Grace, Unexpected

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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.

You Don’t Like the Buzzer?

IMG_2051When I signed Jane up to play basketball this winter, I had no idea how much I’d learn. And my learning had little to do with the game itself and much more to do with resilience and joy and kicking perfectionism in the ass.

Our family belongs to the YMCA. Consequently, at the tender age of 5, Jane has already played soccer (multiple times) and tee ball. She’s taken swimming lessons, done gymnastics on and off since she was a wee tot. Our theory falls into the try-everything-and-see-what-sticks method of choosing a sport. So, when I signed her up for basketball, it was just something else we could see if she liked.

Oh, sweet baby Jesus, she was awful at it.

The first practice, she had no idea how to dribble. Which I thought would be fine. In the other sports she’d tried, no prior skill was necessary at all. Hell, a decent percentage of the kids ended up playing in the dirt or chasing bugs during the soccer and tee ball games. But what I’d failed to consider is that this wasn’t the “baby league” anymore. This was the 5 & 6 year old league–and they were serious.

She had two practices before her first game, during which she kinda-sorta learned to dribble once or twice before the ball would simply hug the ground. The first game left her completely bewildered. She was supposed to defend (which she’d never heard of before), to dribble (which she couldn’t do), and make a shot on a rebound (what?!?). She basically stood still in the middle of the court, halfheartedly followed her team around, and tried to look like she was part of the action while staying entirely away from the action.

And then it happened–the buzzer went off to signify the end of the period. Sweet girl was lucky she didn’t pee her pants, it scared her so bad.

I was sure she’d want to quit after the first game. Jane is a known perfectionist. If she isn’t sure she can totally rock something, she usually loses all desire to participate. But not so in basketball. In fact, she loved it. She constantly asked to go outside to practice her budding dribbling skills. She loved practice, and stayed more engaged than I thought was possible given her lack of basketball skills.

She loved something she was awful at.

I’d love to say I fully embraced her enthusiasm. But my ego was a bit wounded watching her look constantly confused on the court, seeing her struggle to pick up the skills that seemed to come easily to the other kids. And I was afraid–afraid the other kids would make fun of her, that they wouldn’t want her on the team. I was terrified they’d be mean to her and crush her spirit.

So, instead, I almost beat them to the punch by constantly offering “helpful” suggestions, by insisting she focus, by criticizing her efforts when she was already giving it all she had.

And then one day at practice, I noticed how much fun she was having. How she continued to try, even though she couldn’t execute the drills perfectly. My perfectionist kid wasn’t perfect–and she was okay with it. In fact, she seemed oblivious to it. And I realized I was watching her develop resilience–which is arguably a more important skill than dribbling.

Her basketball picture reminds me of joy and resilience in the face of imperfection. And it gives me so much hope for the woman that she will one day become, a woman who doesn’t have to be perfect to live life wholeheartedly and with great joy.

Expect … Nothing

We stood, shuffling about in line, waiting for our first ride on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I’d been anticipating this ride the entire trip. The wait time had never been under 80 minutes. But, since it rained that morning, the park was emptier than usual. Which meant only a 40-minute wait time. 40 minutes is nothing when I’m on a mission.

To their credit, Disney tries to make everything in the park as magical as possible, including adding diversions in the cues to enhance the waiting experience. We made music & splashed in water. We sorted touch screen gems. We spun buckets that projected images on the ceiling. We were simultaneously diverted and bored, which is a rather odd way to feel. The thing is, anticipation makes people antsy. Especially kids. Or maybe its just that kids aren’t as good at hiding their antsiness. Either way, the result is the same. In lines for rides or to meet characters is where the worst behavior pops up—from kids AND parents.

It was in this heightened Seven Dwarf Anticipation state where a kid in line in front of us effectively got his mother’s goat. Not only did he get her goat, but he was prancing around with her goat and showed no signs of giving it up. Their conversation went something like this:

Kid: (some action that is annoying only to the parent of said child)

Mother: (to husband) “I don’t know. I don’t know what his problem is, but he needs to be more appreciative.”

Kid: (sullen looking away from mother)

Mother: “Do you see where you are? Do you see everyone else having fun?! Why do you insist on being like this?”

Kid: (still sullen)

Mother: “Do you even want to ride any more rides? Because we don’t have to! You can just not ride any more rides all day long!”

Kid: (Sullen McSullerson)

Mother: “You are going to start having fun right now! You are going to put a smile on your face and have a good time! Do you hear me?!?”

Mother’s goat = Gotten.

Parents are often on their worst behavior at Disney. Parents expect their kids to appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made to get them to Disney World. They expect their kids to be laughing and joyful the whole time. I mean, duh… it IS The Happiest Place on Earth™. Except that the reality is that kids get tired, and overwhelmed, and emotionally frazzled from the anticipation and excitement. Kids cry. They whine. They ask for ONE MILLION things. Kids behave no differently in the Magic Kingdom than they do anywhere else in the world. They are still small people, with personalities and needs. Regardless of the Disney advertisements that try to convince parents otherwise.

I have a soft spot for the kids whose parents are losing their shit over poor behavior, screaming at them as the kids clutch their bags of cotton candy with Mickey Mouse balloons tied to their wrists. I want to gently pull the parents away and shake them back into their senses. I want them to see their kid, snot streaming down his face, doing his level best at the moment, but still failing to live up to the expectation. I think I feel so connected to these kids because I know that if I hadn’t spent time in recovery, I’d be treating Jane the same way. Because expectations were always my Achilles Heel.

When I started my recovery journey, I learned quickly that expectations only breed disappointment and resentment. And I was Queen of Outlandish Expectations. Consequently, every holiday, every special event, every PERSON was a disappointment. Because my expectations were entirely unrealistic. I cringe when I think how the people who loved me must have felt—it sucks to try so hard & still come up short.

The trick isn’t to LOWER expectations… that is just pessimism. The goal is to not HAVE expectations at all. Don’t expect the kid to be appreciative at Disney World (she has no idea how much it costs—and would I really want her to? No.). Don’t expect only laughter and lightheartedness (she’s still going to be just as sensitive as she is in the real world). I walk into the Magic Kingdom with zero picture in my head of what the day will look like, of what we will do (I mean, of course, no expectation for what we will do AFTER we ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), of how Jane will respond. If I drop the expectations, then we each get to be ourselves, without fear of reprisal. And isn’t that one of the best things we can give someone we love—the freedom to simply be themselves instead of what we expect them to be?

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A Bit About Gratitude (& Buddha & Jesus)

Laughing Buddha

Gratitude comes easier to me now that I am sober. I just didn’t get it before–I didn’t get how much I had, how little of it I’d truly “earned.” I came from a scarcity perspective. There was never enough of anything: money, time, love, contentment. Wherever there was a gap, wherever I found my life lacking, I filled that gap with alcohol. But when the drunk wore off, that nagging lack was always there. Because the lack had nothing to do with my external circumstances, and everything to do with ME.

As part of my Lenten spiritual practice*, I started reading Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. I caught a glimpse of it on my best friend’s bookshelf over Christmas break, and I remembered how much that book meant to me when I first read it. It was the first book I read in its entireity as I emerged from the darkest place my drinking took me. The fact that I could focus long enough to read the book and absorb it now seems like a small miracle. But it was just the balm I needed. It gave me renewed hope that I could find my way and find light and meaning in the world again.

Cracking it open this time gave me so much perspective on where I was all those years ago and on who I am now. This passage, in particular, jumped out at me:

” Perhaps you sometimes feel a homesickness, a sadness, and a sense that something is terribly wrong. You might experience this as a yearning for something that is lost, something that seems so familiar and yet so distant. You might feel hungry and needy and aware that nothing has been able to fully satisfy you–at least not for very long. It’s like drining salt water while floating adrift on the great ocean; it’s a drink that can’t possibly alleviate your thirst.”

I remember sitting outside my apartment, on the rare nights when I would try not to drink, and feeling like something was scratching away at me from the inside. I wanted so desperately to escape my own desperation and despair. I wanted to escape myself. But when I encountered that passage all those years ago, I felt my heart lift because someone understood exactly how I felt. And if someone else understood, then I wasn’t beyond hope, and I wasn’t alone.

When I opened Awakening the Buddha Within on a whim on Ash Wednesday, I had no idea that reading this book would engender so much gratitude. Because I don’t feel a constant yearning anymore. I am not lost. And I no longer dwell under a constant cloud of sadness. And I am so grateful.

I’d be lying if I said the journey to getting sober (and staying that way) was an easy one. Excavating demons in order to slay them comes with its own peril and pain. And once I took away the artificial contentment that alcohol offered, I had to work toward achieving some lasting peace. But I was wise enough to find what really worked for me–not what I thought looked right or what I thought other people wanted. Getting sober brought me back to Jesus, introduced me to Buddha, helped me find my rhythm in running, and helped me rediscover yoga (which was the practice that initially reached me in the darkest night of my soul). My life is rich and full. I am surrounded by a close group of people I love, who understand and accept me. And, even more importantly, I love and accept myself (at least most of the time).

I am grateful for this journey. I’m grateful for the gifts in my life that I did not earn and cannot say I truly deserve. I’m grateful for grace & love, which have brought me peace I couldn’t have dreamed of before. I am simply grateful for this life.

* One of the reasons I warmed so quickly to Awakening the Buddha Within is that Lama Surya Das immediately sets about demonstrating that buddhist principles can mesh quite easily with Christianity (and many other spiritual traditions). Me & Jesus are like peanut butter & jelly. I was pretty happy to know I could keep Jesus in my heart & still incorporate buddhist principles in my life.

Photo Credit: flickr/nightrose

I Am The Luckiest

When my partner & I set about to have a child, I assumed the process would take about 9 months—in total. We knew from the start that there would be other people involved in the process; I had a pretty good understanding of biology, enough at least to know that two girls couldn’t have a baby without some sort of outside assistance. So, yes, a donor, a doctor, maybe the occasional nurse. Easy peasy.

At the point we began trying to conceive, I was still drinking. Like a fish. Not often. Only once or twice a week. But copious amounts—of beer or whatever else could ease the itch I had to escape from myself. Consequently, I went to every insemination for over a year hungover. I must have smelled like last night’s regrets at every insemination appointment. But I figured plenty of people got knocked up when they were drunk. A little hangover shouldn’t matter too much.

But it did. Also, my first doctor had shitty timing and often insisted on performing the insemination after I was sure I’d already ovulated (spoiler: that won’t work at all). Between those two factors, and the breaks that we took from the whole process so I could emotionally regroup, the adventure that was supposed to take 9 months—in total—had now stretched out to 18 months with zero results.

Two important things happened next: I got sober. And we found a fabulous doctor. I got pregnant immediately. And at 7 weeks, I miscarried. 7 weeks is early. But it was long enough for me to have hopes and dreams for the child residing in my body. And it was heartbreaking to let that go. And, because I am me and felt entitled to be pregnant and to bear a child, it was enraging. What the hell was God thinking? I had gotten sober. I was doing the intense emotional work that comes in the first year of sobriety. I was being good, towing the line. What the fuck was the problem?

God and I had it out a couple times. I thought about writing him off entirely, but I’d really bought into the God loves me bit. So, I leaned in. To God. To my helplessness. And I began to accept that this may not happen at all the way I’d envisioned it. To say this wrestling with God, with my own lack of control, with surrendering my hopes was painful serves only to minimize the agony I felt then. It took a few months, but I started to accept reality. It didn’t look like I would be able to carry a child to term. So, I switched gears and wholeheartedly embraced the idea of adoption. Gay couples were prohibited from adopting in Florida at the time, so we plotted our escape to North Carolina. We scheduled a trip to fly up and look at houses. I was ready.

We had one remaining vial of sperm left in storage at the doctor’s office. We did the last insemination (although I didn’t want to) because wasting that much money seemed foolish. But I’d moved on. Instead of waiting anxiously for two weeks to find out if I was pregnant, I forgot about the insemination completely. Literally. Until 13 days after the insemination. When I felt… different. And I knew. I knew I was pregnant. And I was pissed. Holy hell was I pissed. I’d gone through all this agony to accept not being able to have a child. I had switched gears. I had accepted, for fuck’s sake. And now, well, it felt a little like a dirty trick God was playing on me. I mean, I know I have control issues. Do they have to be toyed with constantly?

I know this reaction to a much desired pregnancy sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me in the retelling. But I was scared. Scared I would lose this baby, too. Scared of loving it at all. I wanted to protect myself. But my partner cracked the façade a bit when she cried and yelled and hugged me when I showed her the positive pregnancy test. I continued to be cautious. We didn’t tell many people until the 11 week ultrasound (where all looked well.. and it looked like a girl!). I didn’t want to buy anything for her until after the 20 week ultrasound. My partner saw my crazy for…well… crazy. She carried on excitedly, dragging me along with her.

Once I could feel the baby move, my resolve cracked. It was like she took her little heel (which she was always jabbing into my ribs) and broke my heart open with it. She would snooze all day while I taught Freshman Comp at the local state university and do crazy in utero acrobatics while I tried to sleep at night. She hiccupped frequently, which I found absurdly charming. And those hiccups helped me bond with her; I’d hiccupped so much in utero that my mom called me “Scooter,” since my hiccups caused me to skid (gracefully I am sure) around inside her belly. This baby already acted like me in some small way, and I loved it.

As we got closer to the due date, my partner and I tried to settle on a name. Parker seemed like a good choice to us, a slightly more gender neutral name that we were sure would fit our child who we swore would never wear pink (even though her closet was already awash in pinkness after our baby shower) and who was bound to be a strong feminist from birth. And then, two days before I delivered, I ended up in the OBs office for an ultrasound; they turned on the 3D, and we could see her. We knew exactly what she would look like. And she looked nothing like a Parker. Shit. So we shifted gears and (after a few lengthy discussions) landed on Elizabeth Jane.

On January 28, 2011, after 14 hours of labor which eventually wound down into an unplanned C-section, Elizabeth Jane was born. She entered the world with what would become her usual flair: as soon as the doctor made the incision, Jane stuck her little fist straight up and out into the world. She’s always had a mind of her own, that one. Even from her first moments in the world, she had the most alert, curious brown eyes. After they stitched me up, I was wheeled in to the recovery room where Jane being held by her Bobby. I loved that after I’d gotten to carry her right beneath my heart for 9 months, my partner was the first to hold her in this world. It seemed right. Even now, Jane will insist that Bobby was her first parent, because he was the first to hold her after she was born. I love the bond they share, their little world of whispered secrets, crazy roughhousing and endless silliness.

Jane brings a tremendous amount of light to the world. She is kindhearted, curious, smart. She rarely meets a person she doesn’t immediately befriend. She feels things intensely. She makes me laugh; her facial expressions alone are enough to crack me up in mid conversation. And she teaches me. She has been teaching me since before she entered this world. I’ve learned to let go of my need to control to make more space for joy. I’ve learned to say yes—to experiences, to spontaneous moments, to life. She’s pushed me to become a more compassionate, patient person. I strive more than ever to be authentic, loving and whole because that is what Jane deserves—a parent who is all in.

Being Jane’s mom is the most fulfilling, life-changing task I’ve ever undertaken. I love that kid more than I could ever have imagined. A thousand times more than I did the day she was born—even though at the time I would have thought that impossible. I cannot wait to see what she does with this amazing life in front of her. But one thing I know for sure, regardless of her choices, her successes or her failures, she has my whole heart. And she always will.

Sleeping JaneSweet BabyIMG_0673Flower JaneIMG_0837IMG_1472IMG_1737IMG_1815IMG_2304IMG_2407IMG_2505IMG_2275IMG_2354IMG_2706IMG_2901IMG_3186IMG_3280IMG_3841IMG_0342IMG_0807IMG_2877IMG_3513IMG_0025IMG_1318IMG_1332

Happy 5th Birthday, sweet Elizabeth Jane.

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Nourishment for the Body & for the Soul: Fighting Shame & Anxiety

My seeming unwillingness to eat in high school drove people berserk. My friends constantly tried to bribe me with food from Chili’s, IHOP chocolate chip pancakes, the occasional Big Mac. I took a bite of a few fries (sometimes). Or I’d just languidly sip soda while they ate. I weighed 90 pounds; a strong gust of wind could have blown me away. My stomach constantly ached, and when I did eat, my body rewarded me with excruciating stomach cramps. Food became the enemy for my body, an unwelcome invader. It was miserable. I was miserable.

Now, over 20 years later and at a shockingly normal weight, I am still unsure if I had an eating disorder. I certainly enjoyed being what I saw as lithe and nymph-like (really, I was just shockingly unhealthy). And, later, food became a matter of control to me, a way to regulate my emotions before alcohol became my drug of choice. But, in high school, eating (or not-eating) wasn’t the problem. It was a symptom. One in a mounting number of ways my debilitating anxiety expressed itself. I was emaciated not because I didn’t want to eat, but because I couldn’t eat. Eating around my friends made my stomach swirl and churn until I ultimately threw up. Better to be the skinny girl that caused her friends angst because she wouldn’t eat late night pieces of pizza than to mortify myself by puking in front of my friends.

Two memories keep dragging themselves to the forefront of my mind when I think about high school:

1) I happened upon an article about a girl who had been hospitalized for an eating disorder. She received nutrients through a feeding tube as she began the long journey through recovery. I envied her. I wanted to feel clear headed and present, which I couldn’t do because I was so lacking in proper nutrition. But I needed to be able to obtain these nutrients without having to chew and swallow; the mere thought of going through the process of chewing and swallowing my food was enough to send me into a full-blown panic attack.

2) I once somehow cobbled together the courage to go on a double date. For about one hour, I felt like a totally normal teenager. I didn’t freak out in the car (even though riding in a car with my friends normally triggered my anxiety). I got to walk around, window shop and laugh. And then, shit got real when they decided they wanted to get ice-cream. Doesn’t it sound so benign? Ice cream. I decided to fight back against my anxiety, consequences be damned, and have that ice cream. It was delicious. And then I spent the next 15 minutes throwing up in an alley, with one of my closest friends petting my hair and asking repeatedly if I was okay. I just wanted to sink into the concrete. To disappear.

The situation felt so hopeless to me that I wanted to die. This isn’t even teenage hyperbole. I couldn’t see a way out of my situation. My anxiety raged completely out of control. I once missed a youth group trip (which I’d been excited about for months), because I couldn’t convince myself to board the bus. I couldn’t imagine what I would say to people for the 8 hour bus ride. If I was with them that long, they would see me—and find me completely unworthy. Unlovable. And I would be ashamed. So I played sick. It was better than the alternative of letting them know who I really was.

My senior year, I missed so much school that the administration wanted to hold me back. I watched my world grow smaller every day, constricted by carefully constructed rules I followed to keep my anxiety at bay. I carved out spaces in which I felt (somewhat) safe. I haunted those spaces: the journalism classroom, my part-time job at Target, home. In these spaces I could pretend I was normal, just for a minute. Just to catch my breath.

Mercifully, high school eventually ended. With that end came a rush of relief and a reprieve from the anxiety that held me prisoner for so long. As I headed in to college, I knew something about my life had to shift. I needed space to learn and experience life, without carrying around an oppressive blanket of anxiety like an angsty version of Linus from the Peanuts. And, damn it I needed to eat.

It turns out the cure for anxiety isn’t more fear and hiding, it is vulnerability. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, renowned shame researcher, Brené Brown, notes that shame thrives on secrecy; sharing shame diminishes it, robs it of its power. Sharing shame requires vulnerability. Now, in college, I knew nothing of shame research or the power of exposing secrets to the light. Except that, intuitively, I knew that the secret of my anxiety was only making me sicker. I had the good sense to wait to be vulnerable with just the right person. When I met her I knew she was the right one: with her, I felt like I belonged. I felt loved and worthy (worthiness, belonging and love are all factors that Brené Brown asserts are fundamental to living Wholeheartedly). I was so not ready to love myself, but I could let her love me. And I could trust her.

The unraveling of my shame and my deep sense of unworthiness (which is an ongoing process for me) began so simply. One night, as we sat on her dorm room floor with subs, chips and soda spread out in front of us, she asked me why I wasn’t eating. I took a deep breath. And I told her. I told her about my anxiety, how I couldn’t eat even when I wanted to, that I threw up if I tried. She listened thoughtfully. Then she said, “What about small foods? Like, could you eat just a cube of cheese? What about a grape or two?” Small foods. Oh my God, yes! I could eat small foods! I’d spend years eating only small foods around almost anyone other than her. But I could eat! And I could think. I could breathe. Because, when it comes down to it, nourishing the soul with love and belonging and cultivating a sense of worthiness is just as important for me as nourishment for my body.

Photo Credit: unsplash/Christopher Campbell

It’s Hard for Me to Say “I’m Sorry”

We say, “I’m sorry,” a lot in this family.

This apologizing bit is relatively new to me. In fact, when Simon and I met, I truly sucked at apologies. An apology from me most often began with “I am sorry your feelings got hurt…” or “I am sorry you feel that way…” Yeah, personal responsibility wasn’t so much my gig. Even now, I have to watch myself, or there will be about six qualifiers to my apologies. Turns out, an apology with qualifiers isn’t really an apology at all. Huh.

In tandem with my unwillingness to apologize, I’ve got a nasty case of “I-am-always-right-itis.” I am a real charmer to live with. So it takes me until the 2nd of forever to admit that I am wrong in the first place. And then I have to figure out how to phrase my apology so it doesn’t cause even more havoc than my original egregious error. It’s fucking exhausting.

But (here’s my redemption), Jane brings out my willingness to be genuinely sorry for my actions and to earnestly seek forgiveness. This kid, she pushes me to be better in every way.

The truth: sometimes I lose my shit. The other morning, it was a dress (size 6x) that pushed me over the edge. The details don’t matter. It matters that I yelled. That she cried. That, in the moment when I was still seething, I refused her a hug and sent her to her room.

Ugly.

I went back, after a few deep, cleansing breaths, to check on her in her room. She still wanted that hug. This time I picked her up and carried her to the bed, where she laid on my chest just the way she used to when she was a baby. I held her while she cried out all of the yuckiness from the morning, and I apologized. For losing it over a dress. For yelling. For not being more patient. I murmured in her ear. I held that sweet girl until we both felt better.

Later, I noticed she was still hovering close as I made my way through my morning routine. I pulled her to me and put my hand on her heart. “I don’t want you to feel yucky in here because we had an argument over a dress,” I told her. “You having a good day at school is your most important job. You forget about that dress, okay? You and me, we are good.”

She smiled. “We are good, right Mommy?”

And we were. We were good. On the ride to school, she laughed about how silly it was that we fought over a dress. “It’s silly! Isn’t it so silly, Mommy?!”

And so, we learn. We learn not to get our panties in a bunch about insignificant minutia. We learn to ask for forgiveness. To do better next time. We learn to forgive each other and love each other through the messiness.

It is these moments that define me as a mom. Not the picture perfect parenting successes. The moments where I fuck up and own it. The moments where I show my daughter that she is worth humbling myself to ask for her forgiveness. These are the moments I show her the most love.

The THING (A Tale of Darkness)

I woke in the middle of the night paralyzed by fear. My heart raced. I frantically tried to remember what I’d been dreaming, what created enough havoc in my subconscious to send my mind spiraling to the dark side.

I couldn’t remember. Nothing was lurking.

Except the THING.

The THING had been tugging at my mind for several days. The THING kept popping up into my thoughts. This wasn’t a new THING. It’d been around the block with me; in fact, it had been around the block so long it had bought a house on the block. It nagged at me, caused arguments with Simon, made me distrustful and wary. Every time I thought I put the THING to rest, every time I let my guard down because I felt certain of the THING’s death… it would pop up out of its grave, right as I walked by. Creepy, this THING. And it had an uncanny sense of my vulnerability. It lurked and waited for my weakest moments, and BAM! That’s when the THING would rear its ugly, unwelcomed head.

Now it was 2 a.m., and this THING had cozied up to my brain, entangled itself, choking out all the good thoughts. Oh, I could have stopped it before it staged an all-out coup of my mind. But I thought I could engage with it just a little bit. Fatal error at 2 a.m. The THING is to be engaged with only in the light of day.

The next morning, I stumbled into the kitchen, bleary from lack of sleep. The THING had tormented me, wrestled me to the ground, brought me to tears until 4 a.m. Simon looked concerned. I bravely soldiered on, unwilling to let the THING have any more of my time. I would survive this bout with the THING just like I had all the others—I’d ignore it until it went away.

But this time the THING was outmatched. It turns out that big foundational shifts in life (like a partner transitioning from one gender to another, say) lead to deep soul searching. This searching forced me to wrestle with difficult truths, to question long-held beliefs about myself, and to discover what it truly non-negotiable for me. Simon’s transition has also made him more aware of—and able to address—my emotional needs as his partner. Hand to God, sometimes its like he’s seeing me for the very first time.

Just as I was about to embark on my daylight rendezvous with the THING, Simon texted me and asked me what had kept me up all night. Two miraculous things happened next: 1) I told him exactly what was going on. No minced words. No tiptoeing. I just spoke my unvarnished truth—clearly, sensibly but unwaveringly. 2) He HEARD me. He heard the words behind the words. He heard what I’d been trying to explain for what feels like an eternity. He heard me.

Maybe the key to self-knowledge (and to relationships) is relentless truth-speaking—broken only by pauses to listen for subtle interior changes, to look for fractures and places of regrowth. Maybe. But I know this for sure: never, ever give up on what you need. Never. Keep speaking your truth until you are heard. You are worth hearing.

Ultimately, a 15 second texting interlude sent the THING packing once and for all. It is dead. I am sure of it. But just for good measure, I flicked it off when it turned to leave. Because I am self-aware, not mature.

Image: Romain Briaux

Fear Is A Bastard

I go to church, in part, to be reminded not to be an apathetic jerk. Sure, the singing and praising God is nice and all, but my default mode falls toward the self-centered mark. I need a little Jesus in my week to pull me back toward a love of humanity, to get me out of my head, to give me (divine) perspective.

I leave each Sunday’s service with a little to-go nugget of knowledge. Sometimes, I walk around relatively clueless about why a certain thought keeps popping into my head when I am trying to do important things, like convince my kid that shoes are, in fact, a necessity in the grocery store. Other times, I know damn well what I am supposed to be changing, pondering, doing—but that doesn’t make the doing any easier. Because, let’s face it, we aren’t often called (by God, by the Universe, by our Higher Self… whatever) to easy tasks.

Just in case you didn’t make it to your spiritual refuge this weekend, I will share the insights offered up at my church. Because I’m a giver.

Fear causes us to live small lives, to squander what we’ve been given. Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. Fear is what causes us to run up to the edge of the diving board and stop short, toes curled around the edge of the board, feeling the pull toward the water but hesitating nonetheless. Fear causes us to turn around slowly and make our way back the way we came, onto the safety of dry ground. Fear pushes us away from joyful bounding into cool water, keeps us from knowing the thrill of a successful leap. Fear is a bastard that robs us of joy, that shuts out love, that keeps us small and contained.

I am a mess when I let fear pick at my wounds until they bleed. Fear shuts me down, sends my brain into a cycle of doom that just won’t quit. Fear drove me to seek solace in an ice cold beer, a shot of whisky, anything to keep me from facing my own vulnerability. I drank because I feared rejection, love, connection and distance.

Fear wore out its welcome after a while. So, I took back the reigns of my life and got sober. I followed my path toward recovery. And that first year, I made real progress. And then, sometime during year two, the anxiety that I’d kept at bay with alcohol for all those years came crashing down around me. The roar of my own fear was deafening. My fear quickly robbed me of my ability to go outside the house without crippling anxiety (which, oddly, always manifested itself in a need to pee. No joke. We couldn’t be out for more than 15 minutes before we’d have to find a bathroom. Which made me feel much less anxiety ridden—for about the next 15 minutes).

Everybody gets scared. There’s no shame in that. But allowing fear to control our decisions, our actions, allowing fear to box us in, to murder our dreams, to suffocate love… that simply can’t be tolerated.

So we move forward… in faith and in love.

God expects us to live with big love, love that will take risks to change the world. 12-step programs encourage newcomers to choose a conception of God that works for them, that they understand. I am down with that. The God I grew up with was pretty angry most of the time. He looked for reasons to smite people, to take away what they held most dear as punishment for misbehavior or simply to exercise His Godly Will. Scary and not particularly trustworthy.

I understand God really differently now. God believes the best in us, because we were created in His image. The image of God resides in ME. In YOU. And God is love. Vibrant, crazy, radical love. That kind of love holds no space for fear. That love spurs us to do the impossible, to dream big, to take risks so that LOVE CAN WIN. And it can. But we have to do the work. We have to turn our backs on fear. We have to choose love.

Sometimes choosing love looks really big, like fostering a child or doggedly fighting inequality. But sometimes choosing love is marked by small yet significant acts. At the peak of my anxiety, I chose love instead of fear each time I fought back my anxiety and left the house (always with a mental map of the closest bathroom). I sent fear scurrying a little further into the shadows each time I said yes to a request to teach, to serve, to give of myself—even though fear and panic gripped me (and I made about 25 trips to the closest bathroom) until the actual moment I started engaging with others. And then love took over, relegated fear to a corner and took center stage. Love gave me faith that fear wouldn’t always hold such sway in my world. Love kept me going, reminded me that fear could not stop me—unless I let it.

Love is greater than fear. In our lives. In the world around us. Love beckons us to take that flying leap off of the diving board, to soar through the air, to taste the deliciousness of the moment. Love calls us back to life—strong, vibrant and soulful.

Mess is Underrated

I write vignettes: tiny little glimpses into my world, in which everything resolves neatly in the end. Which makes my life seem put together, wrapped up, tidy. But, really, there is a lot of mess before the lesson is learned, before the big picture becomes clear.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the mess. And how often I live in the mess, muddling through, wondering how long I’ll have to slog along before I can see my way into the clear again.

Mess gets a bad rap, though. When I give my 4 year old a piece of watermelon, she can consume the whole thing almost mess-free, managing each drip as it occurs, bending over a plate to avoid getting errant pink juice on her clothes. But, on my stellar mommy days, I just take the kid outside and let her go after that watermelon like it’s her job. I’ve had to hose her off after an encounter with a watermelon, but damn if she didn’t love every moment, every bite.

Mess isn’t inherently bad, it seems. In fact, when I try to tidy up my mind too quickly, I miss the joy that can ultimately be derived from the mess. I get so busy trying to make everything neat again, to get my feelings tucked into nice little boxes, that I miss being able to take inventory of everything that’s there, choosing what to keep and what to discard. I don’t get to find my own resolution if I avoid the mess entirely.

Simon’s transition is messy for me. It brings BIG feelings to the forefront. Often the feelings seem to conflict—and contradiction makes me crazy. But I’ve discovered that I can feel multiple things at once. That doesn’t make them less true.

Here’s a quick (and, I’m sure, incomplete) list of what I feel at this given moment:

1) I am proud of him.

2) I struggle mightily against loss of my lesbian identity.

3) I admire his strength.

4) I am angry that I didn’t get to choose this.

5) I am happy; Simon and I laugh a lot.

6) I feel entitled to ask for something big—a psychic balancing of the ledgers.

7) I regret all the time that he wasn’t who he really wanted to be.

8) I am excited to see who he’ll become.

9) I love him with a vibrant, expanding love that sometimes feels like it might crack my heart.

10) I resent that more people don’t ask me how I am.

11) I am grateful that I finally understand his need to transition.

12) I am amused; after all, I live with someone who acts like a teenaged boy.

13) I feel lucky that I was chosen for this journey—that Simon invited me to accompany him.

14) I feel fiercely protective of him, of our family.

15) I feel completely normal.

I find this mess strewn all over the interior of my psyche. It bleeds into my spiritual life, impacts the way I interact with the world around me. Truly, it screws with me sometimes. My instinct is to corner the mess, box it up and shove it under a bed somewhere. That’s how I used to clean my room when I was a kid. My mom kept insisting that shoving things into a box/drawer/under the bed wasn’t cleaning. And eventually, I’d have to drag that same damn mess out again to sort it, to purge it, and/or keep it. Eventually I’d have to deal with it. Something tells me that psychic mess is no different.

So, I am letting the mess just be. I am observing it without getting attached to it. I feel how I feel. There’s no need to get all judgey or label-y. I know the mess will eventually begin to sort itself in an organic way. Some feelings will fade, some will morph into others, and some will have to be dealt with.

But right now, I am just going to let the mess be. I am going to pour myself another cup of coffee and appreciate this wildly chaotic psychic moment.