Friday, February 5, 2016

Keeping it real.

Let me start off by saying I don’t begrudge anybody their opinions or issues. If you are posting, writing about, and living your truth, then amen. No matter what you’re going through, you shouldn't compare it to anyone else’s. Your shit is your shit. I’m no hater. Peace be with you.


I know you don’t know what you know until you know. And granted, I’m not a “new” mom, so I might be a little more piss and vinegar than I am sugar and spice. But I have to say that lately, so much of what I read regarding parenting is teetering on the edge of being the written version of stock photography. It’s all cookie cutter subjects, white-washed to capture a large readership. Maybe I’m reading the wrong headlines (point me to better blogs!) but there seems to be a craze around grabbing a trending topic and writing about it. Like: What I Learned At Mom’s Night Out. Tantrums and Fussy Eaters and Potty Training…Oh My! Yoga Moms vs Running Moms: Who’s Winning The Race? How To Raise A Vegan-ager. What Nobody Tells You About Having A Three-Year-Old.


Friends, I have a spoiler alert for you: It’s not a race. Everybody wins. Also, I made the Vegan-ager thing up. And when you’re pregnant for the first time, nobody who already has a three-year-old tells you anything relevant about having a three-year-old because they already know what you will soon learn: Your darling cherub will be a different breed of asshole than everyone else’s. This shouldn’t come as a shock to you. Children are small people. We teach them to always do and want more. Crawling? Super, stand up. Standing? Nice, now put one foot in front of the other, kid. You got a B? Great, next time shoot for an A. We encourage them to push limits and ask questions and then when they do we’re like, Wow my kid is all too much, I need a break.

I’m not saying parenting isn’t hard work, because I know first hand that it is. I’m all for a spa day, drinks with the girls, and date night. But is this news article-worthy or is it preaching to the choir? Maybe complaining about how hard it is is just part of our parenting shtick. Maybe some parents use the complaints as a lead-in to complimenting oneself in public, as in, “Driving little Gladstone to advanced equestrian school every day is SO exhausting.” (i.e. Everyone behold my tiny Olympian, my Olympic-sized devotion, and my bulging wallet!) Or, “I was so tired when Astrid was first born, but after two weeks we were both sleeping through the night!” (To which I, and all of us, should say: "Dear Astrid's Mommy: Your infant never actually slept through the night, you just slept through her crying. And if she did sleep, keep it to yourself. People who are parenting little vampires don’t want to hear it.")

I get that the common threads resonate and parents are all exhausted humans. And we have an average of 50 things on our minds and to-do lists at all times. But these themes aren’t unique. Every day is the same unless we make it different. We clutch our coffee in the morning, yawn through the park/playdate/homework session in the afternoon, and have Pavlovian responses to hearing the cork pop at 5pm. That’s low-hanging fruit. (And let's be serious...if that's our biggest complaint on any given day, we are so lucky.) Let’s just assume going forward that we’re all on the same caffeine + sleep-deprivation + wine page.

I don’t sit at my computer tugging at my mom jeans, yearning to read another story about how you overcame your parenting challenges in just three easy steps to find yourself #blessed. Because here’s the truth: Nobody overcomes parenting challenges. You have a baby, it’s hard, the end. That song is on repeat for all of us forever.

I want to read about the good stuff in between…the stuff that is unique. Where are the real stories? Real is funny. Authentic gives me chills. I want less “Aw, shucks” and more “Ohhh fuck.”

I guess what I really want to know is that I won’t appear on the cover of Bad Parent Magazine solo. I want it to be me plus all of you guys. Prove THAT to me. Tell me the story that gets you invited to the cover shoot for BPM, not for Crock-Pot Daily. (Although if you’re on the cover of that one, congratulations and please send me your recipes, I need dinner ideas.)

Parents, where is the platform where we can dialogue about the really good stuff? Sometimes what makes you sob can give us all a good belly laugh later, so share it. Come on. We are all pretty much on level playing ground, aren't we? We are trying our best and making mistakes. We are teaching our boys that just because they have a dick doesn’t mean they get to be one and we are teaching our girls to love their vaginas first. It’s TERRIFYING. We are adoring the hell out of our kids and we all fear there’s only a 50/50 chance of it actually working.

If you’re a parent and your situation is truly difficult in ways not everyone can fathom (you know who you are), whine it up and use the universe as your sounding board. The rest of us need to stop it. I don’t know about you guys, but my OB/GYN never once said “And after baby comes out, you’ll have one more big push to deliver your night nurse, trainer, and chef! In a couple weeks, you’ll look great and be well-rested.” Again, I understand that you don’t know until you know, but we kind of knew…right?

And anyway, nobody can tell you how hard it will be to have one kid, because it won’t ring true for you until after you already have it, and by then DUH. And you don’t know how easy it is to have one kid until you have two. But you can’t shove them back in after they’ve come out, even when you reeeally want to. This we know. We know already. So can we please stop pretending to give sage advice about How To Organize Baby’s Closet? Because by week two post-delivery you’re going to be dressing baby straight from the dryer and we all know it. Just say that. Quickest editorial piece ever.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that even if you do have a perfectly appointed nursery or you read "5 Things Every First Time Mom Needs To Know!" - your kid is going to drive you crazy. You’re also going to drive yourself crazy, and possibly others. In fact, I might be driving you crazy right now. We are all hanging by a thread at one point or another, some of us just look better doing it. But let’s remember we all signed up for this shit show. Parenting is funny and particular and includes quiet sex at weird times and there’s nothing easy about any of it. And while it’s scary and makes us cry, it’s also super cool because it spreads us out as people. You do things you never thought you’d do, say things you swore you wouldn’t say, and you look insane half the time. (You feel insane a little more than that even.)

I think if we showed up and let everyone see that side of ourselves, the arguments between the stay at home mom vs the stay at home dad would cease. The tired fight over who has it tougher – work from home mom vs working mom vs mom who doesn’t work outside the home – would finally be put to bed. People would stop judging families with an only child, families with a gaggle of kids, and untraditional families of every kind.

Because in the end, we are all investigating buttholes, secretly reading tween texts, and talking about nipples in public. And it’s all good, because it means we’re in tune with our kids and their needs. It’s okay to put their needs first. It’s okay not to sometimes. It’s all going to be okay. It’s just going to be messy first.

I feel like I should sing you a lullaby now. Maybe I should just contact the editor of Bad Parent Magazine and tell them to budget for a cover that opens up like a centerfold because we are all going to be up there together.

I just know it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Forks and F-bombs.

Somewhat related to my last post, I’ve been wondering lately how in the fuck I got to be this old.

Sorry for the F-bomb, it’s the end of football season and for the past several months, the traveling husband has been using enthusiastic and colorful language. And by using, I mean screaming. Usually directed towards the TV, but he’s an equal opportunity screamer in that his laptop and phone see some action, too. I remind him sometimes that the people on the devices can’t actually hear him, but it doesn’t help. Anyway, the F-bombs are contagious. So for the bulk of the year, I talk like I’m watching my team lose in a sports bar. Sexy, huh?

Getting back to my (fucking) age, am I the only one who remembers their life in snapshots and short video sequences? It’s like my memory catalogs itself in my head as a photo album with missing pages.

I remember a lot of things, but it’s not a continuously streaming video. There are several sizeable gaps. Here’s how some of my conversations go:

Friend/Husband: “Hey Am, remember (person/place/thing)?”

Me: “Hmm. Nope.”

Friend/Husband: “Yeah, you remember…the guy with that thing and that other funny girl that we met at the place…?!”

Me: “Yeah, no. Not even a little bit.”

If I subtract the missing pieces in time from what I actually do remember, I should probably be like 15 years younger than I am on paper. That might feel right. I mean, no self-respecting 46-year-old stirs their coffee with a fork, because they forgot to turn the dishwasher on the night before. Right? At some point along the line shouldn’t I have honed the necessary skills that would lead to always having clean spoons in the drawer? My parents never had to stir their coffee with a fork. They were grown ups. My hope is that this inability to age gracefully skips a generation so my kids will never be spoonless.

My Dad said to me not long ago, “I’m 82 and I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.” This from a man who is practiced and patient, wise and thoughtful. He was a nuclear engineer – basically a rocket scientist – for, um…EVER. But he is also a talented illustrator, can imitate Mr. Magoo, and dozes off on the couch with startling consistency. This is a well-rounded cat. In the words of today’s kids (at least the kids mine go to school with): The man is a LEGEND. And you know what else? HE HAS CLEAN SPOONS. He might not know what he wants to be when he grows up, but he’s got his shit together (in more ways than one).

I guess I’m wondering when I’m going to get it together. Maybe never. Maybe I simply don’t want to start the dishwasher before I go to bed. I’m not lazy, I’m a rebel! (I’m not. I don’t even look rebellious.)

Which brings me to another question: Ever think about what you look like?  I’m not talking about checking yourself in the mirror, I’m talking about what other people take in when they see you at school/work/exercise class. I wonder all the time what I look like from the outside. Like what label do people give me after first glance? Do I come across as a Poised Dancer? (Used to be.) Casually Carefree and Moderately Stylish? (Not likely, but a girl can dream.) Frumpy Mom? (Potentially.) Exhausted Middle-Aged (eew) Lady In Yoga Tights, Though Clearly Not On The Way To Yoga? (Nailed it.)

I just don’t think my book cover is a very good representation of the internal story. When I’m not in front of a mirror I feel I’m putting out vibes of gentle mama, patient wife, loyal friend. Then I look at my reflection and I see sagging jawline, tired eyes, frizzing hair. And when I pull all that frizzy hair up, I swear I have every intention of achieving a Pinterest-worthy, Anthropologie-esque “effortless messy bun.” Alas, it’s more of a “Did she just wash her face?” result. (Hey, judgy young girls, clean skin is an achievement, too.)

Perception is everything, I suppose. That is, if you care what others think of you. Honestly, I’m more curious than anything. I’ve already ditched anyone who can’t bring themselves to get past my dog-eared, wrinkled book cover. The good stuff is found on the inside anyway. The people who read me over and over saw my cover when it was hot off the presses, shiny and new. And now they know my stories as well as I do, so they can help me fill in the blanks, reminding me of what I’ve forgotten over the years.

Speaking of years, the traveling husband and I realized a while ago that we’ve been together for half of our lives. We met in middle school. (We didn’t.) Actually, who cares. He gets me. He saw me when my kicks were high and my eyes were bright, he’s seen me heavy with babies and sadness alike, and I think I could be covered in poop and he would still act like a predator as soon as Eleven and Thirteen leave the room.

Maybe it’s seeing myself through his eyes that keeps me feeling younger than I am. He keeps it real, but he loves me throughout, as do a handful of other people I know. Maybe just knowing that is what builds up the brave enough to stop sweating the book cover and just keep writing the book.

Because like I said, to me, that’s what matters. My truth isn’t hanging in my closet or tucked away in my bathroom drawer. My guess is that isn’t where your story is either, that’s just where the cover art gets created. You have to turn some pages to get the real scoop. It takes time and energy, and I kind of like throwing my effort towards building my life, my people, and our stories, instead of spending that time on my hair. (The fight against the frizz is exhausting.)

The fact is, I'm good with this life and my place in it. I don’t mind my crazy hair because I love where it came from. Even if it’s a work in progress, I respect my body because it’s strong and it created lives I love. And when it’s groundhog day, and I’m doing all the things I do every day over and over again – it’s still a gift. I like the mundane, the tradition, the surprises that don’t really surprise you, the gestures big and small, the milestones, and saying yes when everyone expects you to say no. That’s how we ended up with two fish, two parakeets, and a Flemish giant rabbit (long story) in addition to the dog.

I suppose I just talked myself out of a mild mid-life crisis, and hopefully talked you into loving your squeaky clean face and daily uniform, whatever it may be.

Thanks for coming along for the ride.

P.S.: I remembered to run the dishwasher last night, so I’m up to my elbows in clean spoons. However, I’m out of coffee. Fuuuck.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Steady as she goes.

Are you familiar with Jenga? It’s that puzzle game where all the pieces are solid wood rectangles. You make a tall tower, three blocks at a time, and when the tower is built, you carefully slide blocks out, one by one, without disturbing the surrounding pieces. Your goal is to keep the tower standing in one piece.

I was sitting at my computer the other morning, trying to work, and feeling incredibly distracted, but I couldn’t put my finger on what was pulling my focus. I have things to do, that’s for sure – work, laundry, exercise. I could paint the living room walls, which is something I’ve wanted done for two years. Reorganize the bathroom drawers…really every drawer. And cabinet. There’s no shortage of projects, but what’s missing is a targeted plan and the drive to actually get it all done.

Sometimes it’s just that the task at hand isn’t all that thrilling. I get that. And sometimes we need a little win (Solitaire app, anyone?) before we move on to trying to get that big victory in the books (I can barely walk into the garage for all the Christmas bins that need to be put back on the shelf).

But a thought crossed my mind this morning as I wondered where my motivation was: It’s been a bumpy few years. And I know so many of you can empathize with me because you have your own hard things you’ve been working through. As I count on two hands (and a couple toes) all the losses and tough stuff I’ve been trying to manage, it occurs to me that while I’ve compartmentalized the pain these things have caused, I have still been affected. But tapping out to actually address it isn’t really an option. Because while parts of our world might be falling apart, the rest of life moves right along. A week of introspection and meditation simply won’t happen, especially when you’ve got people relying on you to take them places, feed them, and to provide support in the form of hugs, practice tests, active listening, and clean clothes. So as women, we shift into survival mode.

Whenever there is bad news, or sad news, or something emotionally difficult to handle, we look at it, then tuck it away into a little box inside of us. That box gets put on an internal shelf labeled “DEAL WITH THIS LATER.” And then we look up with a deep breath and a smile and say “Okay everybody…who’s hungry for dessert?!”

But each time we push those heavy, little boxes onto the shelf inside our tower, it’s as if we are pushing a solid Jenga piece out of place. When we decide to carry sorrow, or confusion, or pain with us, we create an empty space where solid and steady used to be, shifting our balance. Keep enough of those placeholders within us, and before we realize it, our stability is compromised. Even with a strong base, there’s only so much power we have over gravity, and the more scary stuff we hold onto, the less we can rely on the structure that keeps us vertical. If the issues we are dealing with are close to the core – really shaking our foundation – then the chances of us toppling over sooner than later are pretty great.

So as I was wondering what my roadblock to productivity might be, I visualized all those boxes on my shelf. Loss. Regret. Hurt. Betrayal. I’ve treated parts of my heart as a storage facility, I think. And it took me a while, but I see now that some pretty useful pieces that I used to rely on might be pushed out of place. They haven’t gone far, but still, they aren’t where they used to be…where they should be. And so, neither am I.

Life – as beautiful as it can be – just kicks the shit out of us, doesn’t it? And sometimes we are so busy hurling ourselves forward, even we aren’t aware it’s happening. Adrenaline keeps us rolling through pain. It’s not until we slow down a bit that we realize just how much we hurt.

It’s interesting that it’s taken me several years of telling myself and everyone else that “It’s fine” before I could recognize that maybe it’s not. I mean, I’m still me, I’ve just got some funky spots. And perhaps over the years when some blocks got shoved out I tried to fill a couple of the resulting holes with, oh…I don’t know…wine? Pasta? Brownies? Binge-watching Parenthood? Let’s be honest…there are placeholders that are way worse, so I think I’m alright.

I think the brain should kick in and say, “Hey lady, block mishap. Maybe you should pick up the piece of yourself that fell out and push it back in. That will shove the sad, little box off your shelf. The top will pop off and all the gunk inside will spill over, but it’s O-KAY. Take a few minutes/days/weeks to really look at what’s there before you toss it out, huh?”

But what happens in the immediate is, our brain says, “Hey lady, you’re coming undone. Eat a cookie, crack a bottle of wine open, keep making dinner, and we’ll call it the day, shall we?”

That kind of works for a while, but it doesn’t – and shouldn’t – fill the space permanently. We are working from the outside in, rather than from the inside out. Whatever distraction we choose goes away and we’re left trying to defy gravity and stand tall (not easy with a nasty hangover). Even with a crutch, even with friends, even with faith…if you don’t sit with the root cause and address it, it won’t go away. And you won’t be whole again. Or in this case, I won’t be.

The good news is that my foundation is strong. I have so much love in my house and in my life…maybe that’s what’s held me up for so long. And I can see that missing pieces of myself doesn’t have to mean I am broken. I have more in place than some, and while I know people who have crashed, I myself – thankfully – haven’t. But even if your tower has tumbled, while you’re looking within for the strength to rebuild, don’t forget to look around. You are still there, and though you may be in pieces, you are no Humpty Dumpty. We’re talking about solid building blocks here. You can put yourself back together again. Understanding that we have the power to be our own Jenga architect is a pretty good place to be. And I’ll still be me, and you’ll still be you, just…better. And possibly different. Like a cooler, 2.0 version of ourselves, with shinier packaging and a new perspective to boot.

Is this ringing a bell for anyone, or is it just me who’s comparing herself to a Hasbro game? In any case, I think it’s time to stop trying so hard to pretend we are whole, and start putting all that energy into actually being whole. Stop telling yourself you are fine, and begin to be fine, then more than fine, then kicking up your heels fine.

And hey, stop drinking so much wine and eating pasta and brownies. OMG KIDDING KIDDING KIDDING. With all the Jenga we’re playing, it’s important to carb-load and stay hydrated.

Thus ends my public service announcement. And by “public service announcement” I obviously mean “personal revelation made public for what reason I have no idea.”