Every time I post, Blogger is kind enough to let me know how many unique visitors view each post. I sometimes feel like I'm writing in a void, because I receive so many visitors but leave no feedback. I love hearing from you, but not in a narcissistic way. Did I write something that made you think, change your perspective, piss you off, or make you feel hope? Reading your comments turns this into a conversation. I want my perspective changed. If you've ever met me in real life, you know I love conversation. This is a way for me to communicate, but right now it's one way. I don't want that. Please leave a comment.
I think bribery is best. I have a $10 gift card to www.etsy.com WAITING for one lucky somebody, but you have to do two things.
1) You must click the "Follow" button on the right. I won't email you or bug you in any way. It's a way for me to attach a face or personality to your words.
2) You must leave a comment about a previous post.
Do this by Friday, December 21, 2012 at 8 pm, and you're in the running.
Thank you so much!
It’s only Monday. I really wanted to stay in bed today, or more accurately, just not take Alexandria to school. I wanted to keep my little family close by to do crafts, sing, or lie about on the floor. Maybe talk about Santa. I need giggles and to not be on a schedule. But we went through the rigamaroll of the morning and I was happysad when we got to Alexandria’s classroom. We had to knock on the door. It’s now locked at all times. Fear of the unknown is holding all of us hostage.
I felt a little better yesterday, though. I did some Christmas shopping. My spirits lifted seeing so many people smiling. I went to Barnes & Noble and bought a book for their holiday book drive and that felt good. I found ways to be joyful and light. It’s the season, after all.
I heard my pastor say, "I’m a fixer." I like fixing problems, too. I want to fix this and I can’t. Nothing I do will undo it. That problem is beyond my capabilities. I'm not hopeless because I can do other things. We can do other things. Sadly, the list of problems facing our towns, states, our nation, and the world, is endless. The thought of confronting all of these issues seem daunting, impossible for one person to tackle. We’re a team, though. Right? Aren’t we all in this together?
I once heard my wise friend tell her child, who was lamenting the absence of a snack while in the car, “Remember that feeling. That’s hunger. Some children feel that all day long. You’re getting a snack when we stop. But be grateful.” Any and every child can understand the sadness of hunger. Every child can work to end that.
I came up with an idea last night that Dave and I are entertaining. Since our kids are old enough to understand the necessity of giving, I thought, “Let’s make it a family affair.” I suggested that we make only one resolution for next year. I suggested that we, as a family, agree on a cause and commit time to that cause one weekend day per month. Alexandria suggested that all children should have pajamas. I agree. Every kid needs pajamas.
Instead of focusing on what we can’t fix, let’s fix the things that we can. Here are some simple steps:
- Choose your problem. Hungry kids in Africa or clean drinking water for everyone? Eyeglasses for everyone, shoes, coats, dental care, band-aids, access to birth control, adopting shelter pets, supporting foster parents, treatment for the mentally ill, backpacks for schoolchildren, soccer balls, trash-free streets, parks, and beaches? Pick one.
- Choose how to give. Your options are time, money, or goods. Can you drive your neighbor to dialysis? Do it. Can you read books to the elderly or the blind? You bet. So can your teenager! Can you have a summer garage sale and donate the proceeds? Yes. You can.
- Commit. Write it on the calendar or put it in your phone. Accept no excuses, including your own. Despite what we’d love to believe, we all have extra time. Turn of MSNBC, FOX, and CNN. Shut down the X-box. Get off the computer or phone and get out. Take your teenage boy or girl with you. Take your spouse. Bring a friend or neighbor. Turn giving into a family or neighborhood affair. Build it into your own culture.
That’s it. Veterans need YOU. Children need YOU. Shelter animals need YOU. Parks, recreation areas, beaches, forests, deserts, and lakes need YOU. Displaced peoples around the world need YOU.
If you are out there volunteering, giving, walking, educating, fostering, adopting, or feeding, I want to hear about it. Please leave a comment. I am desperate to know how you are making it better, or how you plan to make it better. Please leave the web address of your favorite charitable organization, as well. I am committing to this. Join me.
So when I heard what happened, one of my first impulses was to get Alexandria out of school. I needed her with me, her body, her safe little person with me. I needed both of my kids close, safe. With me. Dave came into the kitchen and we stood and cried. I sobbed hard. I put on “Caillou” for Marcus, sat close to him on the couch, and began digesting news.
I didn’t go get her. “It will be disruptive,” I thought. “She’s safe.” I knew she was safe because the likelihood of her not being safe was so small. So small. I waited until school ended to get my badly needed hug and then sent her off to a friend’s house.
I lashed out at American politics and sought comfort in wise friends. Friends wrote prayers and sank deep into faith. Other friends got pissed at people who wrote prayers and were vocal about the absence of God. Someone even asked me to not express anything political, to just let people grieve, only to later retract, understanding that we all grieve differently. I found information on how to talk to kids about tragedies and as parents, we agreed to have the worst conversation ever when she got home.
Midway through the afternoon, I began to read an article on the incident. I felt nauseous and turned away. I stumbled onto The Onion and that was it. “Fuck everything” was precisely the perfect sentiment. I couldn't handle any more details. I didn’t want to know anybody’s name, including the bad guy. I didn’t want to see faces or tears or distraught parents. I knew they were there but I didn’t need the images seared into my brain. The images my imagination conjured were fucking horrible enough already. My soul couldn’t handle more.
Alexandria spent the afternoon jumping on a trampoline, exhilarated in the cold autumn air. When she got home, we sat down with her and in very simple, clear language explained what happened. No locations. No ages. Just one bad guy and a LOT of good guys. We love you. Everybody wants to keep you safe. Don’t listen to kids on the playground. Talk to us. “Can I ask a teacher?” “Yes,” we said. She had a support group of trustworthy adults. “Do you have any questions?”
Fuck. “I don’t know.”
It’s OK to not know. Actually, my best answer to “why” is “I don’t know.” Because if I know the answer to this, then I can see into the abyss and I don’t want to see into the abyss. I don’t ever want to know that kind of darkness. Ever.
I struggled to make light and joy. As we pushed through dinner, table topics included “What would you do to make it better for somebody else?” and “What is one problem that you would solve for people in need?” Hope sprang from the table. “Clean drinking water for everyone.” “I’d make sure all kids had gloves.” “I’d make sure that nobody was ever hungry again.” We finished the evening on our couch watching the most hope-filled joy one can find on a TV: “It’s Christmastime, Charlie Brown”. I cried silent tears when Linus begins with, “Lights please.”
A friend asked me a real, pressing, and relevant question. It’s a sentiment that has been echoed throughout the world. “Where was the Lord today?” she asked.
I simply don’t have any answers. Good loses sometimes. Good versus evil is the oldest battle in The Book. “Don’t eat the apple.” Enter snake. *eats apple “Now you’ll see all the evil.” Great. Friends spoke of Spiritual Battle. Holy shit. This is real. Evil is living and breathing among us and it does awful shit. One friend asked God to simply end it all if this is how it was going to go.
I successfully avoided the news for approximately 36 hours. I spoke with loving friends and we talked of fearlessness in the face of this evil. We cried through the horror and utter desperation of the parents. Of little stockings and ungiven gifts from Santa and unknown last kisses and giggles and never more and what the fuck? But still no news.
I went to book group. Again, I avoided the shittiness and discussed drivel (seriously, A Room with A View sucked). I enjoyed a nice coffee with my friend and we chatted for hours of nothing and everything. While driving home and trying to find a freeway on ramp, I flipped through the radio stations searching for something upbeat. And then I heard a stat (which I will not repeat here) that I did not need to hear. Quickly, I pressed the button to change the station but it was too late! No, no, no, no, no fucking no I didn’t want to hear any goddamn thing about it at fucking all no dammit no! I felt the rage course through me and I really tried to clench my knuckles and let it pass but I was not going to get off that easy.
I began to scream. Deep, primal, terrible rage-filled screams filled my mouth and my car and I felt the ancient shared genes of chimpanzees and gorillas and the fury when they bare their teeth and scream loudly and it fills the forest and makes the hair on your neck stand up. I screamed like that and just drove for a while, slightly lost in the green hills and rain. Then I couldn’t scream anymore. My voice stopped. I have more in me but my vocal cords refuse the abuse. I drove the rest of the way home practically catatonic.
I came home to beauty. Dave was setting up an ornament making craft station with the kids. They were eating snacks and giggling. I reminded myself that spending time with my little family is a way to embrace the conquering power of love. We made reindeer out of peanuts and embellished cardboard stars. I put Marcus to bed. We invented derivations of the word “snuggle*”. We sang. We made joy and peace.
But I don’t know where to go from here. What the fuck are we doing as a society that we’ve been relatively complacent about evil ruining the fabric of our souls until something as horrific as this happens? I’ll ask the same question as The Onion. Do we really want to fucking live like this anymore? Do we want our lives to be dictated by fear? I don’t. I don’t ever want to see or hear or feel this ever again. I believe in the power of good. I believe the each of us holds within us infinite good, but are we so busy and bustled and stretched and pulled that we don’t have time to let it out? I mean, fuck. What are we doing with our lives? Why the fuck are we here? WHY ARE YOU HERE? If the first answer out of our mouths is not, “To make it better” then maybe we ought to re-evaluate our lives. Because if it’s not to give water or “Blessing Bags” to homeless people or feed people on days other than Thanksgiving or pick up trash or drive a friend’s kid to school or hug every kid in your kid’s class and learn their names or bring healthy snacks to all the teachers or pay the toll for the folks behind you or walk shelter dogs or make cookies for firemen or any other nice, generous, small, glory-filled act then what the fuck are you doing with this beautiful life that God has handed you? (Please click on the link. Please.)
One light conquers darkness, just one candle, one light bulb, one flashlight. It’s not scary anymore with the lights on. This is the season of lights. Can we turn off the dark news and vacuous reality shows, log off Facebook and Twitter, and instead look into the faces of our family, friends, neighbors, and hell, even strangers, and just be a light?
I don’t know how else to beat this. I mean, fuck.
*snuckle – when snuggling, one party takes advantage of the closeness and begins tickling the other party.
*sneegle – when snuggling, both parties hold each other very, very tight and squeal, “Eeeeee!”
I’m going to be really honest. Lately, I’ve been playing a computer game and I hate myself every time I do it. I blow time and potential doing it. I find myself drawn to it when I go down the road I shouldn’t go down. It’s like beta time but I’m not doing anything creative, so I feel guilty. I could knit or quilt or sew or anything else but I rebel against production and waste my brain instead. But that road, that painful realization that you chose a more challenging adventure, is what I think about.
I feel like I’m checking out, but it doesn’t feel like I’m taking a break. Instead, I tend to consider the what-ifs of my life.
What if I’d said that to this person or done this instead of that? Maybe I wouldn’t be dealing with the harsh reality of…oh, it’s too much and it’s too personal. If I’d only realized the limitless potential hidden within when I was a little younger! Don’t go there. Don’t go there.
Sometimes it’s hard to deal with the minutae of every day when much larger problems loom. A few years ago, I remember getting hammered for not writing thank-you notes in the midst of grieving the loss my job and death a friend. In that life moment, writing thank-you notes was the last thing on my mind. Especially, when, at six months pregnant, somebody had to remind me to eat more than one meal a day. On some days coping seemed impossible. But I was chastised for not holding it together.
I’m gonna cuss. Fuck that.
So that’s where I am right now. I feel pressure for not holding it together. I feel the need to be invincible and strong and motherly and wifely and nurturing and completely satisfied. In short, I feel compelled to be everything to everyone. I drown it all in this stupid game. Where is it coming from? I’m not sure. But it comes from somewhere and I’m irritated.
Those who love me most tell me I hold unreasonable expectations for myself. My recent descent into self-loathing stems from not working. For example, I feel guilt when I spend money while not working. Specifically, when I am not working, I feel guilt when I spend money on myself. The irrational reasoning is that I attach my self-worth in my family to the amount of money I make. I feel guilt. This week’s battle surrounded paying for a class to keep my license to train.
It’s absurd. Apparently, I don’t feel worthy of the cost to continue my education. It’s probably why I sold things on Craigslist to pay for school. I didn’t feel like I was worth the time it took to earn the money it took to pay for school. That’s it.
I sobbed my way through this dilemma yesterday with Dave and my bestie. Both of them said the exact same thing.
“You are worth it. It’s not even a question. You have an obligation to continue and study and learn and get better at what you do.”
Sometimes it’s all you need. But this wasn’t one of those times.
When I really gutted my soul to Dave, he simply said, “I know what you’re feeling. I feel it often.”
I also needed that. In addition to hearing the words, I also needed to hear empathy. I didn’t just need a fix-it. I also needed somebody to tell me I wasn’t crazy, that my feelings are within the realm of normal but self-defeating and that I wasn’t alone when I felt them. Misery loves company?
This time around, being a stay-at-home is terribly humbling. Going back to not working after I was on a career path, bushwhacking my way into a secure position as a well-respected trainer, is more challenging than I thought. I wasn’t making a ton of money, but my paycheck was steady and I was fulfilled at work. I was independent. I felt good every day when I went to work, and I felt better when I came home. I gave that up (voluntarily!) to stay at home and raise my kids. Now that we are well into the demands of school-homework-schedule demands, I am less enchanted with my role. It’s demanding and exhausting. It tests my patience and I haven’t fought hard enough for my own needs. I’ve given myself no wiggle room for growth (remember when I told you I wasn’t worth the time?). I’m fighting to retain a bit of myself while meeting the demands of a changed family dynamic. No longer do I have my own social circle, my own experiences, my own life. It’s tied up in everybody elses. I’ve spent time and energy ensuring everybody else is comfortable, yet I failed to take care of myself. And, to top it all off, the past two years have been so crazy and tumultuous that I’ve barely had time to focus on meeting the demands of retaining my license. I do not recommend procrastination. It sucks. Not only do I feel unworthy of the money and time it takes to keep my license because I am not making money doing it, I am now about to be unable to do it because my license will be expired. Yes. It’s where I am. My current job title is to be my kids’ parent and Dave’s wife. I am the picker-upper and dropper-offer, fundraiser, get up, get dressed, make breakfast, get your teeth brushed, we’re late, let’s go harpee. I’m not a trainer, so why try?
It’s possible that I’m not cut out for stay at home mom-ing. I admire women who find satisfaction in staying home and devoting their entire lives to their children. I don’t think I’m one of them. Much of the time, it makes me crazy. I don’t hate it, but I’m not necessarily thrilled with the person I’m becoming. Some days, I am bitter and resentful and unfulfilled. Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my dimensions.
I come back to the words of my husband and closest friends. Clearly, I have to get past my self-worth issues. Hallelujah! I am worth every penny it takes to keep my brain and soul intact! I am worth the effort others need to exert to ensure my happiness. I spend countless hours giving to others to fill their souls, and I deserve the same. I must get past the guilt. It’s not fear. It’s re-evaluating my worth.
What I find crazy is that I don’t hold ANYONE else to this standard. To my friends who stay at home, home school, go to school, and volunteer, I think, “Man, she is really doing it. She is really contributing to the wholeness of the world.” Yet, I am unable to grant that grace to myself. Why?
Actually, I don’t care why. I’m not particularly interested in sifting through my great childhood to figure out who went wrong where. Identifying the culprit in my over-emphasis on money accomplishes nothing. I just have to get rid of it. Emphasizing money over love is stupid and self-defeating. I am a supportive wife and mother. Oh, I’ve also neglected to mention that I’m a great friend, too. Although not as much as I’d like, I engage in active learning. I enrich myself through avid reading and engagement in creative pursuits. I am a writer. Yet I am not satisfied because I am not making money? I am a basket case! I’m crazy! As I play this stupid online game, I literally run through all of the people who are doing more than me and are contributing more than me. It’s the worst thing ever for my mental health! Yet I resist it about as well as a moth can resist a bright light.
Through this continuing season of self-examination, I come back to the words of pastor Bob. “Press in” he likes to say. If you’re struggling, lean in to the challenge. Engage it. It’s God challenging you to trust Him more. I envision a football player pushing though a wall of linemen. Put your head down, crouch, and press your shoulder in. Press in and push through.
Despair is a false blanket covering real blessings. I am supremely blessed, yet I choose to see things I don’t have instead of all that surrounds me. Each night this week, my boy has asked me to cuddle with him while he falls asleep. I want that time so badly to just check out of life. I want to be quiet and alone so badly and I want to just think uninterrupted so badly, but he needs me so badly too. I refuse to raise a tough boy. I refuse to raise a boy who wants to be held yet is afraid to ask. So, I run a quick calculus of the value of his needs versus the value of my desire to check out. How satisfied am I going to be if I know he’s in there, wanting to connect with me, and I’m out here doing some mindless activity in an effort to suppress the frustration of my own false take on reality? I hear Bob. “Press in” he says. I press in. I meet my struggle and walk in to my boy’s room. I lay down with him. I sing him a song. Then another. And another. He gently pulls my hand over his body so that I am holding him very close to me, and he says, “I love cuddling with you, mommy.”
I don’t want to fight anymore because I’m the one creating the struggle. I must be what my family needs me to be, but I also need to be what I want to be! Carving out space for me in the midst of the Most Demanding Job on Earth proves a Herculean effort. I fail often, but a good friend tells me he just tries to “fail better.” I’m going to fail better and guiltlessly. Playing an absurd game is a fail. I’d like to fail better. Admitting weakness is the first step to building strength. I’m not sure where I’m going. I feel a little lost, frankly. But I’m loved and worth it and the people who love me most unconditionally want my heart and mind and soul to succeed. And they don’t believe that success is attached to a paycheck. My kids love me for me. They don’t have any idea what money means, except that when I don’t have any in my wallet we’re not getting any frozen yogurt. I am not associated with a dollar sign. To these people, I am associated with unconditional love. I give it, and whether I feel I’m worthy of it or not, I get it. I ask again and again, “Why are we so blessed?”
But I don’t need to ask why we are blessed. I need to lean into reality and let my heart be still. I realize that I don’t need to check out. I need to log off.
This political season was nasty. Name calling, false accusations, and fact-free assertions ran rampant across the interwebs. As a long-time political junkie, I found this trend particularly disheartening. I love a hot-blooded political fight as much as the next guy, but I also love shaking hands afterwards. Social media has drawn more people into the political process, which is great because involvement makes the whole system thrive. However, if social media is the new venue for political discourse, let’s lay down some ground rules.
1) No name calling. Insulting your fellow Americans by calling them crazy, uninformed, stupid, sheep, wackos, and even Nazis simply because they share different beliefs than you is disrespectful and unnecessary. Petty name-calling weakens your argument. Save it for the playground.
2) No generalizing. All Republicans don’t believe the same thing, nor do Democrats adhere to the same beliefs. Each of us comes to the political fray with personal experiences that shape our world view. Respect your opponent’s life experience by NOT putting them in a box.
3) Separate politics and religion. The internet is not a bar, so politics and religion are up for discussion, but they are two separate debates. All conservatives are not Christian and all liberals are not Jews. In a political debate, attacking another person’s faith, especially in a country whose Constitution guarantees both a secular government and religious freedom, accomplishes nothing. In politics, religion is a non-issue.
4) Check your facts. Nothing ruins a great debate like a lie, half-truth, or a fabricated talking point. Before you enflame your opponent with the morning’s latest accusation or something you read in an email, run it through one of the many unbiased online fact-checking machines. Factcheck.org, politifact.org, Wikipedia.org, and national newspapers (excluding the opinion pages) may support or disprove your assertion. If it checks out, use it. If your assertion is false or mostly false, you may want to re-evaluate your position. Facts are facts. False declarations are lies. Something that you think ought to be true, but is proven untrue, has no place in honest discourse.
5) Facts are facts. If you struggle to prove your point based on the facts you are finding, consider that perhaps the facts are correct and you need to modify your position. It’s OK to change and grow, even as an adult! Avoid criticizing the source of the facts, as well. Finding a fact distributed by the Congressional Budget Office or the Bureau of Labor Statistics that disproves your assertion is a red flag – you may be wrong. Admit it, adapt, and move on. You’ll find peace.
6) Cite non-partisan news sources. Rush’s point about global warming being caused by sheep farts in New Zealand might be factually spot-on, but there’s a pretty good chance your liberal opponent thinks Rush is a pompous gas bag. If Mr. Limbaugh’s facts are correct, you will be able to find them in an unbiased source. Factcheck.org, politifact.org, Wikipedia.org, and national newspapers (excluding the opinion pages) are great sources for information. MSNBC, FOX News, Huffington Post, Daily KOS, and Andrew Breitbart are biased and sometimes opinion-based sources. Remember that, although the information from these outlets may be factually true, we are living in a time when the media has lost objective credibility. In many cases, the line between real news and entertainment is hopelessly blurred. Respect your opponent’s skepticism of political news sources and simply avoid them. Cite your facts from unbiased sources and you’ll enjoy hard-won credibility. As a credible source, you’re more likely to sway your opponent to see your point of view more clearly.
7) Avoid the “They’re all the same” trap. All politicians are not sleazebags and all political parties differ. If you are unclear about the positions of the various political parties, and how they differ, I encourage you to investigate their websites and read the entire party platform. Democrats, the American Communist Party, Republicans, the Green Party, and Libertarians are all different. Accusing them of all “being the same” does a great disservice to those who serve our country honestly and hold fast to their principles.
8) Learn the terminology. Learn the difference between a political system and an economic system.
9) Keep it in perspective. When emphasizing the scale of an alleged scandal, refrain from quantifying it as “the biggest in history”, as in “This fiasco is the biggest in history.” Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, September 11, and the Khmer Rouge are what you’re up against. A politician makes a closed-door deal with a company he used to run? Definitely lacks scruples, but not the worst move in history. Keep it in perspective.
10) Hitler was Hitler. No current leaders come close to reviving the atrocities of Hitler. If you compare any current world leader to Hitler, you lose the entire argument. If your opponent compares any current world leader to Hitler, congratulations, you win! Discussion over, log off, go outside.
There you have it! Adhering to these rules of engagement ensure respectful online political discourse. If you choose to engage, be prepared to learn, bend, grow, and change. This is how we can mend the massive chasm between the left and right. We must respect each other first. Remember that the words you type are read by somebody just like you, sitting in front of the screen looking for a connection, trying to sort out something in the midst of work, parenting, homework, hobbies, and a dream of something better. Be a part of it. Be a part of making it better, smarter, and more respectful for everybody.
There was this moment last week when I was unfairly lashing out at Dave for the general feeling of dissatisfaction that intoxicates my days these days. I spent minutes explaining to him that I’d been on the brink of something, really getting my fingers wrapped around a career finally, not just a job, when I agreed, yes agreed!, to uproot our family and move 350 miles away. I lamented that my 12 hour days are spent in an intellectual vacuum, wiping noses, stepping on LEGOs, making snacks, meals, snacks, snacks, water with ice, questions why why why? “I’m so frustrated,” I said. “This isn’t what I want to do.”
“You’re sick of being a mother,” he said.
The words were a revelation. No judgment. No guilt trip. No “I feel sorry for our kids,” just a simple, “OK” and some solutions, some ways to eke out some satisfaction from my days. He offered words of encouragement. Pure love, pure pride in his wife when he pointed out everything that I am, that I forgot I was.
“Label yourself,” he said.
“Wife and mother,” I replied.
“You get up and 5:30 and write for an hour and a half every morning. You run three times a week. I'd add writer and athlete.”
I sighed. I’d chosen to see less in myself. He reminded me of words of love my friends poured over me at our going-away party. “You make it better where ever you go,” they’d said.
I started to cry, humbled again by their distant unconditional love. At once, I felt better. I keep reminding others that tough times pass, that seasons change, that all the clichés about struggles and challenges are clichés for a reason. Quick to remind others, slow to remember. Somehow I’m not allowed to struggle like everyone else? Absurd!
Really, my life is, in most ways, better than before. I mentioned that to Dave and he asked, “Most ways?”
“I don’t have my friends here. They were my support.” I also don't have a life outside of my family.
So, now comes the next phase of restarting life. I’ve got car insurance and cable. I found my local Trader Joe’s and a few good running routes. The logistics are covered. The every day is done. Now, I’ve got to tackle the long term.
My good friend suggested I go on meetup.com to search for groups. “Ninety percent of the people you’ll meet? Meh. But you’ll find some gems.” I like the idea, but I need more than friends, I think.
Is it awful that, as a stay at home mom, I don’t want to join a dedicated mom’s group? I cringe at the thought of hanging out with a bunch of moms, talking about motherhood. The last think that I want is to find common ground around the same subject that is making me crazy! Realizing that I’m sick of being a stay at home mom explained everything. I need more than just my kids. I need more than just my family. I need my own life again. I need a life separate from carpools, helping with homework, and making meals.
I may get crucified for saying I’m sick of full-time motherhood. Judge me, accuse me of being an unfit mother, or tell me I’m simply wrong for feeling this way. Want to know my reply to anyone who may chide me for my feelings? Staying at home with kids is the hardest job on the planet. Waking up every day to demands, questions, more questions, incessant questions, rules, breaking of rules, enforcement of rules, manners, more manners, please sit at the table, nagging, pestering, begging me to play but not that I want to play this, interrupting, not liking breakfast, no I don’t want a peanut butter sandwich for lunch I want grilled cheese no not milk I want water I don’t want an apple I want a peach. Don’t cut it up! I’m not cut out for it these days. I possess neither the patience nor the will. I’ve been built up too strongly by success in my career to step out of that life without some level of dissatisfaction. Nobody needs to remind me that raising children is the most important job I’ll ever do. Please refrain from consoling me with reminders of the positive change I’m affecting through the unconditional love I feel for my kids. I’ll remind you that we’re not all built the same. This doesn’t fill me completely. I don’t feel nearly as alive as I did when I worked a mere 10 hours a week. That’s it. Ten hours! I won't apologize, either.
By itself, motherhood confines me. I feel limited and unfulfilled. Doing double, working as a trainer in a kick-ass gym and mothering? Now that’s what I call satisfied! Sure my schedule was nuts. Yes, I felt pressed and stressed sometimes. But my body, mind, soul, and spirit thrived! I challenged myself and brought that growth home. I feel that I was a better mother then than I am now. I need to get back to that place. Again, I find myself in the position of trying squeeze in everything I need to do alone into about 6 hours a week. I feel pressed and stretched and confined and going crazy. It’s about to change, though. I feel it.
That’s it. I’ll break out of this new shell soon enough. The process just sucks.
You can call me a sap. I find meaning in everything. The world is full of symbols and I am a vessel of interpretation. Call me corny or emotional or whatever. I cry at the end of children’s books. I own it. I am it. I can’t deny it.
I’ve cried a lot in the past few months. Moving six hours away from the town I’ve called home for a decade tore me up. Saying goodbye to the people in that town, well, I’ve lost it a few times. It’s been hard.
Before we uttered a whisper of moving, things were clicking for me. We’d unloaded our burdensome house and walked away from our piece of the American Dream. Despite all of the beautiful memories we shared in that house, first words, first steps, first birthdays, I felt nothing when we walked out. That’s a lie. I felt full blown relief, almost to the point of giddiness. I wanted to scream and yell at the house, ask why it took so much away from us, but I couldn’t get angry because I almost felt like laughing. It was over. The saga was finally over. Great things continued happening, too. Work was amazing. My training roster was packed with challenging and funny clients, my coworkers inspired me, and my boss infused me with confidence I’d never before felt. I loved the kid’s pre- and elementary schools. I enjoyed deep, meaningful friendships. I loved my church.
Our first move started us anew in many ways. We rented a wonderful home in our favorite neighborhood almost immediately. I could walk to work and stroll to my best friend’s house. We had a big back yard and a patio and it was awesome. This house was my dream house. It was wonderful.
But something else was in the works. As we were trudging through escrow, Dave was entertaining an offer by a great company to do an interesting, perk-laden job in the Bay Area. He was considering it, pending my approval. He says the conversation went something like this:
Dave: What would you say if I told you that I’ve been offered a job with (all the blah, blah, blah details), but we’d have to move to the Bay Area?
Natalie: Yes. Let’s do it. I need to do something that scares me.
Dave signed a job contract on the same day that we signed our lease. Our move would be temporary. We called our house The Summer Home.
The Summer Home filled me. Life felt a little easier. The kids had more room to play and we enjoyed a more private yard. Friends visited. We threw a “Hello-Goodbye Party” and fed about 35 people. I putzed around the garden. We recovered.
Along came July and the pressure mounted. We began hunting for a house in earnest without knowing where we were going. When August rolled around, well, I’ll simply say this: It was very hard and we both struggled for peace under the intense demands. We argued. We lived in a hotel for two weeks (or was it 2 years?!). I grappled with excitement for something new and overwhelming grief for leaving very close friends. Leaving schools and churches scoured me. I was in a lot of pain. The kids were happy, though. For them, life must have been a bit like Eloise, living in a hotel with the cat. We felt so much stress, but they had no idea!
Two weeks into our hotel stay, we found a house. We took possession on August 17, but our PODS didn’t arrive for another week. It was kind of awful and kind of fun. We slept on an air mattress and ate off of paper plates. We stole towels from the pool at the hotel. When our stuff arrived, it was like Christmas. But as I’ve said before, moving and unpacking is just like Christmas, except it’s just the same dusty crap you had before.
Our friends did all of our plant-sitting for us, so I hauled all of our greenery up about two weeks ago. Some plants suffered the fate of the back of the truck. Windburn city! Our beautiful plants were black leaves and flowers stripped from their stalks.
One plant fared well, though. I took special care with my plumeria, however. During our stay at the Summer Home, it enjoyed warm morning sun, a little afternoon heat, and then shade. I watered it regularly. This passive love resulted in a funny growth out of the top, which I hoped would lead to something exciting and beautiful. I waited patiently. I am not known for patience, either. During its stay at our friend’s house, it continued to grow and do the weird thing. When I picked it up in late September, the growth proved to be a cluster of buds. When loading the truck, I wrapped the plant in a giant trash bag and secured it in a windless spot. I intended to see this plant come to fruition.
Our new town is hot. Today was 99, and as I write, the clock and thermometer read 9:27 pm and 87 degrees respectively. The plumeria gets blasted with hot sun in the morning, bakes in the afternoon, and then stews in the latent, shady warmth as the sun dips below the horizon. I watched the flowers grow, petals so tight, itching to burst forth. Then, last Friday, I saw the first bloom.
I purchased this plumeria from an ABC drugstore in Honolulu in March of 2006. It cost around $5. Alexandria was 4 months old. She stayed with my parents while I tagged along on Dave’s business trip. When we got back to LA, I drove to my parents to pick up Alexandria. Dave drove home. When he got there, he called me to tell me water was coming out from underneath the cabinets.
The flood. The beginning.
So this plumeria, this odd stick that has only thrown giant, waxy leaves annually for over 5 years, has been wildly unexciting throughout the duration of our struggles - flood, frustration, anger, sadness, death, and near-death. I’d considered throwing it away. At one point, I thought it was dead. But no, in her weirdness, she continued to live her funky life. And five and a half years later, as my family settles into the most secure, happy, fruitful place we’ve been since the flood, our funny plumeria blooms.
It’s been a million years since I’ve purged my thoughts. Instead of regurgitating everything that’s happened in the interim, I’ll start from where I am.
Currently, that’s on a plane from Oakland to Burbank, returning from our first scouting trip to investigate schools and neighborhoods in the Bay Area. We’re moving at the end of next month.
Short-selling the house felt absolutely liberating. I guess we didn’t really “get” how bounded, taxed, burdened we felt by those claustrophobic walls. Each day when the kids woke up the house enclosed me more. I let the back yard descend into a wild, untended jungle, unsuitable for trikes or sidewalk chalk or bare feet. The front of the house was a common driveway. We were all miserable.
When we found The Perfect House (which, in light of our current situation, has been renamed The Summer Home), Dave was in the midst of negotiating a job offer that would relocate us to the Bay Area. He received the offer on the day we signed our lease. We’re not allowing ourselves to get too attached to this place. Sadly. It’s The Perfect House.
Moving to the Bay Area thrills and scares me. I didn’t really get sad until I saw all of our friends get sad. The impact of this change only compounds as I comprehend what it all really means: I’m leaving Southern California. I’ve lived within 100 miles of my childhood home for my entire life. I’ve never lived more than 2 hours from my parents. My little family is leaving the beautiful town we’ve called “home” for a decade in pursuit of greater things somewhere else.
Again, it’s thrilling and scary. I like the idea of feeling brave and heading into the unknown. I think I relish in discovery. Honestly, I’m doing my best to remain positive, yet I come back to some comfortable basics: I have beautiful friendships, an inspiring workplace, and a perfect house. I can walk to work and my best friend’s house. The kids are in dream schools. Now our future city is unclear, as are new schools and a new workplace. “Why,” I wonder, “are we doing this?”
Well, there are many answers, but there is one that is the most important. Dave needed a fresh start. We all did, I really. This blog began in the middle of a five year “life-changing event” spree that left us exhausted and burned out. My heart purged onto this page repeatedly, therapeutically releasing all of the ills and needs in my world. I’m pretty sure my husband worked right through it all, denying himself the opportunity to process everything as he fought to keep our family afloat. However, in the past 6 months, he’s allowed himself to face and conquer the anguish we’ve experienced. Only through those hours of self-discovery was he able to consider this God-sent job offer. When I saw how open his heart had become, I simply couldn’t close mine off.
Years ago, when I was pregnant with Alexandria, Dave’s uncle passed along some incredible advice. “Dave,” he said, “Do you know how to be a good father?”
“Well, I think…no, Chuck.”
“Be a good to your wife.”
I’m following Chuck’s advice. My calling, my commandment, is to be a good wife. We need to leave more than I need to stay. Really, the ride challenges me to step away from all that makes me feel safe and comfortable, which I desperately crave. Can we be that family that I envision? Can we be that solid unit, bonded, tight, complete?
What I’m learning through this process, though, is that I didn’t have a clear understanding of where I’d planted myself. I knew I’d dug in roots, but where? Are my roots in my town? Am I fully vested in Ventura? I’m not sure I am. My kids go to school here and I work here. I love living here. But many towns have comparable amenities to Ventura. It’s not the town. So are my roots in people? No. My friends fill my cup and make me feel normal on my worst days, but the glow of a computer screen keeps them close, as do trains, planes, and automobiles. And phones. Am I bound to my family by proximity? No. Our families support our move (some reluctantly) and cheered when the offer came. We can Skype and write and fly and drive and meet halfway and all the other stuff that other families do when somebody lives far away!
I realized where my roots lie as I packed for this trip. On Thursday, as I prepared to leave, Alexandria was on an overnight at the BFF’s house and The Dude was at Dave’s parents. Dave was to join me on Friday. I was alone in my house preparing to go do a scary thing alone, and I hated it. As I drove to the airport, I became more and more unsettled, unsure of why I couldn’t concentrate, standing precariously on the edge of panic. I felt suspended between two places. My boat floated adrift on the ocean without a sail. I needed somebody, a familiar voice, a small hand, a kiss on my neck. Anything!
And then it hit me. My roots are in my little tribe. At that moment, I wanted so desperately to have my husband, my girl, or my boy with me. They’re like my safety blanket. I realized that my roots are in them. Geography doesn’t matter. If we’re together, I’m home.
As we mentally and physically pack our things and move again, I predict some bumps and hurdles. I may or may not have a panic attack. It’s probably inevitable. But for the first time in, well, ever, I feel perfectly safe and sound. I’ve got all of my people with me and we’re going to be fine. I’ll miss friends and this nice, cozy life, but I’m not worried about money or breaking-down cars or messy houses or anything. I don’t give a hoot about a possible flood (hello renter’s insurance!) or the “good” part of town being out of our price range. I know it’s out of my hands and that knowledge liberates me. I’m on the edge of that cliff again, perched to launch into any possibility. This time it's different. I've got a crew! I’m not even afraid to jump, because last time I did, I flew. I guess we’re all getting wings.