Sometimes Life Happens in Odd Places

“God is either everything, or else He is nothing. God either is, or He isn’t.”

I sat on an overstuffed couch that was a little too deep for my feet to comfortably reach the floor in a church basement illuminated by lamplight. I sipped my bubbly water and looked around at the small group assembled, feeling lucky to be there. Where else would I be talking about a God (of my own understanding) with a group of strangers on a Monday night?

I used to resent sitting in A.A. meetings. I wanted to be out in the world doing things. But I’ve come to realize that I am a better doer, dreamer, partner, parent when I get quiet enough to connect with my Higher Power. At the same time, it’s crucial for me to get out of my own head & into the world. Sitting in an A.A. meeting gives me a place to introspect… but also to share. It’s unique. And weird. And bizarrely perfect.

Other people’s stories hold tremendous sway for me. And A.A. is all about stories. They help us make sense of ourselves. They give us hope. They offer a blueprint for a way out of addiction and back into life.

A.A.ers form this quirky community united by one single purpose: to stay sober & help other alcoholics achieve sobriety. But that help looks different for every person. Sure, there are things about the program that are universal: the 12 steps & 12 traditions, being of service, sponsorship, anonymity. But what I find truly fascinating is that each member’s reflections on their own journey, the habits and perspectives they rely on to stay sober, and their interactions/beliefs/understanding of their Higher Power are what give people enough hope to get them to come back a second time. Because, let’s be real: the 12 Steps don’t work if you can’t get folks to stick around long enough to hear about them.

A.A. is a group of drunks who come together time after time after time to share their stories. A single meeting can span the entire spectrum of human emotion. And it’s okay. Nobody shies away from the hard, messy emotions in an A.A. meeting. Because honesty keeps folks sober. So folks listen unflinchingly to both the most horrific and the most tender parts of the human experience. Macabre humor abounds (Addiction is no fucking joke. But after you live at edge of death, in one form or another, laugher reminds you that you made it out). And they rally around the folks who are struggling.

In the world, you’re supposed to hide your pain, deal with it quietly, keep it to your damn self. But in an AA meeting, you bring your pain to the group. You expose it to the light, lay it out for everyone to see. And, in the sharing, you realize that you aren’t alone after all. That you never have to be alone again. That you never really were.

I spent my Monday night talking about God (the way I understand God–without anyone trying to dictate or co-opt that understanding) and sharing hope with folks gathered in a warm, cozy church basement lit by lamplight.

Not bad for a Monday.

Eight is GR8!

Elizabeth Jane (Lizard, Lizzie Jane, Janiepants, Bug, Bear, EJ, Chicken, Monkeybutt Jr, etc…) is 8 years old today!

Honestly, I have no idea how my favorite human in all the world is 8 years old today.

It both seems like I’ve known her forever and like she just got here. I do know that she changed my world forever the very moment she entered it. And that I love her more & more with each passing day. Which I would’ve sworn would be impossible as I stared into her sweet little newborn face. But here we are: I love her infinitely more today that I did on the day of her birth. Because now I know her. And she is breath-taking.

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Jane really sees people, in a way I think most of us have forgotten to. She finds the very best in people, and she holds it up for everyone else to see. She reminds people that they are good at their core. She believes it.  And she’s made me believe it again, too.

She loves without condition. Even when people are difficult. Because, hell, aren’t most of us difficult some of the time? She offers a lot of grace–room for mistakes, space for second chances. She’s quick to forgive. And always 100% ready to help someone feel better.

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Jane’s primary resting state is happiness. She’s enthusiastic beyond measure. And she’s silly. She’ll totally walk up into her classroom strutting like a chicken. NBD. She’s a stripes-with-polka-dots-and-a-tutu-just-because-she-likes-it kind of kid. I love her willingness to simply be herself. She often tells me she enjoys being herself–that she likes herself. I hope that remains true for always. There’s just so much about her to like.

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She’s not perfect, this kid. Not by a long shot. And, if she were reading this, she’d say “Nobody’s perfect, Mommy. There’s always room for improvement.” Amen to that. I think what I admire so much about her is that she really grabs a hold of opportunities to improve. Oh, not right away. But she’s willing to ponder situations where things, let’s say, could have gone better. And, after an initial blame shuffle, she’ll quite often own her part in the meltdown of situation normal. Good Lord, I couldn’t do that until my mid 30s. Sometimes I struggle to do it now.

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The other day, she came home proclaiming, “Mommy, we’re so close, it’s almost like we’re sisters instead of mom & kid.” Sweet, but wildly untrue. I’m Mommy 100% of the time. Motherhood is no fucking joke. Even with the sweetest of kids, it’s a job fraught with tears, frustration, and meltdowns (mine as much as hers). But what IS true is that there is no other kid on this planet–in the multi-verse, even–whose mother I’d rather be.

My favorite thing to tell Jane is that she was worth the wait. It took us 2 years to conceive her.

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I’d definitely given up hope by the time we found out we were pregnant with her. But that struggle made me appreciate her brilliant presence in our lives all the more. I can’t imagine a world without my sweet Elizabeth Jane.

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As far as I’m concerned, I am the luckiest mother in the world (8 years running).

Let’s All Play to Our Strengths: I’ll Make the Coffee

My husband just popped his head out of his office. I could feel him peering at me tentatively. “Hello…” he began.

I turned around from where I’d been reading and writing at the dining room table my desk. Really, I’d just been trying not to make any sudden movements and wake up the dog, who has a propensity to be a close-talker and follow me everywhere I go when she’s awake.

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He continued: “If, at any time, you know, over the next hour or so you wanted to make coffee, that’d be really nice. I’d love a cup.”

I stared back at him for a moment. “Maybe you should just ask for what you want,” I replied.

He looked unsure but proceeded anyway. “I’m on a conference call. Can you make me a cup of coffee?” He paused for just a beat. “See why I didn’t want to do that? It sounds like you’re my secretary.”

“Yeah,” I concurred. “I thought that’s what I wanted you to say. But now I just want to punch you.”

Ah… marriage.

I made him the coffee, by the way. It’s brewing right now. He didn’t ask because he’s a chauvinist asshole who thinks that women should make the coffee. He just really sucks at making coffee. I have no idea how it goes so sideways. But it does, every time. So, I take mercy on him, and I make the coffee.

Truth be told, I like to do nice things for him now. There’s something about actively choosing the person that you’re with–and not at all in a theoretical sense–that brings clarity that every day is a choice. And so is kindness. And love. So, I make the coffee. To save him from himself.

It’s this constant refrain of choice in our relationship that makes me bristle when people hear about Simon’s transition and they utter a little sigh and say something akin to “Love is love.” It used to bother me because I thought such a glib statement somehow diminished my identity struggles. But now I hate it because it doesn’t honor the hard work we put in to stay together. It overlooks the absolute honesty with which we had to face each other–and ourselves. And it takes a helluva lot of bravery to be completely honest in a 10+ year marriage. The greeting card version of our relationship can’t even scratch the surface of what I feel for him–and the pain, and loss, and work it took to uncover those feelings. I am so proud of us. But none of this came easily.

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We laughed recently about how completely normal our lives are. I mean, on some level we must thrive on chaos, since once we got 100% on board with staying together, we moved. Then I decided I’d open a bookstore. But it’s normal in that nothing is imploding. And our lives don’t feel like constantly shifting sand anymore. In fact, our lives feel solid–like ground that we can build something real and lasting on.

Just Surrender Already

Some lessons are harder for me than others…

Foot pain.

Seriously. Foot pain.

Just saying it makes me feel about 100 years old.

Foot pain isn’t funny. And I hadn’t learned a lesson from it. Which is why I haven’t written about it–until today.

So, here it is: I’ve been struggling with aching and burning in my right foot since October. First, I thought it was plantar fasciitis. So, I did exercises to strengthen my feet. I stretched. And it, mostly, went away. Until around Thanksgiving, when it came raging back. My mom suggested it might be a bone spur (she’s capable of going form zero to bubonic plague in 3 seconds or less). I shrugged it off and kept running. Because, the honest to God truth was that it hurt whether I ran or not. And sometimes it felt better when I ran. I certainly wasn’t going to give up running without evidence of direct causation. And I had none.

Then, 3 days ago, I was standing in mountain pose, and I swear to the sweet baby Jesus that it felt like my foot was on fire. ON FIRE.

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It couldn’t possibly have hurt worse if I was actually walking over hot coals. (Okay, it could have hurt a little worse, but who’s story is this anyway??) That was the moment when I began to believe this might be an actual problem.

Then, that night, the pain. in. my. foot... it woke me up THREE separate times. The next morning, my first sensations were pain and a little bit of desperation. (I need a lot of sleep to be a regular human. Now, my foot pain was interfering with that. Not today, Satan)

So, I surrendered. (Things always work so much better when I surrender, but I’m a slow learner of that particular lesson) I started googling folks I could see about this pain.

Part of my reluctance to have anyone look at my foot wasn’t just pigheadedness. It was flat out fear. My arch collapsed when I was 12 or 13. I’d been running in shitty shoes because I didn’t know any better. I saw a podiatrist who created orthotics for my shoes. Swell. I wore them. But that same podiatrists wanted to do surgery on both my feet when I was in college. He wanted to rebuild my arches. Each surgery would have meant I was non-weight-bearing on that foot for 6-8 weeks. So, basically, he wanted to take an otherwise healthy college kid in her early 20s out of commission for about 4 months–even though I wasn’t in any pain.

You can guess the profanity I let fly in the general direction of that idea.

Add to that experience that my arches have been wildly sensitive ever since then (I don’t like foot massages because I’m afraid someone will touch my arches), and I had a real recipe for avoidance.

But, in my google search, I ran across a foot massage practice right in my neighborhood. In fact, I’d noticed it several times as I drove by. I’m pretty into supporting our local businesses, so I booked an appointment.

That’s right: I booked an appointment, the sole purpose of which was to have someone massage my feet.

Good GOD.

But I was surrendering, you see.

When I got to the place, it looked a little haphazardly cobbled together (which isn’t too out of character for the neighborhood). The massage place was housed in a side building attached to a larger building (our neighborhood gym). The entrance was kind of hidden. And I knocked and didn’t get an immediate answer (it didn’t look like a place you just wander in). I almost left.

But, then, someone opened the door and invited me in.

And I surrendered.

I went in and sat down in a recliner. I soaked my feet in warm water with Epsom salts, apple cider vinegar, and essential oils. Already my foot felt better than it had in months. So, when they took out the massage cream and a scraper to break up the fascia in my arches, I took a deep breath–and surrendered to the process. I hated the scraping. It tickle/hurt, I almost flew out of the damn chair. But I did as I was told–I breathed deeply and let it pass.

My foot got massaged, pulled on, popped, shaken, and scraped. I probably smell like essential oils and fear. Or maybe relief. Because it’s not all better. But I can see, from here, a time when it will be better. And I am very grateful for that.

And all I had to do was surrender.

Starting Over (Second Grade Edition)

What’s a kid to do when her parents move her from one neighborhood to another–which means starting a new school?!? Watch as our intrepid second grade hero navigates these treacherous waters.

In mid-September, we moved from one neighborhood in Atlanta to another. The move has proven to be the right decision a million times over. We already have friends and a connection to this community that we revel in. It feels amazing, truly, to not only live in a city we love but to have found a neighborhood that we belong in.

The only obstacle to this move–and it was a big one–was that Jane would have to change schools.

Shit.

We put it off for a semester. I wooed her by explaining that, if she started school in January, everyone would want to be her friend. New kids are still cool in the second grade.

But, truth be told, I was sweating this transition. She loved every minute she was at her old school. She makes friends easily. And she loves people deeply. So much so that, at the end of long school breaks, she’d often be moody and/or teary simply because she missed her friends and couldn’t wait to be with them again.

That thought hung over me for the whole Christmas break. She was ready to go back to school. But it wouldn’t be the same. Her friends wouldn’t be there. And it was all my fault. (Yeah, yeah. I know it wasn’t really. And I know it was the right choice. But STILL. All my fault)

But she was excited. She told me over and over again that she couldn’t wait to start her new school. She mentioned her new teacher’s name no less than a hundred TRILLION times during the semester break, even though she’d never even met her.

So, things were looking up.

And then, four days before the start of this semester, Jane admitted that she wasn’t just excited–she was nervous. Oh, shit.

I know being nervous is normal. I also know it’s a great opportunity to introduce her to coping skills (something I had to sit through years of AA meetings to obtain). But, the God’s honest truth is that I’ve never wanted to fix something for my child more than I wanted to fix this. My drive to make it all better was so strong my heart actually ached. Cue more “It’s all my fault” melodrama. All in my head, of course. Okay… and a little of it spilled out to Simon–he’s a good and compassionate listener. But mostly I kept it under wraps because a) there was no way to fix it, and b) I pride myself on teaching Jane to deal with hard things, not run from them.

So, yeah, I managed to pull my shit together enough give her a pep talk about making it through hard things (like a first day at school, a big test, something scary) by remembering that it’s only going to last for a finite period of time. And soon, it’ll be over and will be part of the past. I told her that in two weeks, she’d look back and laugh and say, “Remember when I was SO nervous to start my new school.”

She thought for a minute. “Yeah,” she said, nodding, “it is only 24 hours after all.”

Really, she has a better understanding of life at 7 than I did at 27.

Today, her very first day at her new school, she woke up at 5:45 a.m. She picked out some leggings she loves, chose her sparkliest shoes, and stuck a crazy-ass green bow in her hair. And she was ready to go. No tears. She chattered all the way to school. But she did hold my hand.

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Simon and I walked her to her new classroom. Her teacher came in, introduced herself to Jane, and then gave Jane a hug. I felt tears spring to my eyes (I cry over every damn thing lately, I swear), because I knew right then that she’d be fine.

When we picked her up today, she declared it an AWESOME first day. And she proudly announced that EVERYONE wanted to sit next to her. Oh, and her teacher said some lovely things about her that made me tear up again.

So yeah, we’re all going to be okay. I just be over here dabbing my eyes, if you need me.

Books, Tea Parties, and Local Atlanta Magic

I’d never had much use for tea, until I encountered Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party in Atlanta.

 

I was raised on coffee. I drank coffee-milk as a preschooler (it’s a delightful concoction of milk, sugar, and a little coffee. It’s warm, sweet perfection). So, I never really gave tea much thought. I mean, sure, it was fine… for other people. But I couldn’t take it seriously.

But, like so many things, that’s shifted for me since I moved to Atlanta. Primarily because of this whimsical, amazing, quirky little place Candler Park:

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When you walk inside the shop, everything feels like gloriously cluttered and warm. Chalkboards with list after list of various types of tea line one wall. They’ve snugged together several small tables in the front room that feel intimate and lively. Paper ornaments and lights dangle from the ceiling. And the tea is nestled behind the counter.

It feels close. Connected. Alive with thoughts and ideas and conversation.

In the next room are two long tables nestled right next to tall, full bookshelves that remind me both how much I love to read and how much knowledge, how many stories, I’ve left unexplored. The lights stay low, which makes it feel like a rather intellectual, bookish type place. And folks are always typing way on their computers. I’m sure some of them are just doing plan old work. But in my mind, all of them are researching, and writing, and forming networks of thoughts and experiences that will shape the world. Or that will at least shape them. And, amid all this amazingness, are dozens of paper umbrellas–in various states of repair and coherence–dangling upside down from the ceiling.

I was instantly in love. From the second I walked in the door. In love and compelled, because I wanted the full experience of being in such an eclectic teahouse, to drink tea. And, because if I’m going to drink tea I want to be the valedictorian of tea, immediately I decided I wanted to attend a High Tea at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party.

But something as special as a high tea needed to wait for just the right occasion.

And then I forgot all about it. For months.

Until I picked up There Goes Sunday School, by Alexander C. Eberhart, where the protagonist (bless his heart) finds himself in Atlanta at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party in one of the most charming scenes I’ve read in a while.

And right then, I knew: when my sister brought her family to Atlanta to visit, we’d go to Dr. Bombay’s for High Tea.  And so we did:

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I adore the fact that I picked up a random novel in a bookstore and not only did I find parts of my own story represented that random LGBTQ YA novel but I ALSO remembered something important to me, an experience that I wanted to give to people I love that I’d forgotten all about. But then I remembered. And being there, felt like doubly a gift–because I am blessed with people I love who I want to share experiences with AND because I’d been given a story that reminded me of those very things.

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The Nitty Gritty: A Review of There Goes Sunday School (Alexander C. Eberhart)

I had so many feels about this book, it’s hard to even get them into words. I love LGBTQ Young Adult novels. For real. They’re a gut-punch reminder of what it’s like to be young, falling in love, and figuring out your sexuality… while trying to navigate the impeding (and inevitable) doom of folks finding out you’re gay. Add into the mix that There Goes Sunday School is set in Atlanta… Totally swoon-worthy.

What I didn’t expect was for this YA novel to unearth so many feelings for me. I mean, I didn’t just relate to the protagonist… at one point I WAS the protagonist. Anti-gay upbringing? Check. Conservative Evangelical church? Check. Being told I was for sure gonna burn in hell? Check. But, perhaps especially when it’s rooted in pain, it turns out that representation is just as important at 43 as it is at 13. Watching my own story play out (with some significant plot deviations, of course) was cathartic.

Eberhart wrote believable characters with realistic responses to their surroundings and upbringings. He managed to create a tender novel that didn’t read as over-dramatized or simplistic. And he got in some wins for his characters that, for me at least, are incredibly important to see in print.

Being gay isn’t a tragedy. In fact, coming out and living into your truth is a victory. Even when it’s hard. Being who you are is worth risking everything for. And that’s a truth that everyone needs to hear more of.