self-deprecating. I was a piece of work.

But this dream wouldn’t let go of me. It was determined, even if I was not. I tried multiple career paths… communications (at least I got to write sometimes), writing instructor (maybe the dream would just shut it if I taught someone else to write. Hundreds of someones. Nope.), children’s ministry director (what the f…?!?). But, on a transAtlantic flight back from Paris, I got real with myself (I mean, hell, I had time… what else was I going to do for 7 hours?). I admitted that I would not be happy, could not be happy, unless I was writing. What that looked like could be negotiated. But the writing, that was non-negotiable.

A few of my friends took a chance on me and hired me to write for them: blog posts, technical papers, web content. I loved every minute of it. Because I was creating something. Something that wouldn’t exist without me pouring my heart & soul into it. I’m so grateful that I get to do client writing all the time now. And I’m so grateful to my friends for believing in me.

But that dream….writing a novel… it wouldn’t stop nagging at me. I found NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago, through Facebook I think. And I intrepidly started a novel last November. Which I quit in the middle of. Because it was hard. Oh, and that’s right around the time my marriage was falling apart. So, you know, my creative focus was a bit out of whack.

But this July, I found Camp NaNoWriMo. I don’t know if it’s because it’s called “Camp” and that made it sound fun (read: non-intimidating). Or if it’s because I had characters living inside my brain that were dying to get out… But I started a novel. And I’m 6,999 words away from completion. And every minute I’ve spent writing it is like living a dream. A dream I’ve had since I was 8. And any time a voice has tried to tell me I can’t do it, or that it’ll suck, I’ve told it to SHUT THE HELL UP.

I’m doing it. And I’m madly in love with my characters. I even bought the very same backpack that my character, Rowan, has. Because I feel like she’s with me all the time. Might as well be backpack twinsies.  (And, besides, sloths are cool.)

I wish I hadn’t spent years believing a lie about myself. I deserve to live into this dream. At the very least, I deserve to give it a chance. A real chance.

I’m almost there. And it feels really, really good.

Back Together Again

Breaking up and getting back together—all within a 48-hour span—well, it’s not for the faint of heart.

When Simon & I woke up the next morning, it was like being on an incredibly awkward first date. In my pajamas. With someone I’d known for over a decade.

I had no idea what to do or say.

I made coffee, like usual. That seemed right. We probably still needed caffeine to function.

We sat down in the living room—which miraculously was still OUR living room—and I chattered on in a way that managed to be simultaneously overly-chipper and politely reserved. Which translated into rather happy, equally meaningless, small talk. (I despise small talk.)

Beneath my frantic efforts appear normal(ish), I felt completely unmoored. I was thrilled to have Simon back. But I was terrified if I did or said the wrong thing, he’d decide all over again that we were done. But for real this time.

The problem was that I both knew—and did not know—exactly what had gone wrong. When I could focus long enough to sort my thoughts, I knew that Simon had left only because he believed I didn’t want to be with him anymore. He thought he was doing me a favor. He thought he was fixing things. But the why was buried under my fear, which just kept shouting: He left you! He doesn’t love you! He left you!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fear is a bastard.

In yet another bizarre twist, on this awkward, small talk filled Saturday morning, we also needed to go rent a U-Haul to fetch the remainder of the furniture we’d stored at our best friends’ house. Moving furniture together is an admittedly odd reconciliation activity. (Note: I do not recommend). But we dropped the kid off with said friends and headed out for a day of furniture relocation.

Odd task aside, sitting in a U-Haul truck next to Simon (without the kid anywhere in earshot) allowed us to talk openly and honestly for the first time in probably over a year. The stark reality that Simon could leave (and would, if he didn’t feel like the relationship was serving both of us well) knocked the anger and resentment right out of me. And not in the way that fear robs people of their fight. I wasn’t angry or resentful anymore because I’d been presented with a real, viable exit strategy. For the first time since Simon told me he wanted to/needed to transition, I felt like I had a choice. And I made my choice. I chose to stay. Because that’s what I wanted.

It was amazing to look at Simon (probably for the first time ever) and feel completely awash in love. I mean I was smitten. I was all hand-holdy and lovey. And I was driving him batshit. Because these ways, they are not his ways. But he understood. And he held my hand. And told me he loved me, too (for the 400th time).

We talked about difficult things. We talked about how to start over. We acknowledged that we needed to bring our best selves to this reconciliation—whatever that looked like for each of us. I asked questions I was scared to ask. He trusted me enough to answer me honestly. It felt real. Like communication. Things felt possible again.

It was in the middle of this hard but good conversation that we pulled up to a red light at Memorial Drive. I didn’t see them at first, because I was looking at Simon. But his eyes got wide. He looked excited. Like, kid picking out a puppy excited. And he said, “Are those LLAMAS?!?” And sure as shit, I looked across Memorial, and there were 15 or so llamas being led around a small enclosure. Outside a bar. In intown Atlanta.

Some people find signs in rainbows or floating feathers. Ours came in llamas. Because the pure joy that those llamas brought Simon wouldn’t have even been possible a day or two before—not with all that baggage we’d been carrying around. But now, he could be as exuberant about those llamas as he needed to be. Unfettered. Because now we’d both made a choice we could live (happily) with.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Viator.com (image has been altered)

Revelations

After the yelling, the tears, the panicked confusion, I was left with only the stark reality: Simon & I were unraveling. This family I’d poured my heart and soul into was disintegrating—and I couldn’t do or say anything to stop it.

I was in a whirlwind of rage and pain by the time my best friend swooped in to rescue me for a few hours. I needed desperately to get out of the house. Simon & I had tried being quasi-normal for Jane. But being around Simon felt like the most exquisite agony. I loved AND hated him. I wanted to be near him AND to cast him to the outer realms of space. I wanted to reconcile AND move on with my life—alone.

Bets pulled up in front of my house, and I jumped in. I really didn’t care where she took me. All I wanted was to get away from the nagging, gnawing pain. But, really, what was I going to do to escape it? I’ve been sober for years. And that means I don’t drink. Even when my marriage falls apart. Even if the world explodes. I. Do. Not. Drink. But a best friend, one that’s known you for over twenty years, offers her own kind of comfort. And it’s a damn good kind. So, I felt safe and loved while I sipped a latte and my world fell apart.

She let me rage on and on. I said ugly things. I cussed. I developed new uses for cuss words. And then, I’d spin on a dime and talk about how much I loved him. How I’d always known we were right for each other. And I cried when I told her that the thing I’d been most sure of in my life was Simon’s unending love for me. But, really, what I’d been sure of all those years was that Amy loved me. Simon and I had been on pretty rocky terms. And, truly, what had I given Simon to love about me? Sure, I’d stuck around. But I’d been resentful; I’d constantly harped on my attraction to women; I was supportive enough—I supposed. But, who wants to build a life on something that’s just barely “enough”? I heard myself telling Betsy how much I wanted a life with Simon, how much I loved him… and, yes, how desirable I found him… and I wondered if he knew any of that. Things were, I realized, completely fucked to hell.

As Betsy dropped me off at my house, she left me with only one set of instructions: Do not beg him to take you back. In 2001, Bets had born witness to my alarming downward spiral after a particularly bad break-up. She was doing her level best to ensure I didn’t head right back down that path. I assured her that I would not beg. That I was done begging, pleading, and negotiating.

I walked slowly through the house—the house that was ours, that would no longer be ours, because there was no more us–got in my bed and laid down. I turned on Melissa Etheridge’s Skin (which, incidentally, is a pretty solid break-up album) and tried to sleep. I dozed off, and when I woke I felt incredibly calm. For about five seconds. But even during the calm, I knew something was wrong. Something I should be upset about. And then I remembered. And it was like breaking up all over again. I couldn’t take it. I absolutely could not sit with the pain for one second longer.

So, I did exactly what Betsy told me not to do: I went out to the living room and sat down on the edge of the couch. Simon sat up immediately to ask what was wrong. Like he’d been waiting for me.

“I don’t understand,” I sobbed. “How can it just be over? I love you so much. Why don’t you love me?”

“I do. I do love you,” he said. He pulled me close to him and held me while I cried. “I don’t want it to be over either.” I cried on him a little while longer, afraid to move. Afraid to breathe. Afraid to break the spell.

Finally, I wiped tears off my face and looked at him. “Then why did you leave?”

He sighed. And for the very first time since things had started to fall apart, I could see that maybe this wasn’t as easy for him as I’d thought. He was hurt. “I thought you and Jane would be better off without me. That you’d be able to move on and be happy. That I was just weighing you down. I don’t want to just be just some concession you are making. That isn’t good enough for either one of us.”

Oh my God. No. Was that what he thought? Of course, that’s what he thought. Really, he would have been a fool to think anything else. But I’d been wrong—wrong that I could take or leave our relationship, wrong that I wanted to date other people (read: women), wrong, wrong, wrong. And now I knew it. I laid my head on his chest and cried. “No. No. I’m not better off without you. I love you. I want you. I want to be with you.”

“I want that, too.”

All my life, I’ve craved that one moment where life plays out perfectly, just like in the movies. Where love prevails despite the odds. Where what seems impossibly broken magically mends. Where love wins.

Truthfully, I’d given up on those moments. Believing in them had caused me lots of heartache, had held me back so many times when I should have cut my losses and moved on.

But this time, oh this time…

I finally got my moment. The moment where I got everything I dreamed of. Just like that, he loved me, and we were us again.

 

(But nothing’s ever really that easy, is it?)

 

But It’s Not Over Over. Right?

Callie & Arizona broke up. And this set into motion the epic meltdown of 2016.

SARA RAMIREZ, JESSICA CAPSHAW

Photo Cred: Ron Tom_ABC

But, I guess you’ll need a little more background than that: Simon & I watched Grey’s Anatomy voraciously last Fall. We’d dissect the characters’ (often baffling) life choices and analyze their relationship dilemmas. This gave us a safe way to talk about hypothetical relationship issues without really delving into our own.

This seemed like a good plan—until it almost ended us.

I guess I should pause to note that nothing really “seemed like a good plan.” We didn’t consciously decide to avoid our issues. If you’d asked me at the time, I probably would have said there wasn’t anything to talk about. And, as for Grey’s, who doesn’t love good catharsis? Which is what I was getting every night. But catharsis can’t alleviate the underlying problems. It’s just a temporary, feel-better fix. Hindsight, though. In that moment, Simon & I were just hanging out, loving Grey’s, as folks do.

But we’d reached a point in the ever-winding plot that proved problematic for us:

  • the focus was on Callie and Arizona’s relationship. And seeing two women together brought up all my feelings of loss and displacement… and anger.
  • Callie & Arizona were having some relationship struggles. And so, I’d pick a side and argue it passionately, with way more investment than necessary. Because what I wanted to do was argue with Simon. But I was too emotionally exhausted. So I argued with characters in a TV show.
  • Then they took a break. From each other. And this plot development turned out to be disastrous for us.

Simon & I had been negotiating a rather uneasy peace since we moved to Atlanta. I looked around every day and celebrated just being in the city, living a life that for so long felt like it would never be a reality. I immediately immersed myself in racial justice activism, in Jane’s elementary school, in work with new, fun clients. Simon—well, he liked Atlanta just fine. But he certainly wasn’t as intoxicated by just being here as I was. (It is fair to note that I am given to bouts of extreme enthusiasm.) The distance between he & I grew daily. I didn’t want to know what was wrong with him. I just wanted him to fucking fix it.

I was exhausted.

We’d been through a lot in our 13 years together: being batshit crazy drunks, getting married, getting sober, infertility, miscarriage, pregnancy, parenthood, getting married again, Simon’s transition. Any one of these events can end a relationship. We’d been through all of them. And, I guess, after Simon’s transition, I expected everything to be smooth sailing. But Simon will be the first to tell you that transitioning doesn’t fix everything. Simon still had some work to do. And I was completely ignoring everything I felt, saving just enough energy to make passive-aggressive jabs at Simon about what I thought he needed to fix.

At various points, I’d thought about leaving. Or asking for an open relationship. I just wanted to not feel so responsible for us. I wanted to think about me for a minute. There hadn’t been a lot of time for that in the past two years.

Then it happened. One night, after Grey’s Anatomy, Simon said, “I think we should do what Callie & Arizona did. Take a break.” I looked at him like he had sprouted a third eye. Because WHAT? I was the aggrieved party. I was the one who’d married someone who changed the terms of our relationship when he transitioned. How DARE he suggest a break? What the ever-loving hell was wrong with him? Which I asked him, in colorful language. He said he thought I’d be happier. I asked if this was a break or a break up. Everything about what he was saying sounded so final. He said he thought it should be permanent. And, just like that, we’d started the process of conscious uncoupling.

I called my best friend the next morning to fill her in my newly bizarre and topsy-turvy world. Actually, what I told her was that I thought Simon had broken up with me. Because I couldn’t fathom this whole turn of events. I mean, did relationships really end just out of the blue? I didn’t want my relationship to end. I wanted it fixed. It could be fixed, right?

Bless her, she had to deal with my anger (if he wanted to split up, why the hell didn’t he just stay in Tampa?), my fear (holy shit, I can’t pay for the house by myself… what am I going to do?), and my tears (but he didn’t even try to work it out. Doesn’t he love me? I always thought he loved me). And she was also managing her own shock. Because, if you weren’t living in our house and couldn’t feel the ever-present tension and complete disconnect between the two of us, this uncoupling seemed to come from nowhere at all.

But it did come from somewhere. It came from almost a year of drifting apart emotionally, of divesting from each other’s lives, of believing deep down we’d be better off apart. We were so emotionally estranged by this point that, in the preceding months, when I’d found a lump in my breast and been terrified it was breast cancer, I didn’t lean on him for support. And he didn’t offer much of it. We were totally broken. But, even if we were currently shattered, I didn’t want to give up yet. We had Jane to consider. And I knew that I loved Simon. Even if I couldn’t see how to get back to a healthy version of us.

I corralled him into a discussion about the unraveling of our relationship that afternoon before I picked Jane up from school. Could we work things out? No. Could we go to couple’s counseling? No. Could we just try one more time? No. No. No. He’d made up his mind, it seemed. He’d decided that Jane & I were better off without him. That he was only an albatross, weighing us down. It didn’t really matter what I wanted or what I said. He was convinced that our split was the best thing for me.

My head exploded. I yelled. I cussed. Then I yelled some more. I went over the edge completely. Who was he to make this decision for me? I’d stood by him through his transition, held his hand, worked so hard at being okay (at least I thought so at the time). How DARE he leave me now? But he was gone. We were, in fact, over.

(To be continued…)

When Simon transitioned, I wanted to place all our relationship difficulties squarely on his shoulders. HE had changed the terms & conditions of our relationship. HE wasn’t the same person anymore (in a way more literal sense than folks usually mean this). It was his fault that we couldn’t connect the same way.

Except…

I learned a long time ago to look for my part in a messy situation. But as my relationship with Simon was devolving into lukewarm friendship—I mean, we weren’t besties or anything. We just kind of got along okay mostly—I didn’t FEEL like looking for my part. Smugness suited the situation better, I thought. My mindset fell more along the lines of “Oh, so you want to transition? I’ll show you transition…” or something like that, anyway. The long and short of it: I just knew Simon had ruined us. And I certainly wasn’t going to take it upon myself to pull us out of the hole we were quickly sinking in to. I hadn’t caused this mess. And I wasn’t going to fix it.

Except…

My anger roiled under the surface constantly. Minor annoyances that I used to roll my eyes about became reasons to seethe. As Simon sorted through his mixed feelings about leaving Tampa, I packed the house with a mix of fury and excitement. I couldn’t get to Atlanta fast enough. We were orbiting in completely different emotional spheres. We were in close physical proximity most of the time; but, emotionally, we were worlds apart.

I threw myself into life in Atlanta. Work, friends, activism… Atlanta breathed life into me that I hadn’t felt in years. And pushed me further away from Simon, who seemed to be struggling a bit to settle in. I’d love to be the compassionate heroine who swooped in to help Simon navigate his malaise. But I was busy. And happy. He was on his own.

In the back of my mind, a constant refrain played: But I’m attracted to women. This isn’t fair. But I’m attracted to women. This isn’t fair. But I’m attracted to women. This isn’t fair.

And, while it is true that I am attracted to women, I quickly ramped up my interest in women to a late 1990s level (if I hadn’t thought I would’ve been decades older than most of the women there, I totally would’ve cruised lesbian bars. But, alas, vanity saved me). I was obsessed. It was like diving back into those first years when I realized that loving another woman was an option… the possibility was intoxicating. And I was there again… but this time I was married. To a guy. What the actual fuck.

And so, this confluence of events was how we reached The Great Meltdown of 2016.

It wasn’t him. It was (also) me.

Flux

Life is constant flux. Knowing is transitory. Grasping destroys even the most beautiful things.

When Simon transitioned, I knew—knew down in my bones—that this would be better. For him. For our family. For Jane. But that knowing clashed against my belief about who I was—defined largely by being a lesbian. I couldn’t conceptualize how I could be gay and be with Simon. People often rail about being put into a box—they don’t want to be labeled. But I did want to be labeled. I’d worn this particular label (lesbian) for over 20 years. And I was pissed that someone would try to snatch that away from me. I felt betrayed by Simon’s need to be himself. Because that self wasn’t what I’d signed up for.

Everything I wrote about that summer—two years ago now—was true. We did reconnect in meaningful ways. Our physical spark returned. We fell in love again.

But all the while, I felt off-kilter. Like I was lying to myself. I didn’t know if I could be married to a man. Because I didn’t want to be. I’d married the person I wanted. Now she was gone. And in her place was this guy—who looked like her, who both was but was not the person I fell in love with. My everyday life was a total mindfuck.

Angry. Sad. Betrayed. Lonely. Scared. All of this I felt with varying intensity, all the while cheering Simon on through his transition. Which was never about us (it couldn’t have been; it shouldn’t have been). Simon transitioned so he could live, really live, his own life. Which left me to figure out how my lesbian self—fit into this new life of his. And how he fit into mine.

More and more, I was convinced that he didn’t.

I crafted the life I wanted to live. I built it up brick by brick, carefully constructed to fortify me in case of disaster. Because disaster loomed large any time paused long enough to evaluate our situation. Which wasn’t often. Emotional survival became the ultimate goal.

When shit went wrong (like, really, really wrong), my fortification didn’t do jack to protect me. I felt vulnerable. Crushed. And searingly lonely. Everything I’d believed to be true for more than 13 years suddenly felt like a lie. A complete fabrication. I couldn’t breathe.

But I could see clearly.

I saw that grasping at a label—even one that served me so well for so many years—was destroying me. I finally saw the person standing in front of me—and he had real needs, fears, desires. Those had both everything and nothing to do with me. When I could just see us standing there—me and him, stripped of labels, and free to choose—then I knew that I wanted him. Not in that sure, we’ll stay together way. But in an I choose you way. Not you are good enough, but you are ALL that is ever going to be good enough.

So I chose him. And in the choosing I found freedom.

Kindergarten Pandas

IMG_3360Simon & I spent a lot of time planning our family. It took us 2 years to get pregnant, so we had lots of time to choose baby names, to debate how we’d handle hypothetical disciplinary scenarios, to make crazy proclamations like “She’ll never wear pink or play with princesses!” But all that time, I wasn’t imagining a baby. I was imagining a little girl who would bound home from school each day, discard her school stuff haphazardly at the front door, and clamber up to the kitchen table for an after school snack.

So, imagine my surprise when, in late January 2011, I found myself staring down at the face of an adorable, incredibly helpless baby. I was overjoyed and full of “what-the-hell-do-I-do-with-this-tiny-person?”. Fortunately, Jane is a good teacher. We muddled through each baby and toddler stage with varying degrees of success. But always with so much love & forgiveness for each other’s shortcomings.

This week, my baby girl started Kindergarten. And this… this is everything I dreamed it would be.

Jane likes learning (although she does have to fight through always needing to be right, in order to absorb new information. No idea where she gets that). She’s enthused about new adventures. And she adores people. New friends? Loves them! New teachers? Just more folks to love. Jane’s amazing preschool experience at the YMCA in Tampa set her up to completely rock Kindergarten. But there’s always an element of the unknown when dealing with a 5 year-old. So, I eagerly anticipated her first day of school, all the while fretting about how it would go. This is my way. It’s just what I do.

She’d made a specific request that we NOT be late on her first day. I’m not sure why… we aren’t usually late to things… but she was clearly worried. So I promised we’d get there early. But, on the morning of her first day of school, she slept past 6:45. Excuse me, but WHAT THE HELL?!? We’ve been trying to get this kid to sleep past 6:45 forever. And she never does. Not on Saturdays. Not on Sundays. Not on holidays. But on her first day of school? Sleeping like a log. I had to shake her to wake her up. And then she flopped right back in bed like a dead fish. Again, WHAT THE HELL???

She perked up when we wandered into the kitchen for breakfast. But I started eyeing the clock as it passed 7, and she was still munching pensively on her raisin toast. I swear, she was eating it so slowly that it was spontaneously regenerating. I told her to hurry. I wrung my hands. I asked if she was almost done. I bounced my leg anxiously. Nothing would entice her to eat faster.

Then, Bobby… oh, sweet, understanding, perceptive Bobby…stepped in, picked her up and asked if she was scared about her first day. And then there were tears. Yes, it turns out. Eating toast excruciatingly slowly is a symptom of being scared. She shed precisely two tears. Then she wiped them away and began excitedly chattering about her classroom, her Shimmer & Shine backpack (etc, etc, etc).

By the time we got her in her adorable uniform and walked up to the front of the school, she didn’t seem nervous at all anymore. She greeted the Principal and her teacher with her general bubbly good nature. When she saw the art and activity stations in her classroom, she exclaimed, “This will be FUN!” And then she was officially a Kindergartener. No more tears (from her or me).

And having a school-aged kid is just as amazing as I thought it would be. She chatters about her new friends, tells me what they did each day, and professes her love of being a Panda (it’s their mascot). She is growing up so quickly. And I am so grateful to be along for the ride with her.

IMG_3359

 

Resilience

IMG_3280

“We are going to move away from the only home you’ve ever really known,” we said.

“Okay,” she said.

“We know that you’re leaving behind friends and family. It’s okay to miss them, and its okay to cry.”

“But I will get to live in the same place as my best friends. And their moms. And we love them so much. So, it’ll be okay,” she said.

We said goodbye. To the house. To family. To friends. To our house.

“I am sometimes sad saying goodbye,” she said. Then she cried broken sobs that shattered my heart. I held her until she was done. She dried her eyes, looked up at me and said, “But it’ll be okay.”

We made the long trek from Tampa to Atlanta and arrived in our new (temporary) home after 11p.m. Nothing of hers had made it here yet, except a few favorite toys.

“I love sleeping in my sleeping bag next to you, Mommy. It’ll be okay,” she said.

The next morning we got up bright and early; the three of us walked to one of the most stellar breakfast spots in Atlanta. She ate a pancake, which she declared the best she’d ever had.

We set out to walk home and she burst into tears. “I miss everyone,” she sobbed. Her Bobby held her until she was done. “It’ll be okay,” she said, “as long as I can ride on your shoulders home.” So she did.

We sent her off to spend time with her best friends and their moms, the ones she loves so very much. She declared that definitely much better than okay.

We explored this big, beautiful city, and her eyes grew wide with wonder. “This isn’t like Tampa,” she said. “But I think I like it okay.”

We found our new YMCA, and I signed her up for camp. She cried before we left he apartment on her first day—something she has never, ever done. She didn’t want to go. I sympathized. I cajoled. And then I finally insisted she go. She looked so small when I dropped her off, there in this new place with new people she didn’t know. When I picked her up, she got in the car and yelled, “Today was the best day ever!” So, I guess that means it’s okay.

She is 5. She’s full of enthusiasm, optimism and a flair for the dramatic. And she’s not afraid to feel things. Not sadness. Not joy. Not even fear. She names her feelings for what they are, feels them, and then lets them go. She is amazing. Adaptable. Resilient.

She is making Atlanta her home, day by day. She has friends at camp. She can’t wait for Kindergarten (just another week and a half!). And she loves the friends she already had here. She is joyous and aglow when she is with them. And I am so grateful to have a child that does not shrink from living her life.

And she is definitely okay.

 

 

Might, Maybe, Might

3327257572_8c99011c37_o

Here’s what I remember:

I am 4 years old. I am in a brightly colored room (primary colors, primarily). Cubbies occupy one of the walls, looking cozy and inviting. Like a space I could learn to identify as my own. So I readily ignore them. I am not interested in belonging. I am interested in getting the hell out of there.

I am currently exercising my will to scream. And cry. Snot is everywhere. I am breathing the jagged breaths that feel out of control and scary. They only make me cry harder. The woman holding me, rocking me back and forth, tries to reason with me about the fun I’ll have, the friends I’ll make, if only I will get out of her lap and try

I am starting to want to try. From my heightened vantage point in my teacher’s arms, I can see kids outside riding Big Wheels. I don’t have a Big Wheel at home. I want to ride, to gather speed and feel my ponytails fly behind me. I bet I can be pretty fast on a Big Wheel. Still, I cry.

I open my mouth to tell my teacher that I might, maybe, might be ready to try. I think maybe I can do this. I want to break my commitment to misery and play instead.

Then another teacher approaches us: “We’ve called her mom. She’s on her way.”

I look at the teacher holding me and cry harder. Because I was just ready to try. And now it’s over, before I even got a chance to start.

I’ve remembered this feeling for the past 36 years–the defeat of having committed myself so much to fear and sadness that I’ve crossed the point of no return, that I’ve lost control. That feeling of helplessness, of watching events unfold, grasping and not being able to change them–it haunts me.

I felt that way in the deepest depths of my love affair with alcohol. I wanted to escape the pain I was in; drinking caused more pain and shame and self-loathing. I knew it. I saw it. But I’d committed to this affair, to blackout drinking, to reckless sex, to oblivion. When I thought I might, maybe, might be ready to try to deal with the wreckage of my life, I’d see how far things had gone. And I’d feel that helpless, grasping feeling–like I’d lost control, like I’d never be able to put things back together. And so I’d sit at the bar and order a stiff drink, so I could forget what I’d just struggled so hard to remember: that I might not be beyond salvation, if I’d just try.

 

Photo Credit: Flicker/John Morgan

Grace, Unexpected

FullSizeRender-4

On Tuesday morning, Jane and I barely made it out of the house on time for school. Getting ready in the mornings involves some pretty stellar teamwork—and when I say teamwork, I mean that Jane is responsible for getting her own self dressed & ready to walk out the door. It each girl for herself before 9 a.m. in this house.

Jane spent a large portion of her morning obsessing about the princess ring that she’d gotten out of the treasure box at school. She couldn’t find it. She thought perhaps I might know where it was—and apparently she thought my answer might change on the 101st time she asked me. I did not know where her ring was, not the first time or the 101st time. But she was undeterred. She needed to find that ring.

Galloping Gumdrops! Her ring was right where she’d left it: in her booster seat. (No, I don’t really say Galloping Gumdrops. But we’ve been reading a lot of early reader chapter books, one of which was rife with exclamations like “Salamanders & Salutations!” and “Peonies & Princesses!” I suffered greatly. Thank you for sharing my burden.)

I was distracted on the way to school, making travel plans, finding the perfect song on the radio. The usual. We got to school; I turned around to look at my precious 5 year-old singing along with the radio in the backseat.

And suddenly, shit got real: “Jane, WHERE is your backpack?” “Uh oh. We must have left it at home. “WE must have left it at home?! No, WE didn’t leave it anywhere. YOU left it at home. Your backpack, your responsibility.” I sighed loudly, for added emphasis. Because 5 year olds are especially susceptible to exasperated sighs.

Then I looked down at her. She looked crestfallen. And I realized that I could teach her about natural consequences and personal responsibility, or I could offer her a little bit of grace. Grace won. I squatted down so I was eye level with her, and I said, “You did something that was irresponsible. But YOU are not irresponsible. You made a bad choice. But YOU are not bad. You’re a great kid; I totes love you.” She threw her arms around me and whispered in my ear, “You’re a good mommy. And I’m very sorry about my backpack. I won’t leave it again.” And then she grabbed by hand and pulled me inside the preschool, like she does every morning.

I could recount the boring conversation we had about consequences for the next time (which I’m sure sounded pretty much like the teacher from the Peanuts to her); but most important was that she seemed to understand that we all make mistakes. And our mistakes don’t define who we are.

Fast-forward to Tuesday night: I made (pretend) BLTs for us. Simon was out of town, so Jane & I were enjoying just paling around. We were cutting up about something silly, when I heard a popping. I kind of ignored it. But then I heard it again. It was coming from the kitchen. The intrepid adventurer that I am, I went to investigate.

HOLY SHIT, BATMAN!

Instead of turning off the grease that I’d cooked the (pretend) bacon in, I’d turned it on high. The stove was glowing red & radiating heat. The grease was just pre-flashpoint. It was already smoking. I almost panicked (What do I do for a grease fire? OH MY GOD, I AM GOING TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.) I grabbed the pan off the stove & stood there for a minute indecisively. I wanted to get it far away from the heat source.

Amid all this, Jane is staring at me, looking perplexed and a little concerned. “What is it, Mommy? What’s happening?” Honestly, these aren’t usually my best moments of parenting. If I feel that hot sting of shame, like I’ve really fucked up… well, I usually get snappy, dismissive or mean. But I didn’t. Because I just finished reading Daring Greatly, where Brené Brown talks about Minding the Gap (between our aspirational values and our practiced values). I tell Jane all the time that people are not their mistakes, that we can all use a bit of grace… but that means nothing unless I practice it with the person I am least likely to offer grace: myself.

So, I chose vulnerability. I put the pan in the sink (no, I didn’t put any water on it. I at least remembered that much from Home Ec. And I remember how to sew a stuffed unicorn. I can’t wait to see when that comes in handy). I looked at my worried kid and said, “Mommy made a mistake. I wasn’t paying enough attention, and I did something that could have put us in danger. I am sorry about my mistake. I feel bad about it. But we are both okay.”

Immediately, she walked over, hugged me and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. We all make mistakes. You just made a bad choice. You are a good mommy. I love you.”

Well Caterpillars and Catshit, she DOES listen to me. And this is wonderful, and frightening, and a bit overwhelming: she watches me. She waits to see how I act, because that shows her what I really value. That morning she received grace, and that evening she freely returned it. She knew I didn’t expect perfection from her; when I was vulnerable enough to admit to my mistakes, she let me know that she valued my honesty and vulnerability over perfection. Kind of amazing, really.

And, grace aside, we are both pretty happy I didn’t ACTUALLY burn the house down.