Expect … Nothing

We stood, shuffling about in line, waiting for our first ride on the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I’d been anticipating this ride the entire trip. The wait time had never been under 80 minutes. But, since it rained that morning, the park was emptier than usual. Which meant only a 40-minute wait time. 40 minutes is nothing when I’m on a mission.

To their credit, Disney tries to make everything in the park as magical as possible, including adding diversions in the cues to enhance the waiting experience. We made music & splashed in water. We sorted touch screen gems. We spun buckets that projected images on the ceiling. We were simultaneously diverted and bored, which is a rather odd way to feel. The thing is, anticipation makes people antsy. Especially kids. Or maybe its just that kids aren’t as good at hiding their antsiness. Either way, the result is the same. In lines for rides or to meet characters is where the worst behavior pops up—from kids AND parents.

It was in this heightened Seven Dwarf Anticipation state where a kid in line in front of us effectively got his mother’s goat. Not only did he get her goat, but he was prancing around with her goat and showed no signs of giving it up. Their conversation went something like this:

Kid: (some action that is annoying only to the parent of said child)

Mother: (to husband) “I don’t know. I don’t know what his problem is, but he needs to be more appreciative.”

Kid: (sullen looking away from mother)

Mother: “Do you see where you are? Do you see everyone else having fun?! Why do you insist on being like this?”

Kid: (still sullen)

Mother: “Do you even want to ride any more rides? Because we don’t have to! You can just not ride any more rides all day long!”

Kid: (Sullen McSullerson)

Mother: “You are going to start having fun right now! You are going to put a smile on your face and have a good time! Do you hear me?!?”

Mother’s goat = Gotten.

Parents are often on their worst behavior at Disney. Parents expect their kids to appreciate the sacrifices they’ve made to get them to Disney World. They expect their kids to be laughing and joyful the whole time. I mean, duh… it IS The Happiest Place on Earth™. Except that the reality is that kids get tired, and overwhelmed, and emotionally frazzled from the anticipation and excitement. Kids cry. They whine. They ask for ONE MILLION things. Kids behave no differently in the Magic Kingdom than they do anywhere else in the world. They are still small people, with personalities and needs. Regardless of the Disney advertisements that try to convince parents otherwise.

I have a soft spot for the kids whose parents are losing their shit over poor behavior, screaming at them as the kids clutch their bags of cotton candy with Mickey Mouse balloons tied to their wrists. I want to gently pull the parents away and shake them back into their senses. I want them to see their kid, snot streaming down his face, doing his level best at the moment, but still failing to live up to the expectation. I think I feel so connected to these kids because I know that if I hadn’t spent time in recovery, I’d be treating Jane the same way. Because expectations were always my Achilles Heel.

When I started my recovery journey, I learned quickly that expectations only breed disappointment and resentment. And I was Queen of Outlandish Expectations. Consequently, every holiday, every special event, every PERSON was a disappointment. Because my expectations were entirely unrealistic. I cringe when I think how the people who loved me must have felt—it sucks to try so hard & still come up short.

The trick isn’t to LOWER expectations… that is just pessimism. The goal is to not HAVE expectations at all. Don’t expect the kid to be appreciative at Disney World (she has no idea how much it costs—and would I really want her to? No.). Don’t expect only laughter and lightheartedness (she’s still going to be just as sensitive as she is in the real world). I walk into the Magic Kingdom with zero picture in my head of what the day will look like, of what we will do (I mean, of course, no expectation for what we will do AFTER we ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train), of how Jane will respond. If I drop the expectations, then we each get to be ourselves, without fear of reprisal. And isn’t that one of the best things we can give someone we love—the freedom to simply be themselves instead of what we expect them to be?

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I Am The Luckiest

When my partner & I set about to have a child, I assumed the process would take about 9 months—in total. We knew from the start that there would be other people involved in the process; I had a pretty good understanding of biology, enough at least to know that two girls couldn’t have a baby without some sort of outside assistance. So, yes, a donor, a doctor, maybe the occasional nurse. Easy peasy.

At the point we began trying to conceive, I was still drinking. Like a fish. Not often. Only once or twice a week. But copious amounts—of beer or whatever else could ease the itch I had to escape from myself. Consequently, I went to every insemination for over a year hungover. I must have smelled like last night’s regrets at every insemination appointment. But I figured plenty of people got knocked up when they were drunk. A little hangover shouldn’t matter too much.

But it did. Also, my first doctor had shitty timing and often insisted on performing the insemination after I was sure I’d already ovulated (spoiler: that won’t work at all). Between those two factors, and the breaks that we took from the whole process so I could emotionally regroup, the adventure that was supposed to take 9 months—in total—had now stretched out to 18 months with zero results.

Two important things happened next: I got sober. And we found a fabulous doctor. I got pregnant immediately. And at 7 weeks, I miscarried. 7 weeks is early. But it was long enough for me to have hopes and dreams for the child residing in my body. And it was heartbreaking to let that go. And, because I am me and felt entitled to be pregnant and to bear a child, it was enraging. What the hell was God thinking? I had gotten sober. I was doing the intense emotional work that comes in the first year of sobriety. I was being good, towing the line. What the fuck was the problem?

God and I had it out a couple times. I thought about writing him off entirely, but I’d really bought into the God loves me bit. So, I leaned in. To God. To my helplessness. And I began to accept that this may not happen at all the way I’d envisioned it. To say this wrestling with God, with my own lack of control, with surrendering my hopes was painful serves only to minimize the agony I felt then. It took a few months, but I started to accept reality. It didn’t look like I would be able to carry a child to term. So, I switched gears and wholeheartedly embraced the idea of adoption. Gay couples were prohibited from adopting in Florida at the time, so we plotted our escape to North Carolina. We scheduled a trip to fly up and look at houses. I was ready.

We had one remaining vial of sperm left in storage at the doctor’s office. We did the last insemination (although I didn’t want to) because wasting that much money seemed foolish. But I’d moved on. Instead of waiting anxiously for two weeks to find out if I was pregnant, I forgot about the insemination completely. Literally. Until 13 days after the insemination. When I felt… different. And I knew. I knew I was pregnant. And I was pissed. Holy hell was I pissed. I’d gone through all this agony to accept not being able to have a child. I had switched gears. I had accepted, for fuck’s sake. And now, well, it felt a little like a dirty trick God was playing on me. I mean, I know I have control issues. Do they have to be toyed with constantly?

I know this reaction to a much desired pregnancy sounds crazy. It sounds crazy to me in the retelling. But I was scared. Scared I would lose this baby, too. Scared of loving it at all. I wanted to protect myself. But my partner cracked the façade a bit when she cried and yelled and hugged me when I showed her the positive pregnancy test. I continued to be cautious. We didn’t tell many people until the 11 week ultrasound (where all looked well.. and it looked like a girl!). I didn’t want to buy anything for her until after the 20 week ultrasound. My partner saw my crazy for…well… crazy. She carried on excitedly, dragging me along with her.

Once I could feel the baby move, my resolve cracked. It was like she took her little heel (which she was always jabbing into my ribs) and broke my heart open with it. She would snooze all day while I taught Freshman Comp at the local state university and do crazy in utero acrobatics while I tried to sleep at night. She hiccupped frequently, which I found absurdly charming. And those hiccups helped me bond with her; I’d hiccupped so much in utero that my mom called me “Scooter,” since my hiccups caused me to skid (gracefully I am sure) around inside her belly. This baby already acted like me in some small way, and I loved it.

As we got closer to the due date, my partner and I tried to settle on a name. Parker seemed like a good choice to us, a slightly more gender neutral name that we were sure would fit our child who we swore would never wear pink (even though her closet was already awash in pinkness after our baby shower) and who was bound to be a strong feminist from birth. And then, two days before I delivered, I ended up in the OBs office for an ultrasound; they turned on the 3D, and we could see her. We knew exactly what she would look like. And she looked nothing like a Parker. Shit. So we shifted gears and (after a few lengthy discussions) landed on Elizabeth Jane.

On January 28, 2011, after 14 hours of labor which eventually wound down into an unplanned C-section, Elizabeth Jane was born. She entered the world with what would become her usual flair: as soon as the doctor made the incision, Jane stuck her little fist straight up and out into the world. She’s always had a mind of her own, that one. Even from her first moments in the world, she had the most alert, curious brown eyes. After they stitched me up, I was wheeled in to the recovery room where Jane being held by her Bobby. I loved that after I’d gotten to carry her right beneath my heart for 9 months, my partner was the first to hold her in this world. It seemed right. Even now, Jane will insist that Bobby was her first parent, because he was the first to hold her after she was born. I love the bond they share, their little world of whispered secrets, crazy roughhousing and endless silliness.

Jane brings a tremendous amount of light to the world. She is kindhearted, curious, smart. She rarely meets a person she doesn’t immediately befriend. She feels things intensely. She makes me laugh; her facial expressions alone are enough to crack me up in mid conversation. And she teaches me. She has been teaching me since before she entered this world. I’ve learned to let go of my need to control to make more space for joy. I’ve learned to say yes—to experiences, to spontaneous moments, to life. She’s pushed me to become a more compassionate, patient person. I strive more than ever to be authentic, loving and whole because that is what Jane deserves—a parent who is all in.

Being Jane’s mom is the most fulfilling, life-changing task I’ve ever undertaken. I love that kid more than I could ever have imagined. A thousand times more than I did the day she was born—even though at the time I would have thought that impossible. I cannot wait to see what she does with this amazing life in front of her. But one thing I know for sure, regardless of her choices, her successes or her failures, she has my whole heart. And she always will.

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Happy 5th Birthday, sweet Elizabeth Jane.

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Finding Balance

She waits for her turn on the balance beam. My heart clenches. She’s only four years old; the beam stands as tall as her head, and she is afraid of heights. In fact, she asked to quit gymnastics because of this very beam. 

She waits for her turn on the balance beam. My heart clenches. She’s only four years old; the beam stands as tall as her head, and she is afraid of heights. In fact, she asked to quit gymnastics because of this very beam. 

As I watch my daughter standing in line, waiting her turn, I realize that I spend a lot of time hoping that she isn’t like me.

Maybe I should amend that to read: I spend a lot of time hoping my daughter isn’t like original me.

When people find out I am in recovery, they often start poking around in my childhood trying to figure out what drove me to look for my solutions at the bottom of a Miller Lite can. Truth is, there isn’t a lot to find. What they really want to know is what my parents DID to make me this way. While their investigations used to be a sort of morbid curiosity about my sordid descent, now there is a desperation to the questioning… because now most of my friends have kids. They want to know how to spare their kids from the complete demoralization of addiction… and who can blame them? Addiction destroys. And they want their kids to live fully. I get it.

But here’s the rub: my parents didn’t DO anything to send me running to hide in the buzzy bliss of a drink. They loved me, provided for me, encouraged me, and cared for me. They were not abusive, neglectful or cruel. But I did somehow manage to grow up devoid of any coping mechanisms. I never really grew out of the egocentric stage—not in that I thought that everything should be mine, but I believed the world was always thinking about me, always laughing at me, always rejecting me on some level. I was constantly on stage, naked and ashamed, a dream I could never quite shake. These thoughts consumed me to the point that I could not find room for compassion, empathy, and big, radical love for the world. Instead, my love was always a tight, clenching love that craved constant approval, approbation, attention. This constant striving and reaching created original me: an overly sensitive kid, prone to anxiety and hopelessness. It created the perfect internal environment to brew an alcoholic.

So, yeah, I kinda don’t want my kid to be like that. Before she arrived in this world, I had these intense hopes that she’d be born with an adventurous spirit, kind but not too sensitive, with a deep desire to simply be her own person. In short, I wanted her to be exactly the kid I was not. But, either way, I knew my partner and I held a secret parenting weapon: we could teach our daughter to practice the principles of AA without ever having to learn them in a meeting. This is a perk no one tells you about when you walk into the rooms; but it has incredible value in the topsy-turvy world of parenting.

We talk to our daughter often about trying her best. In the preschool world of always wanting to run the fastest, to be first in line, to win the game, we try to remind her that her best is all she can give. That she isn’t defined by her successes or failures. That kindness and bravery count more than a perfect soccer kick. Just trying is sometimes the biggest win.

She climbs up on the beam. She teeters a bit. I can see her arms shake as she holds them out from her sides to balance. Then she takes one step. And another. And unlike last session, she doesn’t freeze and wait for an adult to help her. She talks halting steps … all the way across the beam.

She breaks into a huge grin, waving like a maniac at me. Her mother. Who did nothing more than encourage her to let go of her fear and to really live.

And she owned that beam.

The Coziest New Year’s Eve

I wish I could say I didn’t remember most of the New Years I rung in in my 20s. But being able to forget them would probably be more mercy than I deserve; at the very least, I remember the drunken highlights… always drama-fueled, sometimes dangerous, and entirely cringeworthy. A personal favorite: squealing out of a parking lot in my CR-V into a steady snow in Atlanta as my best friend stood in the parking lot begging me not to drive. My friends finally found me at the next bar, flat on my ass because I slipped on ice coming down the steps. I decided to forgo telling them the car had spun out twice in the snow on my way to the bar; they all seemed so mad already. I had a hard time deciphering why. It was, in fact, often puzzling when people valued me… I had so obviously lost the ability to value myself.

Even on tamer New Years Eves, I carried with me a constant sense of longing. I could always quickly identify something missing in my life on New Years Eve, and I would fixate on it intently. I held an almost subconscious belief that this melancholy made me mysterious, sexy, alluring. Turns out, it made me a sentimental drunk rather likely to cry in her Jim Beam and Coke. I wasn’t sexy-tragic…I was annoying as hell.

But, as it often does in stories such as these, something changed. For me, there was no tragic rock bottom moment. Through all my drinking, I kept my job (barely), my house, my dog and my best friend. But I did lose my self-respect. Maybe that was what I was longing for all those New Years Eves: my ability to look back on the year and know I lived with integrity, that I gave myself wholly to the task at hand regardless of the outcome. When I drank I tended to lose track of what the task at hand even entailed. And resolutions were kind of a wash for me. I found it pretty hard to set my intentions for the year ahead when I was nursing a hangover, trying to choke down a greasy hangover-easing breakfast, and waiting until the time seemed appropriate to have a cocktail. After all, I deserved a cocktail; New Years Day was a holiday, too.

My history of less than stellar New Years Eves made this past New Years Eve stand out for its perfect simplicity. I’ve been sober for 6 years. My first sober New Years Eve was disorienting; I felt a bit hazy, like I wasn’t sure exactly how to hold a conversation, or what I should be doing with my body at any given moment. How did sober people stand? What did people talk about when they knew they were going to remember every word they said? But, despite my awkwardness, I was with my best friend, my partner and some casual acquaintances in a cabin in the mountains. And I felt no longing to be anywhere other that where I was. That seemed pretty groundbreaking.

This New Years Eve found me back in the mountains of North Georgia with my best friend & her family, the lovely folks she calls friends, and my partner and our little girl. After we settled in, we ate homemade lasagna; we chased kids around the cabin. When all the kids piled in the bathtub at bathtime, I laughed–not the self- conscious, measured laugh of my drinking days, but a full-on, deep laugh. Because come on… 5 kids in a bathtub? That is comedy right there.