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.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Hey, Kiddo.

True confession time: I’d never read a graphic novel before Hey, Kiddo.  

I know.  

But, of course, the first graphic novel I grab is a memoir that tackles super-heavy stuff like addiction, loss, and belonging. Because tights and capes are overrated. 

I picked Hey, Kiddo specifically because it addresses addiction. I often wonder about how to talk to my own kid about recovery (I’ve been sober for 10 years). And I was eager to see if a graphic novel could stand up to the challenge of representing the ugly, heartbreaking side of having an active addict as a parent.  

It did. And it was brutal. 

But it was often hopeful. And funny.  

I loved Jarrett’s emotional journey toward finding his peace with his family as-is. Because, addiction or not, we all have to reckon with the family we’ve been dealt. We can embrace their idiosyncrasies, forgive their faults, own our part in the whole giant mess, and love them anyway…or not. We can create our own families with friends we collect along the way. And, no matter who we are or how we grew up, we can break the cycle of abuse, addiction, neglect.  

My ultimate takeaway (a pretty powerful one for teenagers reading this book): Your family contributes to who you are. They do not define you. They are part of your story. The beginning. Only you can decide what happens from there.  

Hey, Kiddo is not always a happy story. But it’s a real story. I respect that.  

Cool Mom

I saw a mom the other day cruising through the Atlanta streets with her brood, all elementary age and younger. She had on a tank top that said “Cool Mom.”

Huh.

I am not, and have never aspired to be, a cool mom.

As my own mom liked to say, “I am your mother. Not your little friend. It’s not my job to be your buddy.” I hated it when she said that. Really. I mean, why didn’t she want to be my friend?! But now, I get it. She was something so much greater than my friend….she was my MOM. Larger than life. I loved that woman more than anyone else in my world–even when I swore I hated her (I thought it was my honor-bound duty as a 13 year old to hate her. So dumb.) But I never, not once, mistook her for my friend.

I am a lot of things to Jane. And I know it. Right now, I still get to be her confidante. She wants to dress like me. She laments that her hair isn’t a hot, unbrushed mess like mine. But, still, I’m not cool. For the same reasons my mom didn’t want to be my friend.

It’s not cool to be strict. Or to hold her accountable. Or to insist on respect. It’s decidedly uncool to demand that she say “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” when she addresses me. But that’s what I do. I call her out when she’s impolite or hurts people’s feelings. I love her, and comfort her, and celebrate every day of her existence.

But I’m not cool. My exuberance isn’t cool. My dancing really isn’t cool. My constant questions about her life, her thoughts, her friends might not be cool either. I don’t know. And really, I don’t give a shit.

Because I don’t need to be cool. I’m her mom.

I thought about getting a “Strict AF Mom” tank top, but it just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Cool Mom.” So I guess I’ll have to stick to wearing my “Feminist. Sober. Killjoy.” shirt. That about sums it up, I think.

Gay Isn’t an Insult.

Some kid at school “insulted” my baby by calling her “gay.” And I swear, it lit me up… like I wanted to march down to that school and give that damn kid (and every adult in the vicinity of his life) a tongue-lashing he wouldn’t likely forget.

But instead, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself (being an adult involves so much RESPONSIBILITY and a thousand measured responses, when all you really wanna do is call some kid an asshat–but I digress). And then Jane and I started talking.

First up on the agenda: gently reminding Jane that “gay” isn’t an insult. Oh, I don’t doubt for a minute that this kid called her gay to hurt her feelings and to get under her skin. But … hello…. we go to Pride every year, where we celebrate being an LGBTQ family. Some of her very, very favorite adults in the world are two women MARRIED TO EACH OTHER. I swear, I didn’t yell at Jane. I wasn’t mad at her. But I was enraged that, despite all our living into our true selves, all our conversations about being who you are and celebrating that person fully, society has somehow managed to convince her that “gay” can be an insult.

I was mad because my heart was broken.

Statistically, at least one kid in Jane’s class is likely to be gay (even if they don’t know it yet). And, lately, gay kids are killing themselves at alarming rates. I could barely hold back tears when I thought about that gay kid–whoever they might be–pondering coming out one day, then flashing back to second grade when “gay” was hurled around as an insult.

What does that kind of memory do to a kid in crisis?

But what shook me most of all is that in our little liberal alcove of Atlanta, in Jane’s school where diversity is really celebrated, a homophobic “insult” was tossed at our kid–our kid who watched her Bobby transition, who has never seen either of her parents shy away from claiming a queer identity, who loves so many people who are gay–and it cut her to the core.

Because if it impacted her that deeply, what happens to the kids who don’t have adults that tell them being gay is okay? That it’s MORE than okay. That it’s something to celebrate.

What happens to those kids?

Pura Vida, Y’all

Because my best friend is an epic vacation planner, my family & I spent Spring Break in Costa Rica this year with 20 of our closest friends. Literally.

Playa Langosta, Tamarindo, Costa Rica


I could go on and on about this vacation. But that’s kind of reminiscent of the 1970s slide shows that over-enthusiastic travelers would share with their bored to tears friends.

Not cool, man. Not cool.

But I will share what’s been playing over and over in my mind. It’s something our tour guide/transport driver extraordinaire said about the Costa Rican people: They work enough to earn a living. And that’s it. No need to accumulate things. Or buy a bigger house. Or work overtime to climb the corporate ladder. Enough is actually the goal. Not more.

Nature cruise on the Palo Verde River

I guess I feel convicted by that, because it won’t get out of my head. I’ll let you in on a little secret: 7 times out of 10, I’m in a complete tailspin about money. I never, ever feel like we have enough. That scarcity mode of thinking is so toxic. But it’s hard to shake. I grew up in it. And, although we have always gotten by, Simon & I have experienced some pretty lean times.

But we’ve always had enough.

Now, back in the States, I’m considering my own consumerism. What do I have that’s extra? What does having enough mean to me? Have I ever really NOT had enough? Where does my privilege come play with my perceptions?

Recognizing enough, being grateful for enough, not striving for extra, sharing what I have… I am 100% convinced that this is the key to happiness.

This is what it looks like when you know you have enough. It’s bliss.

I know these things, and still… I forget them all the time. So, I’m soul-searching for the stuff that really matters to me. The stuff that is enough. The stuff that is joy and goodness and contentment.

Pura vida.

Maybe My Words Get Lost In Space

Jane has developed a slight listening problem lately.

Don’t be alarmed. I’m sure it’s not permanent. Symptoms include not hearing me tell her to do something the first (second or third) time, an inability to cut that shit out when I tell her to, and a profound misunderstanding of what “put your stuff AWAY” means.

Actual footage of what’s going on in Jane’s mind while I’m talking to her.

As you can imagine, this new affliction she’s developed is trying for the whole family. For instance, “Jane put your boots & jean jacket away” might mean they they end up in the closet where they belong. OR they may move from the dining room to the center of her bedroom floor. Because obviously that’s where I wanted her to put them.

And if I tell her to, let’s say, make sure she wipes her face off before school–because she has ketchup from the day before smeared faintly across her cheek–she may or may not do it at all. Which I take kind of personally. Because now I’m that mom that sends her kid to school with day old food on her face that she’s apparently saving for later. In case there’s a run on ketchup in the cafeteria.

Oof.

But the one that is about to drive me bat shit is when I tell her to stop doing something–invariably something hella annoying that she KNOWS is annoying–and she does it just one more time before she stops.

The truth of it is that all this not listening bullshit, the doing whatever she wants whenever she wants, makes me feel disrespected. It makes me feel undervalued and under-appreciated. And it hurts my feelings.

Simon and I strategized a few times (as parents do) about how to deal with Jane’s Not-Listening-Itis. I, for instance, threatened to throw everything she leaves laying around the house into our front yard. She isn’t sure I’d do it (I would TOTALLY do it). I’ll keep you posted on how that one unfolds. Simon & I also outlined some effect-her-piggy-bank consequences for not tidying her room and bathroom before she leaves for school and before she goes to bed. (Money 100% talks for that kid)

But I went a little rogue yesterday on the way to school…and I just told her how all this not-listening business makes me feel. Honestly. Like she was a real person with capacity to feel empathy and to understand the nuances of a situation.

I copped to the fact that there are books ALL OVER THE HOUSE (apparently, that’s what happens when you hatch a scheme to open a used bookstore). But I also told her that I’m writing like I always do and prepping for the bookstore–which is a lot like having TWO jobs. I am trying the best I can–but I can’t always keep my (book) mess confined to one room.

And then I asked her if she was trying as hard as she could to be a helpful member of the family.

It took her less than a second to say no. Not guiltily. Not even sheepishly. Just straight up: No. And she told me she’d do better. Unprompted. Let’s be real: I both believe her and I don’t. Because she’s a kid. But I do believe she will try to do better.

And that’s enough. For now.