Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Birthday, Balky

Dear Balky,

Happy birthday. You would have been 47 today--I think, I can never really remember how old any of you are except Rich. We would have celebrated with your favorite overly rich chocolate cake and Nanny's dilapidated 4 and "Where's the stupid 7? Can anyone find the 7?" candles. You would have eaten the whole piece of cake and saved the icing for last, like you always did. I never understood how you did that. Just watching that ritual made me feel like my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth.

You've missed a lot these past 14 years. Babies, laughs, tears...many of them shed for you. Beth's kids are all grown up, and she is a grandma now: James and Dan have beautiful children of their own. Chloe and Katy are graduating from high school this year, and you never got to meet Peyton and Lily and Jinju. They would have loved to play "lump." I guess you see them. Maybe Papa told you about them.

Other things have changed. We moved, and now Nanny is coming to move in with us. Too much space and memories on Porter Street. Good and bad. She'll bring the good. Hopefully the bad will stay there and not spill bad karma onto any future residents. Porter Street is a mess, though, not sure how much hope we have of selling it. Although, we optimistically buried a St. Joseph statue in the front yard yesterday.

I still have the card you gave me the last Christmas you were here. I read it sometimes. You told me that Brad and I should cherish each other and the love we have. I wish that I had sent you a card telling you to cherish yourself, or telling you how much we cherished you. I wonder if it would have made a difference. I don't have the last note you wrote anymore because I don't like to remember you like that. I write that off as one of those notes that should have been written and never sent. I don't think it was meant for anyone to read, even though you may have felt that way at the time.

I try to remember you as the person I saw in my dream months after you died. You were happy and joking and smiling, and I like to think that's how you are in heaven. Cracking all the other angels up. I bet you are glad that Papa is there. Beth said one time this summer, when I had a rough day and too many glasses of wine, "Chris and Balky didn't get him for very long; it is their turn now." I guess. If I had my choice, you would all be here celebrating Christmas with us. But, I had to live with your choices and God's will. And I did my best. Still am, I guess, doing my best.

So on your birthday, and every day, I love you and miss you.

Love,
Lanimous

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Under Construction

It's December. I love December. I love Christmas. Usually. Not this year. This year, I am literally and figuratively under construction. We are building an addition for my mom to move into. Why is my mom moving in with us? Because my dad died. So the former describes my literal construction and the latter, my figurative.

For the most part, I have dealt really well with losing my dad. He was old, had a great, full life, wouldn't have wanted to continue the way he was, declining and losing his dignity on a daily basis. He died very peacefully, in my mom's arms where he'd want to be. Blah, blah, blah, I have now lost my two superheroes. The two men who believed in me and encouraged me and taught me that anything was possible if you just believed enough. I feel like I'm alone now in believing as others roll their eyes and scoff at my idealism.

Well, that's not true, really. I passed my dreaminess on to my daughter, who wants to believe that real men love you like vampires do and sobs at the realization that they don't. Stephanie Meyer, I hope you're happy with yourself! This generation, girls and boys alike, is destined for disappointment because no love will ever be like Edward and Bella's.

I know that is fiction, and I can tell the difference, but I too want to believe in that. I want to believe people love each other enough to give up everything they know for that love. I want to believe in miracles and grace and God. I want to believe that being a good person does matter even if in the end, you need but to accept that Jesus gave His life for your salvation. I want to believe in doing the right thing even if you need but to ask for forgiveness, and through God's grace and Christ's sacrifice, you will receive it. But some days, it just doesn't feel worth it to try.

This is Chloe's last "real" Christmas at home. Next year, she will be away at school and coming home with new philosophies and dirty laundry. Of course, I want it to be special and memorable. Of course, my husband does too. I want to spend every possible moment with her, cherish every smile, every laugh, every bit of wonder this season brings. My husband wants to sink us further into debt to buy "stuff." We struggle with this every year. I try to make Christmas special and memorable. And every year, he looks critically at the material gifts I've bought and says, "It's not enough," and goes out and maxes out our credit cards to make Christmas "better." And I feel bad and inferior and like a failure.

This year, my heart is not in it. I am going through the motions and buying the material gifts. I forced myself to put out some decorations. We still don't have a tree. Thinking about getting one makes me sick to my stomach. When I was a little girl, my dad and I went to get the Christmas tree every year. In fact, my dad loved Christmas so much that he kept a little fiberoptic tree in the family room year round just so he could look at the lights. Because he believed in magic and wonder and miracles, and that little tree symbolized all of that to him.

So here I am, waffling between idealism and despair. Between wanting to make this Christmas memorable and wanting to go to sleep and wake up when it's over. Wanting to stay strong through this construction and wanting to curl up under my covers. I want to believe that God has a plan for me. I don't know what it is. As hard as I try, I don't know if I'm following the right path. But I keep trying. Because I just have to believe. "Faith means...knowing that something is real even if we do not see it." Hebrews 11:1.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Sometimes, I get caught up in paying bills, spills on the carpet, kids arguing, broken garage doors. You know, all of the mundane, day-to-day stuff we all face. Lots of times this stuff gets the best of me, leaving me feeling overwhelmed and underequipped to deal with the inanity--or insanity--depending on the day.

Then something happens to make me remember how small all of these things are in the grand scheme of life. I remember that at the end of my life, God is not going to judge me on the condition of my carpets, and my kids aren't going to remember what they were arguing about. What will matter is how much I loved those bickering children and how well I was able to make it through my days with kindess, compassion, and integrity.

This morning, as I walked Lily into preschool, one of the little boys said, "Lily!" I smiled, not realizing the magnitude of this seemingly small feat. Lily's class is a mix of "traditional" and "special needs" children, and the little boy, who so clearly spoke her name, doesn't speak. Ever. I could barely hold myself together until I got in the car, and then I cried the whole way home. So many times, I've wanted to tear my hair out when my kids argued, and yet this child's mother had never gotten to hear his sweet voice.

And so it goes. This morning, I am contemplating the mortality of our 12-year-old cat, Angelo. It makes me sad. He is Chloe's best friend and such a big part of our family. He is lethargic and weak, and I am taking him to the vet this afternoon, where I hope they will tell me it's something easily fixable, but I fear otherwise. This starts to overwhelm me. Then I think of my dear friend, who is sitting at the Cleveland Clinic for the second time in a month with her son. Strong and steadfast and never complaining, just always taking care of her little boy and being a great mom. She inspires me and makes me want to be a better mom.

Last week, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with some really great people from my past. Spending time with them, seeing how they have grown and changed since we all worked together years ago, revitalized my view of humanity. So often we focus on shortcomings--our own and others'. Yet, I looked at this woman, who took her negative work experiences and said, "I can do better." And she did! Started her own company, where she values her clients and employees, and facilitates a work environment centered on service, integrity, and oh yeah, fun. She inspires me and makes me try harder and dream bigger.

So, on this first day of the month of thanksgiving, I give thanks for the wonderful people who float into my life for reasons, seasons, and lifetimes, always bringing a lesson and always leaving an imprint on my heart.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Say something

For years, I've tried to be mindful, to live in the moment. I read, meditate, do yoga, in the effort to be more aware. I am aware. Sometimes, I actually live in the moment. Unfortunately, some of those moments are sad. Some of them are depressing. Sometimes, I feel as if I might not make it to the next moment. But I do.

Most people have these moments. Some deal with them by reading books, meditating, doing yoga, drinking, talking to friends, seeing a therapist, taking medication, whatever it is that helps them get through the moment. I do and have done all of those things. And I write. I write myself through the bad moments to make it to the next good one.

Perhaps writing about feeling sad and lost and fumbling is off-putting. Some people have told me I shouldn't dwell on my sadness. I'm not dwelling; I'm just trying to get all the sadness out of my head so there's room for happiness. Writing about my feelings--good or bad--is therapeutic, and this is my tiny little safe place, so I can write about depressing stuff here.

None of that is really my point for writing this. My point is that after I wrote about how sad I was, I was amazed how people reached out to offer kindness, advice, love, and support. People I love, good friends, acquaintances. Unexpected notes of encouragement that lifted my spirits in ways I can't express. In ways that made the darkness that clouded my thoughts lift. In ways that felt like God Himself saying, "I am here. And I am speaking to you through these angels today. Listen."

Sometimes, I think we avoid saying something for fear of saying the wrong thing or causing someone to be upset. When my brother committed suicide, most people didn't know what to say to my family. I think people were afraid that if they said something to me, I'd cry. And I often did. Lots of people avoided me. Brad asked me every day, "What's wrong?" And more than once I bit his head off, screaming, "MY BROTHER KILLED HIMSELF; THAT'S WHAT'S WRONG!" God bless him, he stopped asking what was wrong and just started saying, "How are you?"

One day shortly after I went back to work, one of my co-workers ambled awkwardly up to me, carefully avoiding eye contact and said, "So...how are you doing?" It felt incredibly kind because I knew how uncomfortable it can be.

When my dad died, I was amazed over and over again by people who reached out to say, "I'm sorry," "I'm thinking about you," or anything. People who stepped out of their comfort zone, who risked watching me break down, just to say something. I would sit every night and read sweet messages people wrote on my Facebook wall and feel blessed. As someone who's experienced grief, I suggest that when you're in doubt: Say something. It matters. You matter. And to all of you, who took the time to think about me in my dark time, I appreciate and am so grateful for your thoughts, support, advice. I am blessed that you chose to say something.

At 7:29 a.m., I am listening to my tiny girlfriend chirping about her favorite shows and what she's gonna wear to school today and wearing her Halloween costume to dance class, and I am happy. At 7:30, something might make me sad. But I will be okay.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Small Voices

For the past few days, I have felt lost and fumbling. I keep praying and waiting and hoping that God will intervene--and maybe He has, and I've been too downtrodden to notice. I feel like every way I turn, I run head on into a brick wall. Occasionally there are swinging doors in the brick wall, and I'm able to make it through. Unfortunately, I usually hit the wall before I find the doors.

I have been meditating, trying to quiet my mind so that I can hear God's "still, small voice." The meditating has helped quiet my conscious mind a little, but when I go to sleep at night, I have these crazy dreams that leave me feeling exhausted and unrested in the morning. Sleeping used to be my escape, but now the craziness has even invaded that safe place.

Try as I might, I find myself sleepwalking through my days often muttering half-aloud, "Help me, Lord," which prompts Lily to say, "Mommy, are you talking to yourself?" "No, sweetie, talking to God." Is this some sort of spiritual transformation? Because it feels remarkably similar to a nervous breakdown.

I'm on edge. I jump at sudden noises. When my dog gets loose and corners my neighbor, rather than seeing the humanness in it, I feel like curling into the fetal position and crying. When my cat pees on my bed, I have much the same reaction. Yet, I feel like I've never prayed more, never read the Bible more, never tried harder in my life to be a good person and follow God's will. So, I can't help but wondering where God is when I'm curled in a fetal position crying?

Part of me says, "Put your big girl panties on and deal with it." Another part of me looks at my sister, who has just suffered a debillitating injury yet carries on with patience, grace, and complete faith in God. Why can't I be like that? Part of me thinks, maybe I really do have a chemical imbalance or bipolar disorder or something else that needs a man-made intervention. I gave up my "happy pills" to lean on God. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, I feel as if I just fall on my face day after day.

I don't doubt God's existence. I haven't lost my faith. I just keep feeling as if maybe I'm doing something wrong. Praying wrong. Acting wrong. Following the wrong path. Expecting too much. Lord knows I have ridiculously high expectations for people; stands to reason, the Almighty wouldn't be an exception. Maybe if I could just be a little calmer, a little more patient, a little better of a person...maybe then God would show Himself to me. Maybe then He'd give me a sign. Maybe then He'd lead me. Or maybe He'd at least help me up off the floor.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Someday...

Tomorrow is Lakeview's Homecoming game. My baby girl is on Homecoming court, so that means that Brad and I get to walk her across the field as they announce her name and her future plans. That made me cry just typing that. Future plans. Those of you who know me well can imagine what a mess I am.

We have been going to these games since she was a tiny girl, watching my sisters in law marching in the band, then watching Chloe as a Little Bulldogs cheerleader, cheering with the high school cheerleaders, and now, here we are. I remember watching parents walking their children across the field and thinking how sweet it was and wondering if we'd get to do that someday, but someday seemed so far away. Now someday is tomorrow. She's the varsity cheerleader. She's on Homecoming court. And I've got to manage to keep my composure and walk her across the field.

Thinking about your child growing up and going to college doesn't seem that difficult until you are bittersweetly celebrating all their lasts. Her last Homecoming dress, her last Homecoming game, her last Madrigal Feast, her last year in high school. I almost can't bear it. I'm a crybaby, so I wept at all the firsts and seconds and thirds, but these lasts are really tearing me up.

I remember being a senior in high school--my mother wasn't the sentimental type, I don't remember her being broken up about any of these things. In fact I distinctly remember her yelling at me on senior night right before we walked across the field and wishing that she wasn't there. For me, every moment with Chloe has become special. I treasure each second I get to spend with her because I know that in the blink of an eye she will be gone. I guess I should do this with my other kids too, but their departures aren't as imminent, so unfortunately, I take time with them for granted sometimes.

This is good training, since I have to do it all over again in six years, and then again in six more years. God knew what he was doing when he only let me ovulate every five and a half years. I am going to need at least that long to recover from letting one child go before I have to do it all over again.

Today, I feel so proud of the young woman she has grown to be. So smart, determined, driven, and responsible. I feel so grateful for the time I get to spend with her. And at the same time I feel remorseful for all the times I was too busy, too tired, too ignorant to know that her childhood was going to fly by before I could stop and say, "Wait, don't grow up so fast..." I can't make up for that. I can only hope that I did enough, gave enough, and loved enough for her to know how precious she is to me.

And I can remind myself of this feeling each time I am too tired or too busy for Peyton or Lily, because someday this is going to be them. And that someday is coming way too soon.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Baggage

For the past month, I have been fighting with myself about whether or not to continue taking medication. I don't feel depressed anymore. I feel as if I can deal with my feelings. I am tired of being tired, and I really am tired of gaining weight. Faced with this dilemma, most people would go talk to their doctor; that would be the right thing to do. Alas, I'm not most people, and while I always try to do the right thing, it often isn't the socially acceptable thing.

I made a list in my head of pros and cons. Pros--I am happy. Cons--I've gained 20 pounds, and I'm tired all the time. When the doctor initially put me on this medication, she said that she didn't think I would have to be on it long-term. She said that she just thought I was going through a rough patch, and I needed some help to get through it. I felt as if I had that help, and now it was time to put my big girl panties on and deal with the issues I'd medicated into submission.

So I prayed for a sign whether or not to keep taking the medicine. That morning, on my way to the gym, I heard "Your help comes from the Lord," on the radio, and that was my sign. Instantly, I felt a wave of relief, and thanked God for showing me such a clear sign so quickly. Throughout the day, I had little signs that reinforced my decision, and I felt pretty confident that I was doing the right thing.

That was two weeks ago. Today, without medication, I feel tired, overwhelmed, and unsure. I think it was the right decision. I think it was what God wanted me to do, but the signs that so suddenly appeared to guide me have now vanished, and I find myself on a desolate path wondering if I'm going the right way.

I knew it wasn't going to be easy. I knew when I stopped taking the happy pills I was going to feel all the pain I'd been numbing for the past few months. I knew that I was going to have to deal with the fact that my baby is going to college in a few short months. I knew that when I looked at my dad's laminated obituary, the fact that my dad was dead was going to tear my heart to pieces, again. But I also know that if I don't feel these things, if I don't face that pain head on and deal with it, I will be stuck in a state of suspended animation.

I realized that for me, taking the medication was taking the easy way out. I don't want to be artificially happy anymore, even though it was nice for a few months. I want to be a better person. I want to grow and change and develop, and in order to do that, I know I have to walk through this pain. My vacation from tears was nice, but it was just that--a vacation. I needed it and am grateful for it. Now, it's time to unpack my bags and get to the business of dealing with all of this shit.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reasons, seasons, and lifetimes

I've heard the phrase people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, but I had never read the whole beautiful poem. For the past several years, I have paid close attention and watched in amazement as this phenomenon has happened over and over in my life. I have made some great new friends, rekindled some old friendships, revitalized existing friendships, and sometimes regrettfully and often relievedly said goodbye to some relationships.

I wept with joy as I hugged my very best friend from childhood when we reconnected in 2010 after losing touch for 8 years. I can think of few scarier days in my life than my first day at public school after seven years of homeschooling. It's hard enough to be thirteen without that lapse in socialization that left me feeling out of place, out of touch, and out of style. But there was Lori. My soul mate. She's my only friend who knew my brother Chris. In fact, she's the only person in my life besides my mom and siblings who knew him. She has the distinction of having been my dad's favorite among my friends. She's real and true and knows everything about me good and bad and chooses to love me and be my friend. My BFF. She's here for a lifetime.

My friendship with her, though, made me analyze a lot of other relationships to consider whether they were for a reason, season or a lifetime. My friend, Vickie, needed no analysis. She's here for life. Biggest heart in the whole world. Kindest, sweetest, most thoughtful, loving person. She was my gift during a very dark time in my life, and thankfully, I get to keep her even though now God's light illuminates my path.

There are more, blessings all of them, my girls. Friends through my husband's friends, who became my card partners and then my life partners. Those who entered my heart through my kids but quickly took up residence there. The fellow baseball, football, and cheer moms, who became confidantes. Old high school, with whom I've been blessed--often through facebook--to reconnect. Some that I wasn't close to in high school, I now find we have so much in common, and I am grateful for the opportunity to know them again. To meet for coffee and swap stories, book recommendations, family dramas, and chat away two hours as if it was a minute.

There are the reason friends, who turned into more. Several months ago, upon making a new friend, I hesitantly pondered her place in my life. Then my dad died, and I didn't need to ponder any further why God had sent me a psych nurse.

Then there was the so-called friend, who talked behind my back at every opportunity. I tried to make a go of it, but realized it was futile. The reason she was in my life? Maybe to show me I didn't need people like her in my life. There was the acquaintance, who was friends with all of my friends but never liked me. She told lies about me, tried to make others dislike me and ultimately made me search my soul and question everything about myself. Several years later, I realized none of that had been about me but about her own bitterness that she was projecting onto me. Since finding that out, I've become much more comfortable with the fact that not everyone likes me. I am still a good person, and I don't have to convince my detractors of that.

So as I think about my reason, season, and lifetime friends, my heart swells. My soul is nourished by each of you, whether I picked you out and mentioned you, or I simply have written your name on my heart. Thank you for being my friend.

Monday, August 29, 2011

I love you right up to the moon and back...

Today my daughter started her senior year of high school. That means that in just a few short months she'll be done with this phase of her life and moving on toward a long college journey. For me, this brings on an onslaught of emotions. As I watched her leave, so grown up and sophisticated, I couldn't help but think about how far she'd come since I dropped her off at daycare 16 years ago, and she cried until she threw up. And then I cried until I threw up.

I think about the nights I'd lie in bed with her, stroking her back, wishing she'd fall asleep so I could go do whatever chore seemed so important at the time. Now it seems so far away, the hours I spent rocking her, her tiny hand entangled in my hair, gently twisting it. Wiping her tears when I'd come home from work, and snuggling her until her tiny chest stopped heaving with sobs. There wasn't even a shadow of insecurity in the young woman who left the house this morning. She was all new blazer and jeans and red lipstick confidence.

I think about all the imaginary games we played, and how I wished for them to be over so I could do whatever mundane task seemed so important at the time. I wish I could go back in time and enjoy and thoroughly appreciate them. I think of all the times I picked her up from my parents' house, and my dad would be lying on the couch with Chloe treating him. And I think in just the blink of an eye she'll be a real doctor, treating real patients. And my dad will surely be smiling down on her. How prophetic that he called her "my doctor" ten years ago.

So I'm crying, again, just like I do every year when my kids go to school. But this year it's different. This is my first year of lasts. Her last first day of school. Her last year cheering. Her last homecoming dress. Her last prom. I am gonna be a mess. I have always cried at her school plays and concerts. I cried at NHS induction. I cried when she got her senior pictures taken. She used to laugh at me, which usually made me laugh too. Now she sticks out her lip, strokes my back, and softly says, "Aw, Mommy..."

Most of the time--when I'm not crying--I look at her in amazement. Amazed that she is so strong and smart and driven and confident. Amazed that she is so kind and loving and compassionate and empathic. Amazed at the goals she sets and achieves over and over again. Amazed at the dreams she pursues and sees to fruition. Amazed that so much goodness is emodied in such a tiny creature. Amazed that God let ME be her mom. Sometimes I shake my head in wonder. If someone had told me eighteen years ago, when I got pregnant, unmarried, unemployed, unsure of so many things, that this beautiful child was what was coming, I would never have believed them. I almost don't believe it now.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

St. Michael's Academy

Today, while reading a sweet post from a facebook friend about homeschooling, I started thinking about my feelings on that very subject, which made me cringe for a long time. I have considered homeschooling my children but honestly didn't think I was up for the challenge. I have an enormous amount of respect for parents, like my friend, who are filling their children's homeschooling days with love and learning. Unfortunately, I realized that I had an awful lot of unresolved issues related to the subject that needed work.

I was homeschooled from second through seventh grade. While those years gave me lots of quality time with my mom, they also made me feel different, weird, ostracized, and freakish. At my only extracurricular activity, gymnastics, I told my friends I attended a private academy, as I was too embarrassed to say I was homeschooled. Today, I happily realize, that there is no stigma--and maybe there never was--and that homeschooling is normal, accepted, and even encouraged in many ways.

Not for me though. After I went back to public school, I swore my mother to secrecy making her promise not to tell my new junior high friends about my dark past. Thinking back, I feel terribly that I surely hurt my mom's feelings, but it never even crossed my mind then. Making friends, fitting in, being popular, and not letting anyone find out that I had been a freak were my goals. My mom, bless her heart, just laughed and went along with my wishes.

It wasn't until many years later that I realized how profound of an effect it had. She mentioned something about our "home school" in front of Brad--at the time we had probably been married more than ten years--then quickly caught herself, asking, "Can we talk about it in front of Brad now?" I laughed but at the same time felt horribly guilty for being ashamed of my mom and our "school."

I know several families who homeschool, and we have played with homeschooled kids at the playground. One of Lily's preschool classmates is going to be homeschooled after preschool. When I meet these kids, I want very much to hug them and tell them never to feel different or freakish or insecure about their situations. I want to gush at them that they are so loved and special and should be grateful that their parents undertook this huge responsibility. I want to tell them that they will be so well-prepared for life educationally and emotionally. And I want to hug their moms and apologize as if that could make up for all the times I shunned my own mom.

But I don't. And no one has to call the cops about some crazy lady at the playground. I just smile because I can see on their faces only happiness and content. Then I silently say a prayer for them, and for my mom.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Tomatoes from Heaven

I am blessed to be surrounded by a lot of positive people. My husband, my sister, my kids, several good friends, even the majority of my Facebook peeps are rays of sunshine. So it's taken me a long time to figure out how such a darkness could have fallen over me in the midst of such light. My dad was one of the most positive people I know, and when I lost the daily dose of, "Your hair looks great," or "I love your new boots," it was enough to cast me into a depression that thankfully medication has lifted.

In the month or so before the medicine, the really dark days, I told Brad I was sad because I couldn't "feel" my dad. I wasn't finding pennies all the time, I wasn't having moments of divine intervention as I had been. It felt as if he left me, and I wasn't ready for that. Before, it seemed like I was dealing with things pretty well. So much so that I even fooled myself.

Since the depression has lifted, I still hadn't really felt my dad, but I was still able to deal with things better. I talked to him and about him more. I asked his advice about different situations. I asked him to show me signs about different things. What I didn't ask for was vegetables.

My dad loved to garden. He had been a farmer and then taught vocational agriculture, but by the time I came along his mad skills were limited to a thriving vegetable garden in our side yard. Growing up, we rarely had store-bought vegetables. We always had fresh potatoes, tomatoes, beans, and asparagus from our garden. We had cherries, peaches, apples, pears, and plums from our fruit trees. Obviously, this is why I'm so picky about my produce.

But of all the things he grew, tomatoes were his favorite. I remember going to the store with him to get plants: early girl, beef eater, and cherry. In later years, I convinced him to get Roma--my personal favorite--and after he broke his hip and could no longer tend to his garden, we got him a topsy turvy planter so he could grow his beloved tomatoes on his front porch. And he did. Every time I went over, he'd take me to the porch to show me his tomatoes. Send me home with too many. "Dad, I'm the only one who eats tomatoes," I'd protest. But I couldn't bear to hurt his feelings so I'd take them home and eat them all.

I inherited his love of gardening, and Brad and I grow lots of our own veggies. This year, in an effort to save money and expand variety, I started seedlings in the spring on my countertops. Eggplant, several varieties of peppers, asparagus, green beans, beets, and cucumbers. Unfortunately, after "the last killing frost," our garden was still way too wet to till. My poor little seedlings were outgrowing their tiny pots, so in an effort to save them, I planted them in my flower bed. The dirt isn't so good out there, mostly clay, but I added some compost, and lo and behold they grew.

Unfortunately, as the weeks passed, I kind of forgot what I'd planted where, so imagine my surprise when the three biggest plants started producing tomatoes. I didn't plant any tomatoes. Did I? No. I'm sure I didn't. I bought some Roma tomato plants and planted them in the back garden, but I didn't plant any tomatoes in the flower bed. So as I stared befuddled at the "volunteer" tomato plants, it hit me, and I started to laugh out loud through my tears. Lily asked, "What's the matter, Mama?"

"Nothing, Baby Doll," I said, "Papa sent me tomatoes from heaven."

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mars and Venus

This morning I realized, yet again, how different my husband and I are. After beating myself up for weeks  about my weight gain and struggling to get to the gym without disrupting my children's schedules or making them stay at the gym nursery too long, I decided to get up at the ass crack of dawn and go with Brad. Good idea. Good bonding. Good quality one-on-one time with my husband. In theory.

When I go to the gym, I put my headphones in, crank my music, and avoid eye contact and conversation. I am not a snob; I am just focused on doing what I have to do and getting the heck out of there. Occasionally I go with a girlfriend, and we work out and talk; then, it's more like a playdate. But when I don't go with her, I don't socialize. Until this morning.

"How's the weight?" "What do you think of this exercise?" "Is something wrong?" "You're awfully quiet; what's the matter?" "Are you sure that weight's good?" "I think that's too light for you; you need a heavier weight." OMG, enough all ready! I love you with all my heart, but seriously, it's 5:30 a.m.--SHUT UP!

Then there's the lollygagging. I do a set, breathe, do another set, breathe, do another set, and move rapidly onto the next machine. Brad does a set, wanders around in circles, checks himself out in the mirror, gets a drink of water, asks me fifteen questions, talks to a few other gym goers, checks himself out again...you get the idea.

We've long known that Brad is a morning person, and I am a person who should not even have human contact until after 9 a.m. and/or 3 cups of coffee. He wakes up like a Jack Russell terrier, all bouncy and happy and tongue-waggy. I wake up like a bear whose hibernation was disrupted by a Jack Russell terrier's incessant barking.

But, it works. We work. Most of the time, except at the gym apparently, I love that we are so different. I love that we can sometimes irritate the hell out of each other and still be each other's person. I love that he texts me in the morning just to say, "How is your morning going?" I love that he wants to help me lose my extra weight (even though he likes it) just because he knows I'm not comfortable with my body. And after a weekend of college visits and preparing to let our first baby leave the nest, I love that I know we will be okay once the kids grow up and move away. Most of all, I love that I get to spend my life with my best friend.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

F you, scale.

So I wrote about how great I feel taking my medication and how being medicated is so wonderful and everyone should do it and how I'm embracing my weight gain, and blahbiddyblahblahblah. And those of you who know me, well two of you who know me, called bullshit on that. Said, and I paraphrase, "I know you, and there is no way in hell you are okay with gaining twenty pounds."

I'm not. I'm trying to be, but I'm not. The things that I wrote about, the curves, fewer wrinkles, yep, I like that, I'm good with that. What I'm not good with is getting on the scale and seeing a number that I've only seen when I had to view the scale around a pregnant belly. Why does that stupid number have so much power over me? Why should it matter so much? Why, when I feel good about everything else, does that number get to strike me down every single day? I don't know why. I only know that it does.

I eat very well, no meat--lots of fish--no dairy, only whole grains, lots of fruits and veggies. I go to the gym at least 3 times a week and work out hard. I mean seriously? I'm really not sure what else to do. One other time in my life this happened. I took a medication--that time it was birth control--and gained a bunch of weight. I stopped the medication; the weight fell right off, and I was good. Oh, except that I got pregnant, but that ended up with my sweet little L Bears, so that was good too.

I am contemplating stopping the medication. I just read an article about how depression is our body's (I read that as God's) way of helping us deal with issues. We get flattened, debilitated, so we have no recourse other than to ruminate on our issues and deal with them. Brad asked me what I thought about the article, and I said, "I think it's probably true, but I don't have time to be flattened. I've got three people who need me to be on top of my game."

What do I do? I take the medication, I guess, so I can function. I deal with the weight gain, I guess, because the good outweighs the bad. I just keep on keeping on.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

July 18th was my dad's birthday. He would have been 95. Historically, this has been a really fun time for my family. My brothers would visit, we'd have a party for my dad and my sister, go to the Greek festival, celebrate my parents' anniversary, spend lots of time laughing, playing, swimming, and just being together. In fact, my dad said many times before he passed away, "95 this year. Gonna be a BIG celebration." He didn't make it. I almost didn't make it either. The past months, since my dad died, I have been stumbling through. Fumbling for the energy to live, to be a wife, a mom, just a worthwhile person. This month, I actually started to live again.

For my dad's birthday, Chloe and I made our annual pilgramage to Lilydale with our soul friends. My SOLE purpose was to get a message from my dad. In fact I was almost giddy in the days leading up to our trip because I felt like I was going to get to visit him. My dad believed very much in people's ability to communicate beyond the boundaries of the human life, so I knew he would find his way to Lilydale and to me. And of course he did. In both my reading and Chloe's, my dad spoke to us through the mediums. I had never doubted that he was okay, in heaven, happy, any of that. My sadness stemmed from the fact that I missed him so much, and he hadn't spoken to me.

After each of my brothers died, they came to me in dreams--very vivid visitation dreams--to tell me they were okay. In these dreams I was able to to feel them, hug them, ask them questions, and know that they were okay. I felt sad that my dad hadn't "visited." I wasn't worried about his place in the afterlife; I knew he was in heaven. I can't really explain it. Both of my brothers died tragically, violently even, and I needed reassurance that they were okay and not stumbling around in Limbo or worse yet hell--as my good Catholic upbringing taught me. My dad died very peacefully, as I had prayed, and for the first few weeks after his death, I could feel his presence. I would find coins, that I believed he'd left out for me; my kids even started referring to this phenomenon as "pennies from Papa."

So on Sunday, when we celebrated my sister's birthday on Sunday, and she said, "There's only one thing missing..." I didn't fall apart. I know that my dad is okay. And I do miss him, but now I feel as if I was able to speak to him, hear from him, know that he is okay and in heaven with the God he loved and worshipped for 94 years, and with my brothers, who loved him so dearly and only got to spend a short time with him in this life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fat Ass

Over the last eight months, I have gained 20 pounds. I have a laundry list of excuses why: I quit smoking, my dad died, my husband started smoking again, I had a nervous breakdown, I started taking medication with a happy side effect of weight gain.

Try as I might, I can't blame any of those things completely. I have a really messed up relationship with food. It fulfills all sorts of things for me besides hunger. Really, if I think about it, I haven't felt hungry in years. There's never an opportunity because I'm usually eating out of boredom, sadness, happiness, depression, or socializing over a bowl of chips.

So, here I am, looking at a number that I haven't seen since I was pregnant. Fuck. The worst part is that other than that, I feel really great. I go to the gym, but my clothes don't fit. I don't eat bad food, but I eat LOTS of good food. I don't feel bad about myself, but any woman can tell you, squeezing into a pair of too tight jeans is damaging to your self-esteem. I am wiggling myself in as the jeans are screaming, "Good grief, fat ass!! Give my seams a break!"

So this morning, as I was looking in the mirror and thinking that naked, I really look okay and maybe I just needed to get rid of those size zero jeans that mock me constantly, I decided that I am going to embrace my curves. I am going to make a list of all the positive things about my weight gain, talk nicely to myself, burn those jeans, and then try to stop eating my feelings while coming from a positive rather than negative place.

Here we go:

1. Boobs. My boobs haven't been this big since I was nursing Lily. I actually bought a new bra because I was overflowing my A cups. Hot damn, it's like free cosmetic surgery! Well, for those people who would spend thousands of dollars to almost fill a B cup. But I am happy about it!

2. Wrinkles. Like a miracle, my wrinkles are less visible. Who needs a facelift and collagen injections when you can just eat a couple extra avocados? This shit rocks!

3. My ass. The one part of my anatomy that has long drawn the most attention from  my husband has now doubled in size. Brad is happier than he was when I agreed to try out Men's Health's assertion that couples who have sex 4 times a week or more look 10 years younger. Maybe that's what happened to the wrinkles...

Okay, so I'm new at this and my list is very superficial. But seriously, I  spent my whole life getting this message from my mother: FAT IS BAD, so it takes some adjusting. Today, I'm going to try talk nicely to myself and feel my feelings instead of eating them. It's about to get crazy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Symbyaxally Sublime

For most of what I can remember of my life, I've had mood swings. I've been crazy, neurotic, unpredictable, and many other less-than-favorable adjectives. When I went to grad school for counseling, I spent a lot of time diagnosing myself--and everyone I knew--with a variety of mental disorders. I meet diagnostic criteria for several disorders. I may have obsessive compulsive personality disorder, I may be bi-polar, and so forth. I don't know that my findings are conclusive since I didn't finish my degree, and I was assessing myself, which I'm pretty sure is a no-no; I did complete the professional ethics class. 

Brad agreed that I was crazy, just not necessarily with the notion that it was a diagnosable, treatable kind of crazy. Once, I laid out all the diagnostic criteria and how I met them, and he laughingly acknowledged my findings but suggested, "That's who you are, and that's who I love. I don't want you to be medicated into a different person." I halfheartedly agreed. I usually only stayed depressed for a day or so, and the manic episodes most often resulted in a clean house or some sort of project--the red and white bookshelf, for instance.

When I went to the doctor, she asked me various questions to determine my degree of mental illness. She asked me if I spent money impulsively. I don't really because we live on a very tight budget, I responded. She suggested that many people experiencing manic episodes don't stop to check their budget before going on spending sprees. I got that. I remember my friend's mom, who is bi-polar, would spend thousands of dollars when she was manic. Well, that's good, so I'm bi-polar with a conscience?

Anyway, she prescribed me an anti-depressant/mood stabilizer. After two weeks of taking it, I can honestly say, if I'd known that I could feel this good, I would have started taking medication 20 years ago. I am not angry, I'm not sad, I haven't cried, I haven't really yelled. The other day, I started to yell at the kids for arguing and stopped myself after realizing I was only yelling out of habit, not because I was really mad. I will acknowledge that I have been a little bit tired, and a lot hungry, but I also had PMS, so I am gonna blame that for the hunger and sleepiness.

I used to think that taking medication wasn't for me. I used to feel empowered that I could handle all the things that came my way because I was so strong. Initially I felt ashamed that I had to go to the doctor and ask for medication as if that in some way made me weak and unable to handle my own problems. I now feel that I don't really give a shit if I'm weak because I feel like a million bucks!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Today I smiled...

It is interesting how you have certain ideas about yourself, and then a lesson creeps up, smacks you in the face, and shows you that some of your preconceived notions were completely wrong. When this happens, it shakes your axis. Makes you wonder if anything you believe to be true really is or if you're existing in a parallel universe.

Last week, for whatever reason, with all ready too many reasons to be sad--Father's day and my dad's birthday coming up--I decided to read Jill Bialosky's memoir of her sister's life and death History of a Suicide. The book, Bialosky's writing specifically, is hauntingly beautiful. The subject matter, unfortunately, was too much for me to handle in what was all ready a fragile state. I cried for days. Relived my brother's life...and death. Asked all the same questions that I'd all ready asked 150,000 times 100 more times.

Brad asked me, "Why would you read that book? You know it's going to make you sad." I don't know why I felt compelled to read it. I guess because I wanted to know how someone else experienced this kind of tragedy. I needed to know how someone else felt, and dealt with, and got past that kind of horrific grief. And that's the part that made me the saddest was that she never "got past" it. There was a quote in the book, and I can't remember who said it or the exact wording, but the idea was that time doesn't heal grief it just makes living more bearable.

People who haven't directly experienced this can't understand why, if I talk about my brother 15 years later, I still will tear up. Suicide takes one life and destroys  many. I have a wonderful husband, a good life, three terrific children, but always over my head hangs that black cloud. Part of me will always be broken.

So in the midst of missing my dad, reliving my brother's death, catching my husband smoking--yep, putting that right in the same category--I found myself in a depression out of which I could not snap. "Think positive thoughts," "Choose to be happy," "Count your blessings." I did all of those things and still found it was an effort to smile. What do you do about that? I prayed, read, prayed, willed my despair to go away, begged God to lift it, and finally, when I found myself feeling like maybe the world would be better off without me, went to the doctor. Don't get me wrong; I wasn't suicidal. I would never destroy the people I love that way, but I found myself wondering why I was here when I wasn't bringing any good to anyone.

After telling all of this stuff to the doctor, taking the same mental health screener I used to administer, I was prescribed a "anti-depressant/mood stabilizer," and joined the ranks of the medicated. I have only taken the pill for a few days now and can't say that I notice any difference. I feel less sad, but not exactly happy. I feel some hope. Is it the drug? I don't know. Maybe. I think it is the knowledge that I have taken a step to get better rather than actually being better. I'll take it. Whatever it is. Today, I smiled without forcing it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

You have a beautiful heart and black lungs.

Quitting smoking was a really empowering experience. After years of being a slave to cigarettes, it was so freeing not to have to get up every morning and smoke--not to have to go outside in the freezing cold, rain, whatever elements to get a nicotine fix. To be able to run for more than 20 seconds without feeling as if my lungs were going to explode. Although as far as addictions go, mine certainly wasn't the worst you could have, it was the worst I had. Seven months later, I can still say that quitting smoking was one of the best things I have ever done.

When people ask me how I quit, usually I say, "I just quit." By that, I mean I didn't use any nicotine-replacement aids. I prayed. I quit for a few months here and there before using the patch, but I always went back. I always fell into the addict's trap: I beat this, so now I can just have one cigarette. I can never just have one cigarette because that, for me, is a slippery slope. I know people who can just smoke socially and they're fine. Never waking up at 6:00 craving nicotine. I'm not, nor can I ever be, one of them.

When my dad died, one of my first instincts was to go buy a pack of cigarettes. No one would judge me. And maybe for a few minutes, I would feel okay, I would feel happy, I would feel that artificial rush of endorphins instead of the dull, sickening, overwhelming sadness that I felt. Fortunately, God strengthened me. He gently reminded me that smoking wasn't going to bring my dad back. And ultimately, it wasn't going to mend my broken heart.

I have a lot wrapped up in quitting smoking. It has taken on more significance than perhaps it should. So when I caught my husband yesterday on the side of the house, smoking, well, he might has well have been having sex with another woman. Actually I'd almost rather he'd been having sex with another woman. That I could compete with. I can't compete with nicotine.

My husband has been the most consistent person in my life for the past 21 years (minus that year he was on midnights, but I've managed--almost--to repress that.) He's nearly always in a good mood. He rarely gets angry. He always loves me. He's extremely, sometimes annoyingly, predictable. All of this feels very safe for me because my life has had too many unpleasant surprises. For years, Brad didn't understand why I would get so upset and worried if he didn't call or was five minutes late. The day I called him on a random Tuesday afternoon to tell him my brother had committed suicide, he started to get it. Too often, the unthinkable, has been my reality.

So, I don't know where to go from here. I don't know what to do with these feelings. I don't know how to be supportive and helpful and loving when I'm so FUCKING pissed. I know this certainly isn't the worst thing you can face in a relationship...it's just the worst thing I'm facing today.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I don't like the look of her...

I have been thinking a lot about friendship lately. New, old, lifelong, fleeting. I was listening to my mother-in-law and her friend talking the other night about how cliquish girls can be. The girls they were talking about were 4. My own 4-year-old is not: Cliquish, that is. She plays at school with her cousin, who happens to be a boy, her best friend, and who she wants to marry: "Why CAN'T cousins get married?"

Friendship is hard for girls. Woman-to-woman interactions are difficult from the moment we're born. We have all seen mothers, who compete with their daughters. It's deplorable and pathetic, but it happens. I have heard stories of mothers sleeping with their daughters' boyfriends. I have watched mothers demean their daughters and wondered if they knew that for the rest of her life she would hear that voice in the back of her head telling her she wasn't good enough? I am sure they know; they probably still hear their own mothers' voices in their heads.

Even if girls have a great relationship with their moms, once they actually start interacting with other girls? Ay yi yi. I remember having a "friend" when I was little (4 or 5) who only played with me when her other friend wasn't around. I was the "back-up friend," I guess. The days when her other friend came, she would ignore me. If I tried to play with them, she would make fun of me tell me I couldn't. I would cry. Once, at a McDonald's play area, a little girl told Lily she couldn't go in a certain area. Lily shoved her down and went in anyway. But literally for MONTHS afterwards, she would say, "Why was that little girl mean to me?" She couldn't imagine why some girl who never met her would be so mean. Well...imagine.

I have seen girls of all ages and sizes look down their noses at my daughters and me. I have had my own heart hurt and watched my daughters get theirs hurt by these girls who disliked us for whatever reason. As one of my best friends says, women sometimes just look at another woman and don't "like the look of her." This friend  is stunningly beautiful inside and out. So is her daughter. People have disliked them simply because God blessed the world with their presence. I thank God for bringing them into my life.

I have spent a good part of my life trying to make people like me. The people who all ready like me tell me to stop. Sometimes it frustrates them how much energy I spend trying to make people like me. My husband once told me, about a person who didn't like me, "She hates you because she can't BE you." I try not to try so hard anymore. I try not to get my feelings hurt when people don't like me. But last night I cried myself to sleep because some "friends" decided to dislike Chloe. Because she's blonde? Because she's beautiful? Because she's skinny? Because she has big boobs? Because she's brilliant and talented and loving and special? I don't know why.

I do know why, actually. Because of all of those things. I have told her her whole life to be kind, compassionate, and to live with integrity. She does. She lives what she is. She's not "lucky" she's got a great body; she runs every single day. Yes, she was gifted with a brilliant mind, but she also tries very hard to learn new things and expand her mind. From the time she was a tiny girl, when someone didn't like her, I would ask her if she'd done anything to them. No? Well, then they're just jealous.

There are a few people in my life who just don't like me. For no apparent reason. I've asked my friends, their friends, mutual friends, "Why doesn't she like me?" I even asked the one woman to her face what I had done to make her dislike me so vehemently. She couldn't answer. She said that I was imagining it. She liked me. Then she carried on passive-aggressively being my friend.

Friendship is hard for girls. It's hard figuring out who is your real friend. It doesn't go away when you're grown either. I thought it had when I found a new group of girlfriends in my 30's. Until one day I walked into the room to find them talking about me. Perfect. So now, I stick with my friends I've had forever, and a few new ones I've been blessed to meet along the way, who I know are lifetime friends. I wish my girls would never have to struggle with this, but they do and they will. I pray for God to make an easier way for them. I pray that I will set a better example. I pray that they won't let too much of their self-worth get wrapped up in others' opinions of them. I pray and pray and pray.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Facebook=High School

Most of us have probably thought it. I have had numerous conversations about it. Surely more than one of my status updates have reflected it. Facebook is like virtual high school. While my high school experience was not detrimental to my mental health and resulted in a 16+-year-marriage and several enduring friendships, let me be really clear: I have no desire to repeat it.

Unlike high school, Facebook's playing field is more level. There aren't cool kids, burnouts, nerds, and so forth. There isn't Harding and Reserve, the eastsiders, the westsiders, the Panthers, Raiders, and Ranthers. While the school consolodation may have traumatic for some, it worked well for me. We won the state championship, and some of my best friends, and my husband, were westsiders.

Initially, I opened a facebook account so I could look at pictures of my darling niece, Jinju, but it is in that aforementioned optimistic spirit that I accepted nearly every friend request I got, unless I had no idea who the person was or if the requester was a porn star. Again, am I the only one who gets friend requests from porn stars? Historically, I didn't "defriend" anyone unless a person just blatantly didn't like me, or as in one actual case, spread lies about my family.

Since joining Facebook, I have enjoyed reconnecting with so many people from my past. I have enjoyed seeing my peers grown up, seeing friends' pregnant bellies, and sweet babies, and children who look just like their parents did 20 years ago. I found my best friend from junior high, with whom I'd lost touch. Turns out she is still my best friend. Twenty-five years, moves across the country, countless friends who have come and gone, marriages, divorces, and deaths, and she is still my best friend. And we still have the same boyfriends as we did 15 and 20 years ago, respectively. I wonder how many of the girls, who talked shit about us in high school can say that.

In answer to, "Where have you been? I never see you on Facebook anymore." I haven't gone anywhere, really. I am grateful I made it through high school intact. I pray that my kids make it through--Chloe's almost done. But I have no desire to experience it again. And for those "friends" who wanted to see my life: Here it is. I have aged, gained weight and gotten wrinkles, but I don't look drastically different. I have three kids, and their dad (all three because, yes, people have asked) is the same guy I "hearted" on my notebooks 20 years ago. I still heart him.

If I said your kids are cute, I think they are. If I commented on your posts, I meant it. If I said you look great, I really think you do--honestly, there must have been something in the water at old WGH because most of the people I have seen from high school look really good. My point: If I say something on Facebook, I really mean it. I am not trying to get your vote for homecoming queen. I am not trying to be someone I'm not; this is really who I am.

And to those who continue to judge me based on who I was 20 years ago? You are right. I am still the same person, with a few changes. I won't talk about you behind your back; I will say it to your face, but I will nearly always choose to be kind even at the expense of honesty. If you talk about me or flirt with my husband, I won't fight. I really don't care what people say about me, and I love that people find my husband attractive. He's incredibly sexy and his lips are unrivaled by any white man I've met. All that aside, if you look cross-eyed at my kids, I will unapologetically go crazy on your ass.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shopping with Mom

Today, I went shopping with my Mom and Lily. It started out just Lily and me, but I picked my mom up and took her, because whether she needs to be occupied or not, I need to feel like I keep her occupied. I am afraid that if she's alone she'll be depressed. I don't really think she is, but I don't want her to be. Brad says I project a lot shit onto my mom. He's right, as usual.

So, we went shopping. Lily and my mom walk very slowly. Painfully slowly. Lollygagging, looking at everything, just generally making me crazy because: I walk fast. That "unable to hold a conversation" pace you read about. In fact when Brad and I shop together, he inevitably says at least once, "Who are you racing??" I don't know. When I was little, my mom walked very fast. I learned to walk fast so I didn't get lost in JCPenney, because that happened once and I was terrified. My mom did a lot of things differently when I was little, and more and more I am painfully aware of those things. Funny how losing someone you love makes you cling tighter to everyone else--appreciating what they bring to your world, anxious of the space that's left when they're gone.

I notice with terror, her unsteadiness, her frailty, her forgetfulness. I look at pictures of her and think how wonderful she looks, but when I see her, I wonder if she looks older than she did yesterday. I have been counting months, years, trying to treasure whatever time I have left with my mom. I want to enjoy every moment. I want to repay her for the times I was mean and disrespectful. I figure if I give her ten good years, that might almost make up for how awful I was as a teenager. Not quite, but it's a valiant effort.

When my dad died, I didn't have any regrets. I knew how much he loved me, Brad, our kids, and he knew how much we all loved him. There was never a moment of, "I wish I would have told him..." because I told him everything. And I don't have regrets per se with my mom, but she's a much tougher nut. My dad used to say, "If you walk around with your heart hanging out, someone's gonna step on it." While it has been trampled repeatedly, I still walk around with my heart hanging out. I tell people what I think. I try never to pass up an opportunity to be kind or to let people know how much they mean to me. Course, I also tell them when they piss me off.

My mom is not like that. She's much more of an enigma. She doesn't say "I love you," except when she's traveling. I guess in case her plane should go down on the way home, she wants to make sure she's covered. She doesn't say, "Good job!" or "I'm proud of you!" even though I am pretty sure she feels it. She doesn't even say when she's mad at you; she just doesn't call and has an edge to her voice when you call her. Once I told my brother that I got tired of hearing about his kid every time I talked to my mom--if I feel it, I usually say it--and he laughed and said, "Don't you realize that all I hear about is YOUR kids?" Nope, I hadn't realized that. So she says it to other people. She says it in her actions. She just doesn't say it to you.

A long time ago, I realized that apologies come in many forms other than the traditional, "I'm sorry," and if you waited to hear those words, you often missed much more heartfelt expressions of remorse. I realize that my mom's expressions of love are not as upfront as mine, but they are there. To date, this is the lesson of my life: Your way isn't necessarily the right way, and it certainly isn't the only way. And I keep learning it over and over and over...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I'll Fly Away

For the past several months, since my sister introduced me to K-Love 107.1, I have listened almost exclusively to Christian music. I don't listen to the radio that much, but on the few occasions I'm in the car alone, I love to crank up praise and worship music. It gives me the homey feeling of a little country chapel, where everyone worships together and then feasts on fried chik'n (it's my dream), potato salad, and baked beans on the banks of a river. Most of my actual experience with churches looks and feels nothing like that, so this music is particularly comforting.

I like music, but I prefer silence most of the time except when I'm exercising or cleaning. Lately, though, I enjoy it--need it, even--when I'm showering. The day my dad died, I had a very bad feeling. Two days before, I had seen him, and it shook me how bad he looked. The light was gone from his eyes. He hardly joked. And when I asked him if he was feeling bad, he simply shrugged, and said, "I'm just old and tired." That morning, with that image in my head, I prayed fervently that if it was God's will, He would take my dad peacefully to heaven. Then I got in the shower, oddly comforted as the pounding water drowned out my sobs and washed away my tears. I stayed in there and cried until the water ran cold.

Two hours later God took him. I'm not used to having prayers answered just...like...that. I felt guilty. Responsible, even, as if I'd killed my dad.

Every time I go in my bathroom, I experience that morning again.

After several mornings of slathering my eyes with Preparation H--it really does reduce the swelling, and only Lily was bold enough to mention the odd smell--I decided to turn on some music. Pandora must have some good Jesus music, I mused, and my search quickly elicited traditional country hymns. Johnny Cash's voice reached straight to my heart and reassured me, "Some glad morning when this life is over, I'll fly away. To a home on God's celestial shore..." And suddenly, instead of crying in my shower, I was dancing. And giggling.

This was my dad's music. These are the records he played on the big old record player in the play room, as my mom and I played cards on the floor. Years later, on an eight-hour ride home from New York, we spoke very little, while listening to Randy Travis sing of just about every dilemma a person could face. He didn't mention my particular dilemma: 20, pregnant, just gave up my dream of moving to New York City to be a writer. But as the hours passed, my disappointment diminished, and I came home ready to be a mom, someday a wife, and not a New Yorker.

Funny, how that drive with my dad and Randy Travis sticks out in my memory. Even though we barely talked, he had a way of just being with me that brought me great comfort. Therapeutic silence, maybe. Sometimes Brad and the kids make fun of me and my "Jesus music." They roll their eyes, make snide remarks, and change the station. Someday, I wonder if the same music will comfort them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sunday Britches--my eulogy to my Dad

Most everyone who knew my dad had a story about him. The past few weeks, I've heard a ton of them. In his passing, in his memory, I would like to share a few of my own.

He fed the birds and shot the cats and squirrels—with a pellet gun, just to scare them—except mama squirrel. She ate peanut butter sandwiches out of his hand.

He loved pretty girls—look at my mom--and never missed an opportunity to steal a kiss from one. He loved fabulosity and used to say, “If you like it, buy it; don’t look at the price tag.” Good thing my mom tempered his extravagance with some common sense and frugality, but not before I lived that belief right into Chapter 13.

He had stories galore from standing next to Woody Hayes on the sidelines at a Buckeyes game, to teaching Jackie O to ride a horse. He applied makeup to some Hollywood movie stars, and once he told me that lip balm icon Bonnie Belle’s father had offered him a boat to marry her. Some of these stories we shrugged off as his overactive imagination, but most of them were true in some fashion. I half expected, like the movie, Big Fish, that some of those people would show up at his funeral.

He made up crazy songs and sang them LOUD and off-key, Ho hum Hilario, Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, Clo-bird, the snowbird. Clo-Bird the snowbird, was also his doctor and high-kick partner.

He pushed my sister, brothers and me to be the best and never accepted anything less than our best efforts and often not even those. If you didn’t catch the football, chances were good you were gonna take it off the head. But as a result, we were all pretty good athletes. My sister, he said, could hit a ball farther and throw a football more accurately than most boys he knew. I haven't played football with her, but I have witnessed her blasting a baseball, and it's true. Whether it was because he spent time working with us, or we were just afraid to be anything less, he got what he wanted.

I spent part of my childhood being scared of his loud voice, but found a buddy in him when I was a teenager and he was retired. He would record my soaps for me when I was at school, then we’d watch them together. Even after I’d outgrown watching soap operas, he continued and would occasionally update me on the characters.

He cried watching movies and once told me he couldn’t read books because he found himself so wrapped up in the characters’ tribulations that he couldn’t sleep at night. Empathy. He used that word all the time. I didn’t realize until much later how much he embodied it.

He never said I love you, until my brother Chris died. Then he never missed an opportunity to say it. Really. It got to be embarrassing. He would tell telemarketers he loved them. But he evened it out. And by the time he passed, I think everybody who loved him knew that he loved them back.

He showed my sister and me what true love looks like in the way he loved my mom for 53 years. He gave our husbands big shoes to fill, but he loved them and seemed pleased with the job they have done loving us.

He was proud of his boys; I listened to him brag alternately about each of my brothers even though they may never have gotten to hear that. My brother, Jonny, said it best, “Later in life he became the dad that I had always wanted him to be.” But that we could all live long enough to accomplish that.

My dad was larger than life. Talking about him in the past tense remains almost too much for me to bear. He taught us how to live and how to love. He had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever met. He didn’t make to 106, but he sure had a hell of a life.

Peach wouldn’t want us to be sad, but I’m sure he was pleased to see how many people turned out to celebrate his life. So here’s to my dad, lover of all, slayer of hallucinated tigers, killer of bees, and destroyer of training wheels. If he were here right now, he would chuckle, shrug his shoulders, and say, “You know what happens, don’t you?” Yeah. Shit.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mostly Good...

I have thought a lot about a defining moment. Heard people talk about them. Watched light bulbs go on over other people's head. Had some go on over my own head, but not in a life-changing way. As usual, I guess I set my standards so high that perhaps I've missed many defining moments along the way.

Defining moment is sort of limiting, anyway. One instance that gets to frame who you are? I mean in biblical terms, when God appears and says, "YOU ARE GOING TO PART THE RED SEA," yes, that would certainly be a defining moment. But God has never yelled at, or to me. He whispers, nudges, plays jokes, leads me to books and parking spaces, and if I didn't believe in Him so fervently I would probably shrug off those moments as coincidences.

Even the revelations I do have can hardly be called revelations. I simply wake up one day and think, "OH! Why didn't I realize that?" All very anti-climactic in terms of defining moments. However, all of these moments help me see myself more clearly. This weekend I tried to explain to my heartbroken teenager that pain is what makes you grow. That through suffering, you develop empathy and depth and compassion. You learn your limits, your strengths and weaknesses, sometimes you shine and sometimes you curl up in the fetal position and sob, and all of that is okay in that moment.

In that moment though, even as I talked to her, I had realized that my limit is one of my children being hurt. I wasn't feeling empathy or compassion. Nope. I felt rage. Rage that my baby was in pain. Rage that I couldn't fix it. Rage that someone would stomp on her precious heart. Rage, rage, rage...light bulb. All these years, all these self-help books, all these hours upon hours of introspection, and awareness exercises, and living mindfully, and there I was--the person I'd worked so hard not to be.

Then God, in His sneaky way, spoke right through Chloe and said, "Mom, you always taught me that the good should outweigh the bad." And I knew I had to let go of the anger and forgive the person who hurt her. And then, for the first time I can remember, I was able to forgive myself, too. I was able to look at the person I am: the good, the bad, the past and the present and realize that yes, I have a quick temper and an almost pathological aversion to dirt. I could own the fact that I have a drastically low tolerance for ignorance and the mouth of a truck driver. I will admit that all three of my kids talking at the same time makes me want to jump out of a window. And even taking all that into consideration, I can still say that I am mostly good.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Resolutions

I feel a lot of pressure when someone asks about my New Year's resolutions. Kind of like that goal-setting exercise to write a personal mission statement. Honestly? A sentence or two to define my raison d'etre? For real?? That's a lot of pressure. I feel the same way about resolutions. A few all-encompassing pronouncements summing up my goals from this year forward? Sure, I made some. How long do you have?

Every year for the past who-knows-how-many years, I resolved to quit smoking and quit swearing. Pretty standard. Never stuck with either one. So I quit smoking two months ago and have now decided in the grand scheme of things swearing isn't that bad. I mean if I don't swear at people, call people bad names, etc. It can be very empowering to scream, "FUCK," once in awhile. If you haven't tried, I highly recommend giving it a whirl.

So to make any meaningful resolutions, I had to dig deeper, pull back the layers, and find something that really mattered. I try to improve myself on a daily basis, not just when a new year rolls around, but with any new endeavor, it's nice to start with a clean slate. So here we go:

This year, I am going to make a valiant effort to stop losing my temper. To stop screaming at people--kids, husband, other drivers--and animals. Just my own animals. I don't usually scream at other people's. I don't generally scream at other people's husbands or kids either, if that was unclear.

I plan to be more compassionate, to try to help someone every single day, and never to pass up an opportunity to say something kind. To kiss my kids and tell them I love them even more--sorry, kids (I all ready kiss them quite a bit)--and to make them feel special and cherished.

I resolve to read more and varied literature. To tackle the rest of those "100 books everyone should read before they die." Nietzsche is all ready making me consider abandoning this mind-broadening goal. And yes, Mr. Thoreau, I can feel you eyeballing me; it's only January 3.

This year I will try to understand my husband better. If there is a creature on this planet who is my polar opposite, I married him. I will try to look past the snoring that's keeping me awake and causing me to entertain abusive and homicidal thoughts to the kind and loving person, who after the 42nd time I've switched positions is alert enough to stop snoring and ask, "Are you okay, baby?" before resuming the snoring.

That bubbles over into another one: Try to empathize with everyone, not just the people who are like me. Of course, it's easy to be kind and understanding to people who are like us, but what about that woman screaming at or even spanking at her baby at Wal-mart? We've all judged her. People have even made her their Facebook status. This is getting easier for me to focus my awareness on, because God usually dishes me up practice scenarios when my empathy wanes. For instance, if I even entertain a judgmental thought about that woman, you can be sure on my next trip to Wal-Mart, Lily will have a meltdown in aisle 9. "Insta-Karma."

Karma, aside, this leads to the ever-present: Treat the people closest to me with the same kindness and compassion with which I try to treat strangers. Again, this seems like a no-brainer, but sometimes I am nicer to telemarketers than I am to my husband, who has called yet again when I was just getting in/out of the shower, walking in/out the door, putting that first bite of food in my mouth, etc. Home phone, cell phone, lather, rinse, repeat.

And so it goes. One thought leads to another and another and another and before I know it, I'm so busy resolving that I can barely live, which leads to one final resolution. Be mindful and present in each moment. Be aware and grateful of the beauty surrounding me. Get past being annoyed by another interruption and enjoy Lily's asking for regular Special K cereal for breakfast and calling it "the strawberry cereal without the strawberries."

So in this moment, I am completely focused and calm, reading Beyond Good and Evil and supremely grateful for this curly-headed whirling dervish, who is dancing in circles, throwing my hand weights, handing me various articles from her toy box that the cats peed on, asking when we're going to the mall, and yelling, "FLYING CHICKEN TO THE RESCUE!" Well, I haven't yelled or sworn yet, anyway.