How Does She Manage This Stuff?

When I arrive back home from my daily sojourn to deliver books, Jane meets me in the kitchen to regale me with tales from her day. Or to stand there repeatedly asking what we’re having for dinner. Either way.

Earlier this week, she proudly announced that she’d struck a deal with her father wherein he was renting a twin mattress for the office from her.

If you don’t live in this family, I’m sure that could be confusing as hell, so I’ll break it down real quick: Simon snores. Like a chainsaw. We’ve tried various remedies and fixes. And still. Because I am not some sort of demigod, I cannot sleep through that blessed racket. We finally landed on a compromise in which we go to bed together and then, when it’s all Chainsaw City up in here, I wake him and he migrates to a lovely little set-up in the office.

It took me years to admit to myself that our marriage would not dissolve like Kool-aid powder in water if we slept in separate spaces. And that I have to have good sleep to function. And that the desire to smother him with a pillow would be a hell of a lot less if it didn’t sound like I was sleeping in a construction zone.

He ordered a new mattress for the office. He deserves optimal sleep, too. But shipping was going to take a few days, so he asked Jane if he could borrow the twin mattress on her loft (where she isn’t even sleeping right now). For a couple days until his nifty new hybrid spring/memory foam mattress arrived.

Earlier during this endless quarantine, Jane discovered the joy in rearranging her room on the daily. She also likes to ask if she can have pretty much anything her father or I could actually lay claim to in this house. What do I mean? Well. she asked me if she could have the master bedroom the other day. I kid you not.

A few weeks ago, she asked if she could move Couch Bed from the office into her room. Couch Bed is precisely what it sounds like: a squishy & utilitarian little Transformer that flips up to be a couch during the day & a bed at night. Nifty.

Obviously, we aren’t using it for guests right now (hello, pandemic), so sure. Why not?

Now Jane’s got her own pseudo-apartment in our house. A couch during the day. A loft with a desk for reading and “working.” A flipped down queen-size bed at night. She even has a waiting area, where she suggested I could sit on a bean bad, read a magazine, and wait to speak to her.

Good Lord.

Back to the mattress…

When Simon asked her to borrow it, she hemmed and hawed. I rolled my eyes so far back in my head they almost got stuck there. Because (FOR REAL, GIRL) share. But I let it be.

And I come home and now she’s a mattress landlord.

To be fair, Simon offered to pay her to borrow said mattress. And Jane is a shrewd money manager. She’s always saving to buy something. I don’t doubt that, if she’d had access to the stock market, she would’ve had an impressive portfolio to concern herself with when the pandemic hit. But, alas, she’s NINE, so her chief concern is how to squeeze her parents for more cash.

When Simon asked her what a fair price would be, she suggested $10 a day.

He countered with a much more reasonable $3 per day rate.

She deliberated for a while. Until he reminded her that, if she waited too long, Mommy would come home and just take the mattress and move it to the office. And she’d get nothing.

It’s so good to be really seen by your people, you know? Because hell yes, that’s what I would’ve done.

So, Jane’s relaying this tale rather nonchalantly, and she says, “So, I get 8 dollars for lending him the mattress until Friday. It was supposed to by $9.” Here she shrugs, wrinkles up her little nose, and says, “I don’t know what happened there.”

Oh, girl, I don’t know what happened there, either.

Doing Hard Things

Somehow, I beguiled the 9 year old into taking a run with me yesterday.

Well, actually, it was more like a directive: Put on your running shoes. Do not lay on the floor and cry like last time. That will not work this time. Pull it together, Tina, and let’s go. (Yes, we totally call her Tina when she’s being obstinate. No, we don’t think it’ll take too much therapy for her to work through it.)

The thing is, Jane is a good runner–when she’s not flailing about and acting like she’s marching into Armageddon when I insist she tie on her shoes. And quarantine has forced us to work on a little concept over here we like to call you-are-nine-and-don’t-get-to-make-all-the-decisions-and-yes-I-AM-the-boss-of-you.

Catchy, right?

So, off we went. After I issued some threats (i.e. bedtime at 7pm if she started acting a fool on the run). Look, I’m not above threats. Especially on quarantine day one-million-seven-hundred-eighty-thousand. And I’ve wised up to her favorite strategy of resistance: doing what I say (technically), then making the whole damn experience so miserable that I wish I’d never made her do it in the first place.

Checkmate, Tina.

Atlanta is hilly. Which makes it beautiful. And makes running both harder and infinitely more interesting. We live at the bottom of a hill. So, runs don’t start out easy. But Jane made it up the hill loping like an antelope. She’s taken to running a bit like a muppet–maybe because her arms & legs have gotten really lanky? But it’s a little silly and incredibly endearing.

I’d strategically planned frequent stops on the run. And also, through subterfuge, trickery, and downright avoidance, managed not to tell her how far we were going (5K). Things went shockingly well for the first kilometer.

En route to kilometer #2 she may have yelled over her shoulder: “Mommy, STOP TALKING TO ME.”

YOWZA. Touchy, touchy.

But all was forgiven after we walked up a big hill versus running up it (see, I’m a benevolent dictator). And, blessedly, we’d hit a flat stretch and got to cruise along, chatting and just hanging out together for a bit.

It was uneventful and lovely… until we hit the two mile mark.

I don’t know when the last time you watched a small human begin to emotionally unravel was… but it’s not pretty.

Before we go any further, here’s a quick bit of background: Jane ran her first 5K with me when she was 7 years old. And we did a Girls on the Run 5K together last spring. Her PE coach at her first elementary school here in Atlanta pulled me aside specifically to talk about getting her into track because she’s a stellar runner. All that is only to say: I’d didn’t ask (wouldn’t ask) her to do something she wasn’t capable of. But running is HARD if you don’t do it frequently. And she’s dug her heels in recently and refused to run. So this was HARD.

I need to stop, she whined in my general direction.

Nope, you don’t. You’re okay. Let’s slow down. You can do this. Stay where your feet are and breathe.

I can’t.

You can.

And so it went for a while.

Then I look over and she’s starting to sniffle. Now, I’ll cop to the fact that (belatedly) at nine years old, the kid is honing her dramatic acting skills. And she’s learned that crying–when it seems genuine and not like a tantrum–can sometimes get her what she wants. So I was wary. But still… she broke my heart a little bit.

We pulled over to a shady little corner.

Buddy, what’s the matter? I pulled her close to me, she put her head on my shoulder and cried quietly.

It’s hard.

It is, I agreed. Because it really IS. But we can do hard things.

She nodded and continued to cry, leaning in for a minute. I waited a bit, kissed the top of her head, asked her if she was ready to finish. She nodded, and we were on our way.

But the whole way home I kept thinking that standing on a street corner deep in our neighborhood, sweaty and completely focused on the moment felt like an epiphany: Jane cried because something was hard. It was a pure expression of what she felt. She didn’t pry and twist that emotion until it came out sideways. It was honest. And transparent. And vulnerable. And I got to be there to experience that emotion with her–without trying to fix it, or reason with it, or in any way control it.

It was just the two of us together, in the moment, understanding that we CAN do hard things. But sometimes we need to cry about them, too.

She finished the 5K by the way. And she was wildly proud of herself. And she should be. Running is hard. Emotions are hard. Vulnerability is even harder.

But she’s a champ–one who can, in fact, do hard things.

I can see your pain, and it’s big. I also see your courage, and it’s bigger. You can do hard things.

Glennon Doyle

An Enneagram of One’s Own

I’ve been married almost 14 years. Which is both forever and not nearly long enough. But one of the things I most know about my person is that once he really gets into a thing, it’s best to join him for the ride. Otherwise, there’s going to be a side circus going on & I’ll just be looking all perplexed and possibly confounded. But most of all, just left out. No, it’s better to go ahead, roll up my sleeves and dig in a bit to his current obsession.

For a while the thing was organizational systems. (y-a-w-n) If there’s anything I resist as if it is actually trying to kill me, it is planners and lists, timelines and flowcharts. I get that organizational systems, for him, are tied to bigger life goal/psychic things he’s working on. But good god almighty, it’s hard for me to invest in. He says “bullet list” and my eyes glaze over.

But, fortunately for me, for a good while he’s also been into personality tests. Which is clearly much more exciting. The inner workings of people? Yes! Let’s analyze that! And, like anything he becomes–ahem–obsessed with, he knows a lot about different personality types, with a keen focus on what drives them to do what they do.

Right now, it’s all Enneagram all the time.

I’m well versed in his Enneagram number. We’ve watched videos, read excerpts, laughed at memes. I’ve watched him try to puzzle out what Enneagram number our daughter might be. And he’s real, real confident he knows exactly what number I am.

But, come on, I can’t just take his word for it, right? Sure he’s approximately a million times more well-versed in this than I am. But lordamercy, I’ve let people tell me about myself all my life. I’m taking that power back, thankyouverymuch.

So, last night I took an Enneagram test.

Holy vexation.

Parsing out my aspirational self from my actual self? Yeah, I guess maybe I’m not so good at that? All I know is that I’d look at the most basic questions about what drives me as a person and be all “I dunno.” Which, for a person who prides herself on being introspective, is all kinds of unmooring.

I am adrift, y’all.

Because what’s required to make the Enneagram work is that I look back on my whole life and take, as a sum, what’s motivated me. Well, shit. I mean, the past 11 years of my life have been a quest to completely overhaul the way I behave, see, and interact with life. Which is why to dig back through who I want to be, the ways I want to be seen and to treat people, underneath to what actually drives me is … well … GOD AWFUL.

And, even more interior-chaos-inducing: the Enneagram doesn’t offer a definitive answer. I had to read up on the personality characteristics of my top 3 types and decide which one I was.

Stop it. That’s too much.

Still, I pressed on. Because I’m brave like that.

I may have a perfectionist tendency or two, because I took the test three times. I agonized over the top 3 personality types that kept showing up until, finally, Simon took mercy on me and told me to read the descriptions of the top 3 to him. So, of course, I started with the one that he hadn’t picked out as my number. And I was all like “yes this!” to like, 75% of it. Which felt really high to me. But how could that be?!? Because the number I was reading is the same number he is and we’re so different and…

Read the other two, he suggested.

So I read the other one that he hadn’t picked as my number.

I got just a ways in before I realized, and had to admit aloud, that these characteristics were who I aspired to be. Not innately who I was. Which was kind of a blow. Because that was #2, The Helper. And of course I want to be someone that helps and nurtures. And I am those things, sometimes. Because I’ve decided to be. But it isn’t what comes most naturally.

So, with great resignation and some tremendous sighing, I read the number Simon had pegged as my personality type months and months ago.

Every last line. Every last line rang true.

DAMN IT! I hate it when he’s right.

As he talked me off that little ledge, he reminded me (gently) that everyone gets a choice about how they behave. Inner motivations, not so much. And nothing more potently makes room for change than to first simply accept what is.

That’s, you know, a pretty profound life lesson for a regular old Monday night.

Turns out, he had my number all along*.

*(ha! sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Oh, are you still hanging around? Fine. I’m a Type 1, The Moral Perfectionist. And don’t you dare say that seems obvious. Don’t do it. Even if it’s true.

Spirit Guides & Spirit Warriors

When I was 26, deep in the throes of active addiction and hell-bent on my own destruction, I thought I was pregnant. It was more of a feeling than a thought. But, because I needed something to grab on to, something to stabilize my free-fall, I started daydreaming who this child would be.

Tellingly, I saw her as a four or five year old, not as an infant. Dark, inky black eyes, a mop of black hair, and skin the color of coffee with a dash of cream. In my visions, she was silent, knowing. Always calm, radiating an inner peace, an assurance that I’d never known.

In my mind, I created a being that resembled me–not at all. Not even a smidgen. Even down to the unlikeliness that my Irish looking self would produce a beautiful, South American looking child. I projected onto this “child” all the things I wanted for myself. Because I needed something to reach in an yank me from a fire that threatened to consume me. I obviously couldn’t be trusted to do that myself. After all, I was the one who’d set the fire.

Maybe my psyche had created a spirit guide. But it certainly hadn’t envisioned a flesh and blood child.

I received the blessing of one of those flesh-and-bloodchildren later on. When the Universe believed me to be ready. I had to wait a long time. And, let me tell you, that waiting was good for me. Because in that time, I got to get a foothold on the path to saving my own damn self.

When Jane arrived (after two years of trying to bring a child earthside), she looked just like me. That piercing moment of seeing myself reflected in a sweet, innocent babe disabused me of any notion that motherhood would save me. All the pain I’d experienced (self-inflicted and otherwise) came rushing forward. And I knew what was required of me: not to protect her from pain, but to teach her to navigate it with strength, assurance, and inner-knowing.

Which is a hell of a task. One that requires continual, deep psychic work–that I be whole and healthy. This mothering thing, apparently, wasn’t for the faint of heart.

Looking at my sweet newborn baby, I decided my first task was to make peace with my body. Most women probably cringe instinctively at the idea. Our society doesn’t exactly encourage a healthy dose of body-acceptance. But, the kid… she looks like me. If I don’t celebrate my own body… well, what am I saying about hers?

This process–which involved a lot of self-talk in front of a mirror and a pledge never to say anything negative about my body (which I’ve managed to adhere to for 9+ years)–was my first lesson that motherhood would not save me, but it sure as hell would hone me.

Our Jane showed up in this world with an off-the-charts emotional intelligence. She instinctively understands other people, can scope out what motivates them and intuit how to navigate their emotional landscape. None of this we taught her. But we do teach her, daily, how to use this skill with kindness and compassion, how to heal instead of hurt.

That spirit guide my bruised heart created when I was 26, I get to be that for my real, living child.

Sure, I totally fail sometimes. And since I like to do everything with flair–sometime I fail real big.

But I always return to teaching her compassion and love, for herself first and then for other people. I’m currently plotting ways to teach her about intuition (listening and caring for it) and lifecycles of emotion, relationships, and life itself.

Motherhood hasn’t been so much about protecting for me but about preparing. It’s about honesty, peeling back the veil of privilege, teaching her to approach the hard things head on–all the while knowing she’s strong enough, in touch enough with who she is to handle it (whatever it may be).

We all come equipped to be spirit warriors. But we need guides. I am grateful I get to be hers for now. It’s a both a blessing beyond measure and the hardest challenge I’ve ever faced.

House/Home

I’ve got an itch.

It happens every two years or so: I start looking at houses online. I daydream about fresh, unsullied spaces. Blank-slate walls. Freshly scrubbed baseboards. Intoxicating possibility.

Our daughter is 9 years old. She’s lived in 4 different houses and one apartment.

I’d just chalk up the constant itch to move as part of my charming quirkiness. Except that this time we’ve found the perfect neighborhood, a house we like, community that we want to put down roots in.

So, what do I do with this itch? Because, it’s there. Oh, it is THERE.

And I’ve come to a realization: I’m going to have to start LIVING in this house. Like I intend to stay.

That means actually hanging pictures & art in our bedroom. And painting the walls. And figuring out where the hell to store our stuff. It means wrestling with what isn’t working and finding a solution.

It means not leaving.

I’m in the process of psychic cleansing right now. Letting go of what has not served me. Welcoming what heals.

Now I need to take that outside myself. Into the space I live.

I want this house to be a place to renew, to explore, to be.

I want this house to feel like home.

I don’t believe in a “forever home”–life is too dynamic for that. But I do want this house to live into the possibility of home. It deserves a chance to do that.

I think the 3 of us deserve that.

Quarantine is…

new, punk-rock haircuts. Because, why not?

a whole lot of Little Debbies. (Literally. New day, new Debbie.)

worrying about folks who play like they’re oblivious to the pandemic.

walking the dog, running, and taking a bike ride. All in the same morning.

deep, real grief at the loss of physical connection.

watching our 9 year old entertain herself by “chickening.” (It’s real weird. Looks and sounds about like an asthmatic chicken in a tizzy. It’s a special time, y’all.)

getting angry when folks can’t seem to measure 6 feet properly (I’ve got zero spacial orientation, but I know if my arm can brush yours, you sure aren’t 6 feet from me).

wanting Zestos ice cream so bad I can imagine-taste it.

buying shirts from our favorite ATL places in the hopes that they’ll still be here when this is over.

wondering if this is endless. Like eternity. Or the television run of Law & Order.

laughing at the itty bitty bunch of grapes we got in our grocery delivery (If we were field mice, they might’ve been enough. But only if we were field mice that didn’t really care for grapes that much anyway.)

reading books just because I want to–no agenda, no timeline, just me & the book. (the best kind of bliss)

quitting washing my hair–because when else will I have the opportunity to see what happens?

a month in, wishing I’d never taken the opportunity to see what happens.

wondering why wearing a mask around your neck ever feels like the right thing to do?

having coffee each morning with my guy and knowing we don’t have anywhere to be. And being grateful (mostly).

listening to our kid lay out the backstory for her favorite cats in the Warrior Cats series. It’s kind of epic. And weird. And she knows a helluva lot about those damn cats.

finally embracing FaceTime. (But I’m still 10 kinds of awkward on a video call)

crying when our daughter cries about missing her friends.

crying because I miss my best friend.

crying because.

laughing. More often than I cry.

time to think, to examine, to unearth who I want to be.

meditation, and yoga, and deep breaths.

gratitude that I really like these 2 that I live with.

gratitude that I’m alive.

time.

and more Little Debbies.

Is There An “Easy” Setting for this Parenting Game?

My kid is easy to parent.

Mostly.

I guess what’s more accurate is that she’s kind of an old soul. And her emotional intelligence is spot on. So it doesn’t take a lot of explaining to get her to see someone else’s point of view or to get her to make an empathic leap.

But, let me tell you, when she digs in she can be just as stubborn, just as unlikely to admit she’s wrong as I am. And really, who needs their own personality flaws flailing about in front of them? Not me, that’s for sure.

But damn, isn’t just what I’m getting out of this kid lately.

She’s struggling with second grade ending. She adores her teacher and her new school. Goodbyes are hard. And Jane loves routines. And now all that’s coming to a screeching halt. Which makes her teary and clingy.

And if being her mom was the only gig I had going (like, I don’t know, if the world wasn’t spinning around me and she was the only person in my orbit), I might be able to remember 100% of the time how difficult this time of year is for her. But there are other things going on, and I forget she’s emotionally a bit scruffed. I fuss at her for being whiny or clingy. Or I can’t understand why a benign suggestion (like going to bed a little early since the allergy meds she took were literally making her nod off into her fried rice at Doc Chey’s) meets with a wailfest.

She’s usually so together.

And, to be honest, I kind of count on it.

But, as her mom, it’s my job to be her soft place to land. Because really, what 8 year old has it together all the time? (Hell, what full-grown has it together all the time?) So, I spent the tail end of my Mother’s Day with her laying across me sobbing because I wouldn’t put together a 1,000 piece puzzle with her right then.

I let her cry. And tell me how awful her weekend was. I rubbed her back and nuzzled her head. And, even though nothing had changed, she felt better in the end. Because I was there. With her. Just being.

I hope I can always be that for her. That she’ll turn to me just as easily at 38 as she does at 8. Because loving her is a privilege. And its the most sacred way I spend my time.