Lessons on Loneliness, Translations and Bedtime Stories

Because of shared custody, full-day Kindergarten, and a busy schedule, my daughter and I usually, truly connect during the week on the nights I get to put her to bed; which is approximately 53% of the time. That’s what happens in divorce, you only get a percentage of your child’s life.

I lay with her before she falls asleep, and her inner thoughts and worries come bubbling to the surface like secrets. She tells me as much as she is able to understand, and I translate the feelings she does not have the words to say. Two nights ago she cried big, heaving tears about a recent birthday party where two girls, whom she’s been friends with for about three years, wouldn’t “follow her.”

These three girls spend a lot of time together because I’m also friends with their moms, and we like spending time together, too. These two friends of mine are two big reasons I was able to survive this last year of divorce. They supported me, included me, made me feel like I was not alone in this city where the only family I knew stopped speaking to me the day I filed for divorce.

But lately, I haven’t felt so included. For a variety of reasons I feel a rift between me and these two friends. They are both married. They have two children who are the same ages, and all their kids are friends. They aren’t limited in their plans by shared custody and “weekends off” and the ability to pass the kids off to a husband for an impromptu shopping trip on a Saturday afternoon. When we get together their husbands idle off to the side with their beers and talk about husbandy things. I watch. I listen. I see the updates on Facebook when they go on “date nights” and I have no plus one anymore.

I’ve been feeling this distance and the accompanying loneliness and it hurts pretty bad. So when my daughter cried to me two nights ago about not being “followed,” I cried with her, because I knew she was trying to say she felt alone, and left out. Usually, I’m not at a loss for wise words of motherly advice translated into 5-year-old speak, but I was this night. I just layed there and said, “I know, baby. Me too. Feeling lonely and left out is miserable and it’s okay to cry. I’ll cry with you. Okay? Because I’m feeling pretty left out too.”

Then I remembered this book I bought a couple of weeks ago at a spiritual bookstore. It is a book for kids called, On My Way To A Happy Life by Deepak Chopra. I love this book. I gush over this book. Because I gush, they groan when I try to read it at night, but I read it anyway. And by the end, they are always rapt with attention. It’s one of my favorite things right now.

Deepak Chopra On My Way to a Happy Life

As we lay there crying I asked her if she remembered what the book said about getting the things we want in life? I reminded her that it said she needed to give away the things she wants. If she wants her friends to “follow” her, she’s got to follow them, first. If she wants to be heard and seen and included, she’s got to hear, see and include others. And the best way to do these things, is with a giving spirit, and a happy heart. It was truly advice for us both.

I think I might be a professional loner. I move away from people, I alienate them, I build walls and hide behind them every single day. I choose people who are cold and distant so that I don’t have to thaw my icy exterior. Truthfully, this blog is my alter ego. My everyday self only understands so much, and the voice in my head that writes here is my wiser self that translates what I do not have the words to say outloud.

I justify these things easily. Because life has not been kind to me in the ways of love and so I have grown a heart of thorns. I have been told (more than once) that I am not easy to love. And I’m not. So scared am I of the pain that seems to always follow the fall. So terrified of the vulernability and weakness I’ve laid on the table the moment it all goes to shit. It seems a thousand times easier to stay walled up in my self-imposed cage. This is the part of my disintigrated marriage that I own. I am not easy to love.

But I know I’m not impossible. I did try really hard in my marriage. But sadly, that was a lost cause for many reasons. And I am all the more frightened from it. But I can’t give up, right? I have to keep trying. Somehow, I have to find the wisdom to keep turning toward the light. I know this now. This blog helps.

But it’s too late to change what has already happened. It is too late to go back and impart this wisdom on my 23 year old self, my 27 year old self and my 36 year old self. But it’s not too late today. Today I will choose to do the scary things, like trying to give away pieces of me without being frightened how they might be treated. And I will do this by taking the pieces that others give me, and caring for them like they were my own. I will give away what I so desperately need. To be seen.

We always hear that our children mirror our emotions. My daughter and I crying together over our shared loneliness of these same friends in our lives has never illuminated this more clearly for me, and thus, it has never been more clear what I must do.

There are only two people on this planet I have never held back from loving. They have had all of me from the moment they were conceived, and I hope they always will. These two are my greatest translators in this crazy world about the meaning of love, and if for no one else, (actually, I can’t think of better people) I will try for them. I will do the scariest things just to show them what happens when you’re brave enough to expose your heart.

And so, even though everytime I open this page I’m scared, I will continue to open it. Even though I am terrified of loving another again, I will try. Even though my unwisest self pulls me into the shadows behind my walls and thorns, I will continue to step out into the sunlight. Because they need to know a world with that kind of warmth. And we will be each other’s translators of that kind of love.

Why I Stopped Asking “Why Me?”

Sometimes, I get really bogged down in the why-me’s.

Why did MY marriage fail? statistically speaking, it shouldn’t have happened. We dated 3 years before getting engaged. I didn’t get married until I was 27. I waited to have my first child at 31. We were college educated – had successful careers. All these things statistically point to marriages which have a low probability of divorce. We should have beaten the odds. But we didn’t. We didn’t. We didn’t. I didn’t.

They say the divorce rate hovers around 50%. Well not in my socio-economic world. I have ONE divorced acquaintance and we became acquaintances BECAUSE we’re divorced. It’s a lonely world this upper-middle class divorce thing.

Okay, so my marriage failed. Shit happens. Fine. But then I start in with the why-me’s of having an angry, vindictive ex. I hear stories about ex-husbands who would do ANYTHING to make sure their kids were well cared for either by them, or their mothers. They willfully help with fixing cars, extra-curricular activities, they talk civilly and kindly to their ex-wives, they attend birthday parties and holidays because they understand that he kids come first. Why does my ex not even look at me? Why will he do anything in his power to hurt me? Why did he take me to court and make me spend my savings just to get a basic level of support?

Yes. Why me?

That leads to a lot of self-blame. Because being a victim is not in my DNA.

What fatal flaw did I make? What road sign did I take a left at, when I should have turned right? What is wrong with me?

Truth is, there’s a lot wrong with me. There’s a lot wrong with all of us because we’re human beings and we make a million mistakes a day. There isn’t some pill you can take to stop being human. You can’t medicate or even meditate the condition away. Believe me, I’ve tried.

You can read the rest here on Scary Mommy.

 

 

To Kelly and Jackie: You Are the Lucky Ones

I have watched for years as a Facebook acquaintance grappled with the loss of her sister from cancer. First, it was news of bad tests. Then, it was the hope of remission. Then, more bad tests. Then, less hope. Then, it was only a matter of time. A couple of weeks ago her sister died. This weekend, she was buried.

Kelly is her name. She is vibrant and blonde and in her late 30s. Her sister who died is Jackie, a strong-looking brunette not much older. I do not know Kelly well, and I’m positive I never met Jackie, but I feel a great amount of love for their family. She has exposed so much of her pain on such a public forum full of people like me, acquaintances, that I admire her vulnerability.

She has written what amounts to love letters to her sister. Open, honest, BRAVE, heart-wrenching love letters accompanied by touching, ordinary pictures which could fill anyone’s photo albums. I have poured over those pictures. I have noticed the particular curves of their smiles. The familiar, not at all awkward touches between them, the laughter I can almost hear. Kelly and Jackie I don’t have those kinds of pictures of my sister in my photo albums. My sister and I are what you’d call “estranged.” I have not spoken to her in a few years, but that was no great loss as I never had a meaningful relationship with her in all my life. Like kerosene and flame, we never mixed well.

I am the younger one, like Kelly. But where Kelly and her sister grew up in love my sister and I grew up in something else. My sister dislikes my existence for whatever reason. My presence was nearly always met with rolled eyes, a disgusted face and harsh words. I can only assume that the kind of person I represent, sets her off. We are so diametrically different. Honestly, I’m not sure anymore what it is about me, but she never liked it. Any of it. And I am not faultless, I am a hard person to love. And after 37 years of fights, I am numb.

So, there you have it. Two people who have difficulties expressing love, or being loved, and who grew up competing for the love and attention of our parents are now real and virtual strangers. She has me blocked on Facebook.

My sister has always kept a journal. She has stacks and stacks of them and I used to read them when I was younger. I knew it was wrong, but I just wanted to know more about this stranger with whom I shared a bathroom and a bloodline, and so I read them secretly. About a year ago I was visiting my parent’s with my children. My son, only two at the time, pulled a cheap lock off a small box that was sitting in the hallway by her old bedroom; left over stuff from when she moved out. I opened the box and neatly arranged inside were rows and rows of her journals. I pulled one out and flipped to a random page.  “You know who is coming in town again. I can’t stand her. I will probably just leave and not come home until she leaves.” I shut the journal. I didn’t need to read more.

So I watch Kelly go through this unspeakable pain and it tugs at my deep wounds. While I know she’s hurting more than a status update can convey, I want her to know how lucky she is. Her sister is gone, but she had one for a while who loved her, and whom she loved madly, deeply, without refrain, and to me… she is the lucky one. She posted something today about how Monday morning everyone will go back to their “normal” lives but she won’t. She will still be feeling the sister-shaped void of Jackie.

Well Kelly, you’re not alone. No one gets to go back to normal. We all carry the pain of the loss of people we love, or should love, or never got a chance to love.

In the study of mind-body connection they say that emotional pain is sometimes trapped in your hips. You do “hip-openers” in yoga to release these things from your body. My sister is in my hips. So are parts of my mother and certainly my ex-husband. As much as I try to open them sometimes, they just won’t stretch in all the ways I’d like. No, there’s no going back to “normal.”

This past year, the first in many, my sister sent me a Christmas present. It was a lovely box of beautiful smelling things. She also sent me the first birthday card in years. It was only slightly sentimental, but I know it was as far as she could go. I have yet to thank her. I’ve kept her address next to my computer, but for some reason, I have not sent that note. Afraid, I guess – the loss in my life feels too great sometimes to open it up to more.

But today, I donate what I can to help Jackie’s family recover from the cost of caring for her all these years of her terminal illness. It’s the least I can do for the Brave Love Kelly has allowed me to witness so freely. And I will donate under the name of my sister. As a thank you. And in an effort to release the uncomfortable ache in my hips, and maybe, just maybe work my way into a new normal.

No Kelly, no one can go back. But we can go on. And maybe we can work our way a little more open if we try.

Jackie and family

If you’d like to donate to help Jackie’s husband and her two small children cover the costs of caring for Jackie, here is the link. http://www.gofundme.com/jackiesmith-malena

How to Love Someone Who Hates You

The latest venom my ex husband spat via email was, “I won’t be wasting another minute of my life trying to explain something to you.” This came after I asked simple and reasonable questions regarding the split of our financial lives. You see, he’s a financial advisor. This is his area of expertise, and, foolishly or faithfully, I let him have control over it since before we were even married. Money has always been high on the list of things he loves.

And so here I am at 37 and I haven’t done my own taxes for 12 years. I didn’t even know how much money we had, or where it was located, until I decided I needed to leave this marriage. I have always respected money, but it was never on the list of things I loved.

And now, after orders have been handed down by a judge proceeding a lengthy and costly trial, we are finally separating the last part of our entangled, paper lives. Logically, there are things I still need to know, details to sort out, and just like everything else up to this point, he refuses to be a catalyst for moving forward, still stuck in a need to punish, to hate, to impose revenge.

And yet, he’s the father of the two people I love most in this world, and he will be until the day I die. They love him, and so, I too must find a way not to hate him.

The only way I know how to do this is to remind myself of his humanity. Some days, when the venom flows and my daughter tells me that she no longer wants a kitten because daddy says I won’t take care of it, the effort it takes to remind myself of his humanity feels like slogging through quicksand. Even so, I take a deep breath and force myself to honor and respect this person who does not respect me, who, I have no doubt would smile upon learning I had a terminal illness and find joy in any misfortune which might befall me.

This is the most challenging thing I have ever had to do.  It stretches my capacity for compassion and then forces me to stretch further, deeper, down to the bottom of everything I have until some days, I am all but empty.

It requires a daily practice of remembering over and over and over that he is simply, a human being. He is fallible. He is blinded in so many ways – just like we all are from time to time – to what really matters in this life. And that is another thing I must practice daily; reminding myself over and over what really matters in this life.Picture saved with settings embedded.

And so I have come to realize that his hatred of me, is actually a blessing. I get to remember over and over what I love, what deserves my love, and the power that love contains. 

These children, they taught me what love is and what it is not. The love I feel for them, it humbles me, it reduces me to my elements. It feels like those pictures you see of galaxies far, far away; unimaginably expansive, mystically beautiful, mysteriously familiar. This love is elegantly simple, and intricately layered, and has no comprehensible outer edge. It contains all the elements of the universe.

It is a the strongest thing I know and it is what I’ve come to understand as the most important thing in this life. And the truth is, just like the stars it has immense power.  It will give you strength to do the unimaginable. It will even make you to pray for your enemies. And so I do. And so I do.

On Choosing to Live with Ghosts

Today has been about pictures and ghosts because my house is haunted.

My Kindergartener has one of those “About Me” posters due in school in a month. Normally, I am a professional procrastinator with a black belt in inventing distractions. Something like this wouldn’t get my attention until the evening before it’s due. But I can’t afford that luxury anymore. It’s one of the many luxuries I gave up when I left my husband. In my new reality, I know that I have two more weekends with my daughter until it’s due, and that means, I have to gather supplies (poster board), find pictures (spend an hour looking through files on my compter), order said pictures (through Costco) and afix these to her poster while coaxing her into writing sentences about them… in Spanish. It’s going to take a little forethought and planning. This also means I have to look through pictures of her father. Happy pictures of before. Oh look, there we are on the beach! On vacation! In the backyard! What a great day that was! Remember!?!?!

Although it was a little torturous, I wouldn’t dare leave him out of her poster about her. 

I selected one. While I was at it, I decided I might as well fill that multi-picture frame collage that used to house our wedding photos. It’s been sitting empty on my wall, like a hallow reminder of this past year. So I selected a whole stack of great pictures of me and the kids from the past year. The beach! Vacation! The backyard! What a great day that was! Remember?!?! And then a few more, for a few more empty frames.

After procuring these pictures at Costco… on a Saturday… with two kids in tow… because clearly I hate myself and put very little value on my sanity… I came home and started taking the frames apart, replacing older pictures with new. I have this habit of leaving old pictures in the frames behind newer ones. I’d done a pretty thorough sweep of “our” pictures many, many months ago, but in this process, I found a picture of us. We were smiling, a beach in the background. A ghost.

This house is full of them. It’s haunted from the concrete slab up into the rafters, which is probably why he doesn’t want it. Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first) but I do. Yes, I want to live with these sad, haunting apparitions, and let me tell you, they linger E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E. They’re scattered about in the corners of closets disguised as dusty, ancient, random man-detritus; a belt, a lone shoe, a tie clip. They are in some trees he planted still thriving in the yard. On the top shelf in the garage, behind the coolers.

Along with these sad, melancholy ghosts are also these increbibly bright spaces. The space in the living room where my daughter took her first steps often pulses with the softest light. The spot in the driveway where my son learned to ride his bike is forever in sunshine even in the dead of winter. The electric magesty of the other tree where we hang our peanut butter bird feeders and homemade bird houses leaves me breathless. And there’s this warm glow that comes from the front doors of the neighbors who are friends and the friends who are neighbors. But my favorite bright space is the flattened and stained carpet where my children run their paths through the only house they’ve ever known, the house where they were born. These paths have this beautiful, lusterous sheen, which might actually be apple juice, but it’s still so, so lovely when the sun hits it just right.

Sometimes I envy his new digs; the top floor, spacious, two-bedroom, corner condo with a view of the pool.  I don’t actually know what it looks like inside, because he won’t allow me in the building, but I’m fairly certain there are no ghosts living there. He is the type of person who doesn’t look back and has no desire to do so. I assume it’s because of the sadness that arises when you do. And for this, I also feel sorry for him.

Because I choose to live with ghosts, because I survive with them, too.

Because life is a messy mix of the joy and the pain. There can’t be one, without the other. There is no definition of light that does not include the dark. And somewhere deep in my knowing I’ve learned that there is no gratitude without ungratefulness, no love without loss, no future without the past. Most important, I know that I could never know where I’m headed without remembering where I’ve been. And where I’ve been, is right here the whole time.

So I learn to live, and maybe even love, or at the very least appreciate, these ghosts.

And plus, there’s this thing about ghosts and pictures… over time, the light… it fades them.

The Shower on New Year’s Eve That Washed Away Everything

My oldest is 5 years old, so that means I haven’t celebrated New Year’s Eve in any significant way for six, pregnant, breastfeeding, infant, toddler, kid years. But this New Year’s Eve, I was lacking all of these things because the kids left for their father’s at 4pm not to return for another day. I started the evening with a long overdue shower.

I’ve been in a bad place for a while, maybe two months in all. Divorce mediation was in October. Most of November was trial prep, and there was a TON of exhausting, tedious prep accompanied by ginormous checks that needed writing. My attorney wheeled all 7 of the 3 inch binders to court on a small dolly and I now join the millions of American’s in credit card debt. Then, there was a three-day trial in December. (Did I mention that only 5% of divorces make it to trial? because that’s a statistic that I’m sitting on the wrong side of). Then, I spent 6 days without my babies before Christmas and then celebrated (RE: cried, wallowed, white-knuckled through) my first Christmas as a divorcee. And finally, there will be one last day of trial in January because hell hath no fury like a financial expert who’s asked to part from money.

But it was New Year’s Eve. The night when we get to wash away all that dirty mess of the past and celebrate the possibilities that come with a shiny New Year. I love it. I’ve always loved New Years. I love that for ONCE I get to be okay with the idea of change. That it’s perfectly okay and encouraged! to party into the wee hours of the morning sipping champagne and acting like a fool all in the name of letting go and embracing the possibility of a brighter tomorrow.  At least for one, boozy night we can clink glasses and agree that change is good! even if we all go back to clinging to our pasts and the familiar routines the very next day. It’s liberating and I love it so.

So while I was taking this shower, I thought about these things. Then, I thought about the last time I celebrated New Year’s Eve in a significant way. It was 2008. We were in Costa Rica. We were supposed to attend a party on the rooftop of our small hotel but the utilities system of this Costa Rican beach town was taxed too heavy for the second night in a row, and because there was no electricity, there was no party. My husband and I sat on a darkened rooftop, alone, overlooking a darkened town and listened to the revelers in far off places. We watched the fireworks and all we had to eat was one apple. I thought about that trip. One of our many trips to tropical places. I thought about the night before New Year’s when we had dinner in town, and when the lights went out, we went to the beach and stood by strangers at a bon fire. Drunk, I ran into the ocean with a skirt on holding it up above the waves. I still swear a crab bit my toe in the dark. I thought about what a good time we had together.

Until that moment I hadn’t allowed myself to think about anything good we had. I’ve had so many feelings toward my ex in the past few years, and love was way far down on the list, but standing in this warm shower on New Year’s Eve I allowed myself to feel this emotion. Before I even knew what I’d done I looked up and I said out loud, “Holy shit. I used to love him,” as if this idea was the most foreign thought I’d ever come up with in my whole life. The very next moment I felt my entire body exhale. It was as if every cell let go of whatever it was holding onto and whooshed down the drain. It was visceral, and real and I’d never felt anything like it in my life.

I loved him. I loved him. I loved him. Under all this self-righteous anger and disappointment and white-hot fury of the past year, there was this deep ocean of sadness that came riding in on the tiny pieces of my broken heart. All this time I had not allowed myself to feel my own broken heart.

After my body released, I nearly fell over right there from that tidal wave of grief. It came at me from every direction, all at once. I put my hand against the wall to steady myself from the sudden piercing pain I felt of allowing myself to feel my broken heart. I cried for two days, and went unshowered for two days, afraid of the ghost which found me in there.

NYE Blog PostI didn’t go out on New Year’s. After that shower, I stayed in. I ate a peanut butter, banana and honey sandwich at midnight with a bottle of bubbly I found in the downstairs closet left over from the days when we were together. I watched Netflix. I let off a white Chinese lantern I’d saved from the Fourth of July. And I did it alone. It was painful, and beautiful, and cathartic and it made me ache all over. I had finally let the sadness in, and it cleansed and suffocated me all at the same time. Because I did love him.

What came as more of a shock, was after this moment, I started to believe not only that I could forgive him, but that I already had forgiven him. Along with the gut-twisting, rush of sadness, there came a deep vessel overflowing with forgiveness.

Forgiveness for him being a flawed, imperfect man, because that’s all he is — that’s all we all are. Forgiveness for all the wrong he’d done and all the apologies he never gave, and never would. Forgiveness for all the anger and accusations he tossed so lightly in my direction over the course of a year. Forgiveness for his lack of respect, for not loving me, or not being capable of vulnerability or handling mine with care. I even felt like I’d forgiven his parents for abandoning me in this city where I moved to be near them, where they were my only family for eight years. I felt I’d forgiven them for saying and writing horrible things about me to the professionals thinking they are defending their son without a thought toward what they were doing to their grandchildren’s mother. Forgiven all of them for not ever seeing me, really seeing me after all these years.

And the forgiveness train didn’t stop there. Because I acknowledged and forgave him for being a flawed and broken man, I forgave myself, too, for the very same thing. For all the times I couldn’t just let it go and forgive sooner. For all the times I had to make my point again and again and again. For all the times I shut down out of sheer exhaustion from feeling like was never heard. For not allowing them to see me, really see me after all these years.NYE Blog Post II

All of this happened because I allowed myself to let go of the anger and feel the sadness that comes when we hone in on the Painful Truth with a capital P and T. And the Painful Truth of this matter is…  I loved him, and he broke my heart, and it is the saddest story of my life.

And even though much of what he’s done is not okay, and never will be okay… I’m going to be okay. The past is gone, today is a brand new shiny day, and even if it’s not great… it’s still going to be okay.

((Raises martini glass)) To possibilities. If only for a little while, I will embrace change like an old, kind lover; letting go of the past, appreciating what I have right in front of me, and looking forward to a bright, bright tomorrow. Cheers.

This Single Mothers Mother’s Day

She learned about Mother’s Day at her preschool. Every year the teachers spend days making special projects for us Mommies. They splatter paint canvases on “Jackson Pollack Day” which they wrap in hand painted dish towels and tie with a bow. The kids fill out ad lib style questionnaires about their mommies and paint pictures of flowers.  Then we have a special “tea” where the kids sing songs and serve us punch and cake. With all this preparation my daughter began talking about Mother’s Day two weeks in advance.

I’m going through a contentious divorce. I filed in January and it was my decision. Since then, I can count on half a hand how many times I’ve had a civil conversation with my ex. At this point, he won’t even allow me to approach his car to help strap my children in their car seats. My 2-year-old son has started mimicking his father’s angry tone and yells, “Mommy get away from Daddy’s car” whenever he pulls into the drive. It breaks my heart more than my ex ever could.

Last week, when my ex came to pick up the children, the first thing my daughter asked him was if he would take her to the store to buy me a Mother’s Day present. I cringed. I knew he wouldn’t. I knew her request would fall on deaf– no, angry, vengeful, cold-hearted ears.

I would have had someone else take her to buy a present but there is no one. I live 1200 miles away from all my family and most of my friends. I moved to this city to be near my ex’s family; a family that also refuses to speak to me because they choose to believe the only side of the story they know. I suppose believing anything else is too painful.

First, I tried like heck to convince my daughter that I didn’t need a store-bought gift, but when that girl gets an idea, there is no derailing it. (I wonder where she gets that from?) Then I sent my ex an email about my daughter’s request because he refuses to speak to me in person. I pleaded with him to please help her buy a gift. I told him I would reimburse him for whatever it costs –just please help her buy one. I told him we shouldn’t set the precedent that honoring our parents is an unworthy cause. But most importantly, I didn’t want my daughter to show up on Mother’s Day empty-handed. That’s a horrible feeling, to stand in front of someone you love without a thing to offer.

But she did. Because hell would have to freeze over TWICE before my ex would even look in my general direction with a feeling other than contempt and malice for “gravely ruining his life.”

I knew being a single mother would be full of moments like these. Moments when your hands are tied, your back’s against the wall, and all you can do is hope that it is enough to just open your arms and say, “honey, I love you, YOU are all the gift I’ll ever need.” Moments when your heart would shatter into a million pieces for things you cannot fix. Maybe that’s ALL of motherhood though.

For better, and often worse, I’m a relentless self-improver. Every failure, every trial, every obstacle put in my way is an opportunity for personal growth; a way to find deeper meaning; learn something new about me or the world I live in. I have become ruthless at removing negativity from my space — be it someone else’s or my own.

But what happens when you’re out of options? What happens when the only path forward is not littered with lessons in self-improvement, but appears to be only one of endurance? To put your head down and simply endure.

I have only one answer to these unfixable problems and unendurable endurances. It is the answer that calls out to me each time I fall down the rabbit hole of self-improvement. It is the answer that whispers much too softly when I’ve run out of questions to ask. It is the only thing worth a damn to me anymore.

And it is love.

Love what is happening to me as though I’d chosen it for myself. Love the shit out of whatever pile of shit I’m standing in, and trust that it’s happening for a greater reason than I can know right now. Love thy neighbor, thy enemy, and everything in between. And love myself enough to collapse into the embrace that says, “honey, I love you, YOU are all the gift I’ll ever need.” Because someone believes that about me too. And it’s so true.

So come Father’s Day, I will help my children buy a present for their dad; a man who “hates” me. I will buy him a gift so that my children won’t have to show up at his door empty-handed. I’ll even tie it with a bow and zero malice. And I won’t even ask to be reimbursed because there are many things in this world more valueable than money. mother's day

And this is one of them.  

The You Suck/ I Suck Hate Spiral: Why I’m a Gigantic A-Hole

I don’t know how to write this post without making myself look like a total asshole. So I won’t. Because I am being a total asshole. At least recently.

I have been having the most horrible, mean-spirited and hateful thoughts about another person and no amount of kumbaya positive-thinking is turning them around. Desperate for answers, I went to yoga for the first time in a long time. I haven’t been going to yoga for awhile and just typing that makes me want punch myself in the face because lamenting about my lack of yoga is so flippin’ pretentious and first-world-spoiled it’s sickening. But whatever. While I’m racking up a list of my horrible personality traits as of late… let’s add pretentious to the list. And now, like some asshole narcissist, I’m writing about it on my blog as if anyone really cares. So me?  Narcisistic?… check.

Here’s the deal, I’m being super judgemental. I am Judgy McJudgerson at the Judging Fair.

There is someone specifically in my life that I cannot stop judging. In my eyes, they are making bad, bad life choices. Choices that are affecting their family (and mine) and I can’t stop fantisizing of telling them how I really feel. Like All. The. Time.

Stop doing that! Can’t you see what’s happening? Can’t you see how your hurting your kids? Don’t you understand anything you complete imbicile?!?! Why are you even IN my life? Gah??

I realize how horrible that sounds. I realize it because I don’t normally grapple with these feelings. I’m a hippy at my core — live and let live, Sister — different strokes for different folks — potato, pitato and all that good stuff.  After I think these nasty things I suddenly feel like a dispicable person who should be stabbed in the eyeball with a flaming hot needle, and yet, I can’t stop thinking them. It’s like I’m riding this speeding train on a You Suck/ I Suck Hate Spiral that leads straight to Self-Loathingville and I can’t find the damn off ramp.

the-you-suck-i-suck-hate-spiral

To make things worse, I’m also struggling with jealousy which adds something special to my heaping pile of self-flaggalation.

As an editor and social media person, each day I read mom blogs and peruse Facebook and Pinterest for work-related items. Everyday I bump up against any number of smart/ wise/ funny/ talented people. These people have all morphed into one conglomerate of the “ideal” mom/wife/friend/human being. An ideal I’ll never embody. This imaginary flawless being looms large over me, tauting me. You should be doing crossfit. You should bake more tarts/ casseroles/ cupcakes in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. Why aren’t YOU writing amazing things like that? What’s your problem? You train wreck of a souless sack of fat rolls! 

So I went to yoga to find some breaks for this roller coaster.

My favorite part of yoga is Savasana. It’s typically at the very end of class. It’s the part where you get to lie there and not move. Savasana literally means corpse pose and, naturally, it’s my favorite part. I heard a yoga teacher say once that your true yoga practice begins the moment you enter Shivasana. That’s when you must wrestle your thoughts (aka demons) and strive to quiet those noisy bastards and just be; no thinking, no judgement.

On the surface it appears that I’m lying there motionless but I’m always fighting an epic battle in my head. I often think of monks when I’m in this corpse pose. I wonder how they spend months in silent, contemplative meditation when I can’t even do it for three minutes straight. I imagine them slaying every last dragon and devil known to man and then floating off into some realm closer to heaven. Usually I’m just struggling to get one toe off the ground.

So naturally, since I have been an epic asshole lately inside my head, this Savasana was no different. My thoughts turned to this person that I’ve been vehamently judging. The key to this pose, and meditation, is to let your thoughts come and go. To let go of the thoughts. To recognize them as you would a benign novelty, say a squirrel in the yard, and then let them pass through without attaching to them and thus giving them steam to fuel the engine.

So I let this person pass right on by. I waved. Metaphorically, of course. Nice to see you harmless, clueless, little squirel. Namaste. 

My next thought was of this ideal person that I’m bumping up against daily. Hello there figment of my imagination. Move along little bright-eyed, bushy-tailed wonder. Namaste. 

Then I thought (without thinking, of course) how interesting it was that I would think these two things back-to-back.

Judgement and jealousy.

Judgement because of jealousy.

I’m judging because I’m jealous.

I’m putting someone else down in a feeble attempt to raise myself up.

At this moment, my heart exploded inside my chest like a grenade and my eyes popped open because I remembered the last time I was called out for being this kind of gigantic asshole.

A long time ago, back when I was really young, and reeeeeaaaaalllly insecure, there was this boy who liked me very much. He liked me more than he should have and I took advantage of that. To my ever-lasting shame I treated him horribly. I don’t remember much about this person or our relationship accept this one thing. He called me out like no one ever has.

On New Years day, while standing in his mother’s kitchen that had just been burned floor to ceiling the night before in a house fire wherein no one was injured (thank god), he said something that I’ll never forget. I had just made a snarky, sarcastic remark trying to make light of a difficult situation. A coping mechanism I employ to this day. I don’t remember what it was specifically, but I’m positive it was insensitive considering the cirumstances.

He picked up a blackened coffee cup that had been sitting on the counter revealing a ghost impression underneath. He looked right at me and said,  “You know what my mother says? She says that hurt people, hurt people.”

Hurt People, Hurt People. 

The stinch of char and the sound of dripping water brings me right back to this particular shame. A moment when my heart exploded inside my chest like a grenade and my soul popped wide open. He was right, and I was an asshole.

And once again,  I’m a hurt person, hurting people. I may have learned enough to keep the sarcastic and insenstivie comments to myself, but I’m still thinking them.

I keep telling myself that this person in my life that I’m judging is here to teach me compassion and I always thought it was compassion for them. But now I think it’s compassion for me that I’m lacking.  I’m so horrible to me. I would never let anyone speak to me the way I speak to me. (See paragraph #2… and #6…. and #8.)

I may not have always known better to use kind words, but I do now. I know better than to judge them, you, me, everyone so harshly. I know better… and yet clearly I don’t. Because that’s the thing with self-loathing and self-love. It’s a spiral track. The progress is slow and winding and often times you feel like you’re getting no where, but inch by inch you are moving one direction or another, you just have to know which one.

sprial stems heart

Practice Does Not Make Perfect

The kids’ toys have invaded every room of my house and it’s making me little crazy. Right now, there are three rooms in desperate need of painting, a brigade of dandelions invading my garden, and stacks of papers that have built up over a dreary, rainy season. I sigh heavily each time I look at them. For the last week I have been slightly obsessed with getting my home organized. Call it Spring cleaning, or whatever, but it has suddenly become of paramount importance that each these issues be rectified and a semblance of order restored to my living space before I can think of doing anything else.

In the last week I have been on a singular mission to create a playroom in a spare bedroom and reclaim my living room as “adult space.” I have made trips to IKEA, Target and Goodwill for donations. I have searched for more than an hour online for the just-so-perfect-paper-organizing-charging-station (which I have yet to find). If I’m being honest, I can think of hardly anything else until this project is complete. I know when I get so focused on one task that there is something larger, deeper at play, and this new zeal for cleaning and purging is no exception.

For four months I have been walking a razor’s edge. I’ve been balancing knives on a high wire and holding my breath 1000 feet under water. I’ve felt the heaviness of the unknown resting on my chest while dragging the past behind me strapped to my neck like a noose. It has been a long, hard winter for all the relationships in my life.

But today, like the tulips and daffodils that are pushing their yellow petals toward the sun from the previously frozen ground (a miracle each time) there has been a transition toward the light in my own life. Some friends have emerged as life preservers. Some family relations have been clarified, deconstructed, ready to build anew, perhaps in a healthier way. Most importantly, my marriage has shifted onto more solid ground and it too is rebuilding with a stronger foundation than ever before. At this moment everything feels like a miracle, from the flowers to my faith.

It’s been awhile since I’ve felt this assured about the future and my sole motivation to organize my home is my way of trying to hold onto that feeling; gain control of it, slap a fresh coat of paint on it and force it to stick around for a while. I believe this much is true.

I have learned a great deal about myself and relationships in the past four months by means of therapy, reading and introspection. In the midst of it, I have swung from one side of the sanity pendulum to the other, sometimes in the very same day. I know more about who I am, a knowledge that came at a high price. I have confronted my anger, my anxiety, my ideas about marriage and family, motherhood and faith. My convictions have never been stronger or more flexible and neither has my body as a direct result of deepening my yoga practice. All of these are good things that have helped me grow, and yet, my compulsions remain.

life is a practiceThis is the lesson standing out to me on this clear, crisp Spring day–that like my yoga practice, life is never mastered. Life is a continuing practice because there is no such thing as perfection. Perfection is an illusion we portray to keep the deeper, larger things at arm’s length; to avoid eye-contact with the ugliness and unexpectedness that lays on the periphery of every thing we hold close.

As deep as my tendencies for obsessions and compulsions run, somewhere else deep, lies the knowledge that there is no promise of ever getting it right, of having it all, of writing the perfect blog post, bending into the epitomous expression of downward dog or even another clear, crisp Spring day.

Even though I want to finish this post so that I can paint trim, I will remind myself in the midst of it that there is no such thing as the just-so-perfect-paper-organizing-charging-station (believed me, I’ve looked) or seemless, knick-free walls that do not hold with them the immediate threat of a toddler’s permanent marker adornments… or relationships without the promise of future disappointments.

My recent quest to organize my house is about me, once again, fighting this reality. In the light of this more hopeful, brighter place in my life, I am already starting to fear of the unknown, the chaotic, the foreboding season I just left, one that I know will come again because… such is life. My need to categorize my papers is me trying to hold onto something instead of slipping into the flow of life, of letting everything be “perfect” the way it is and trusting that everything is already as it should be… a miracle.

But the good news is that life is a practice, and part of that practice is reminding myself again and again that there is no such thing as the perfectly organized playroom and clutterless countertops. They do not exist.

If I have learned anything over the last four months, it is that life is unpredictable and precarious and the only thing we have is the present moment, whatever that beautiful mess might be, and miraculously that it is always enough. I know now that there is no such things as the perfect marriage, the perfect mother, the perfect life… that we are all just practicing at doing our best each day. Something we should learn to be more forgiving with, for, to, of.

I have changed the way I think about these things, and that new thought takes practice too. Instead of saying I am a writer, I say, I practice writing; same goes for yoga. I also practice being wife, a mother and a daughter. I practice patience and gratitude and staying present. Always practicing, never perfecting because I have also learned you can never master anything in life. (Much to my love-of-lists-and-checked-boxes dismay.)

But perhaps with diligence of effort, commitment to the cause, and a willingness to be vulnerable and take risks, I’ll get better at all of them? Maybe?

I don’t believe happiness, serenity and forgiveness comes naturally for anyone. Life is difficult and testing for even the most enlightened and faithful among us. But I believe the more we commit to practicing gratitude, being present, forgiving and loving thy neighbor, the less harsh the winters may seem.

My tendencies are for control and perfection and certainty, but today, on this rainy, shiny, Spring-filled day, with its Chartreuse leaves twisting in the wind and bright tulips unfurling to the sunshine, I know that practice does not make perfect, but I am CERTAIN it will make good enough.

Because there is no such thing as a garden without weeds, relationships without falter, children without messes… and would we ever want it any other way?

God, Grace, and a Wretch Like Me

MountainPose

Grace.

It was the word the yoga instructor asked us to think about moments before starting our 90 minute practice on Thanksgiving morning. This annual, Thanksgiving class is free, but donations are accepted to benefit a nonprofit organization and this year it was Yoga Behind Bars. Yoga Behind Bars is a charity which teaches yoga and meditation to an incarcerated population. A representative spoke  about the amazing work they do, and how teenage girls in particular are benefiting the most from their efforts.

I sat in the back of a police car twice when I was teenage girl. The first time was for under-aged drinking, and the second was for trespassing. Not my finest moments, but neither was most of my teenage years. The years from 14 to 19 are my “lost years.” Back then I struggled mightily with depression, anxiety and impulsive, reckless behavior. I spent all those years hating myself for no particular reason, and at least that many more hating myself for the things I did while I was hating myself.

How I wish someone taught me yoga as a teenager.

The word Grace unfurled in my mind like my mat under my feet. The first thing I thought was Redemption, followed closely by Forgiveness. But for the Grace of God go I.

I met God for the first time when I was 16.

Early in life, religion was a concept no one told me to seek, and yet, I found it anyway. Perhaps more accurately, it found me. I started going to Wednesday night youth group at a local Presbyterian church when I was nine not because of my parents, but because my best friend was going. For four years the two of us attended weekly classes, sang in the children’s choir once a month, and went to week-long camps in the summer. But a Christian, I was not.

In high school I attended Christian-based Young Life meetings. I even hosted one at my parent’s house. This had less to do with Jesus and more to do with socializing. When I was 16 I raised enough money to attend a week-long, overnight, YL camp in Colorado–also for the socializing. It was at this camp, perched on a roof top high above a blacked out canyon, under a Colorado starry sky, where I met God for the first time.

My modus operandi was to be where the party was—it was always my number one objective. So too, were the fun activities listed on the brochure like repelling, rafting and horseback riding. Because that’s the deal with these things—they attract you with fun and then slip in Jesus-talk at the end for which you must sit quietly and tolerate.

Each night after dinner, the whole camp came together and the main preacher dude stood up to tell us everything we needed to know about being saved. I was skeptical, but also superstitious and naïve, so I listened, restlessly. At 16 I hadn’t made up my mind on all things existential and I had yet to find proof of a God. But if you asked me back then, I would have said OF COURSE Jesus is my personal savior… you know, just in case the rapture was coming soon or I be perceived as a social opportunist with no intention of saving my soul from eternal damnation.

One night the preacher dude said something that penetrated deep into my thick, self-assured, adolescent brain. He said (paraphrased), “The only thing you have to do to have a relationship with God is ask. It’s that simple. Ask and thou shalt receive.” Oh really?!? replied my snarky, skeptical, brooding 16-year-old-self.

That night, I took his bold assertion and made it my personal test of God. I’d ask him, alright. I’d ask as honestly and bravely as I knew how. I’d ask just like the preacher dude said I should ask and God had better bring it or I was taking one step closer toward eternal damnation. That’s what I remember thinking.

Each night after the Jesus-talk was over we were sent out into the darkened camp to find a quiet place to reflect and/or pray on what we heard. I usually headed for the small concrete slab in the middle of camp designated for the under-aged smokers—us sinners on the accelerated path to hell. But on that night, I chose to climb on top of a building that sat on the edge of a cliff side. The cliff dropped off into a large gulch with mountains stretching up either side like sentinels to a cave. The stars dusted the sky like perfectly spilt glitter. I looked down into this deep, black, v-shaped gulch and up into this bright, celestial sky and I asked, quietly.

Then I listened, openly.

My whole body responded in a way that I have never forgotten. An abnormal peace washed over me—abnormal because at that time, I had no awareness of what peace felt like. It felt like a tuning fork struck the deepest part of me and resonated with a pitch-perfect sound of Universal Truth. I understood, without thinking, that this feeling was real, and it was a hint of the Truth I’ve been seeking my whole, young life. I also understood, without thinking, that on a deep, intuitive level I was loved–that I would always be loved and watched over—that even in my darkest hours, I would never be alone.

What I felt in that moment is what I call God.

It is only in hindsight that I can interpret what happened that night. Now, I understand that it was the divine combination of my intention, the stillness of time and my mind along with the openness of my listening heart which allowed me to not only hear God speak–but to understand what God was saying. I sobbed. I knew I was changed forever.  It would take years before I truly understood how, and years before I would feel it again.

I feel it now each time I go to yoga.

In this special Thanksgiving Day class we sang Amazing Grace. Grace. The one thing I have been offered so many times no matter how much I have failed. That thought and the cacophony of our voices together in that yoga studio overwhelmed me. The tears, just two of them, came so quick they did not linger on my lashes, but leapt from each eye and fell straight to my mat. My mat. My church. My holy place. My rooftop perched high on a cliff side below a starry sky.

It has taken years to realize that I have been given, and forgiven, so much in my life not because I asked for it—but because I learned to open up and listen to what God was trying to teach me. I have come to realize that the answers to all my questions, the calming of all my fears, the peace I so long for every day, lay there quietly in the silence of my open heart. It is that voice that I am still learning to follow. Always.

Silence: how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.