Puzzling Through

Know what grace looks like for me? It looks like reckoning with a 1000 piece puzzle. It looks like family. It looks like gratitude.

It’s been a few weeks since Jane and I embarked on our Epic Puzzling Adventure. One day at Target, more or less on a whim, I picked up a 1000 piece puzzle because I am a glutton for punishment adventurous. A puzzle seemed like a nifty, wholesome way for Jane and I to do some quality time. I mean, usually I opt for giggling with her as people face-plant on AFV or expressing my deeply held belief about Pilgrims in our spare time. But, I mean, a puzzle could be fun, too.

 

We dumped the entire puzzle on the dining room table and set about sorting through ONE THOUSAND PIECES to find all the edge pieces. The sheer volume of little funny shaped cardboard pieces meant they got shuffled all about, some teetering precariously on the edge of the table. Our boxer pup slimed at least one of them as she sniffed to figure out if they seemed edible (that dog and I have VERY different ideas about what might be edible). Occasionally, Jane and I would hear a piece quietly thunk to the floor. And then we’d yell, “DON’T LET THE DOG GET IT!”, as we both scrambled to find it before Delilah used it as her daily dose of fiber.

Pro Tip: If it’s going to take you weeks to finish a puzzle, you probably shouldn’t leave it on the dining room table. If you do, pieces will get shuffled under papers. Someone might use your puzzle as a coaster. The dog might occasionally try to snag a piece off the table, not really because she’s interested but because it’ll get a rise out of the whole family.

Jane and I took to doing the puzzle in spurts. We’d start on it and get really engrossed in finding a specific kind of piece. I liked the aqua camper. She got entranced by the fire. Then, invariably, one of us would get bored and wander off (usually her) while the other puzzled on valiantly (usually me). But even if Jane wandered off, she’d pop back in frequently, always finding a piece to snap into place or cheering me on when I was on a hot puzzling streak (you wish you were me, don’t you? I know. I’m hella cool.)

These moments, when we were working together toward something that seemed almost unreachable, they gave me hope. The whole trope about mothers and daughters not getting along really bugs me. I love my kid a lot. But I also really LIKE her. I value her input. I think she has stellar ideas. She’s introspective and kind. I want her to choose me when she’s an adult. I am hyper aware that children do not have to choose to allow parents to be part of their lives. I hope I am the kind of mother that she will want to rely on, that she will trust, that she’ll look to for encouragement and support. And the fact that we could work together on this damn puzzle, even when one of us got frustrated, meant something to me. It meant a lot, really.

As we got close to the end, Jane kept wanting to count the pieces. And I tried my hardest to stop her. I just knew, after all the shuffling, falling, coaster-using… I knew we’d be missing some pieces. Well, I didn’t know. But I assumed. And I didn’t want to know for sure. Because why would it be worth it to do this crazy big puzzle, if we couldn’t even get all the pieces together?  I mean, what would be the point even?

And sure enough…

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But, in the most bizarre twist, I realized that I wasn’t bothered. Not really. Because if you leaned back a little, that missing piece wasn’t as noticeable. My eyes kept landing, instead, on the parts of the puzzle Jane & I had adopted as our own, the ones we’d worked so hard on.

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And if I stood back even further, all I could really see was all the bright colors, and the woodland creatures wreaking havoc on a hapless campground, and the hours of fun and camaraderie. Unless I looked for it, I really couldn’t see that missing piece at all.

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Jane keeps asking if it bugs me, that we’re missing ONE piece. I get why she asks: I kind of acted like it would be the dawn of the apocalypse if we lost a piece. But I keep assuring her that it doesn’t matter.

For my first 33 years, I spent so much time fixated on what was lacking. Looking back, it feels like sometimes lack was ALL I could see. I missed lots of beautiful people, experiences, moments … they were all muted, drowned out by what I thought I didn’t have.

Know what grace is for me? Realizing that lack no longer defines my worldview. That each day, I’m astounded by what I do have. Because my whole life could’ve gone down so very differently. Getting sober taught me to see all the beauty that weaves itself together, so that lack isn’t apparent. It taught me to look at the bigger picture–and to be grateful for the 999 pieces that we do still have.

The Sam I Am Chronicles

This is Sam I Am. I love him. But we had a falling out earlier this week. I’m trying to forgive. Really. But he’s an elf. He has ONE JOB. I just need him to do that job. Is that too much to ask?

This is Sam I Am, our Elf on the Shelf. This little dude caused me some serious angst earlier this week.

Let me start out by clarifying that the elf & I, we are buddies. I love this damn thing. He’s mischievous. And silly. He gets into a kinds of stuff. Makes Jane laugh first thing in the morning. And, above all, our elf is NOT a snitch. He doesn’t report back to Santa. Because we’re not living in an Orwell novel. He just hangs out with us at Christmastime. End of story.

Every year, Sam I Am magically appears right after Thanksgiving. One time he showed up in Nana’s red button drawer (yes, Nana has SO MANY BUTTONS that there is a special drawer just for the red ones). But most times, he’s chillin’ somewhere in the house when we return from Thanksgiving.

That’s what happened this time. He was taking a little snooze in one of Jane’s doll beds when we got home. We ooohhhed and ahhhed over his adorableness. We talked about how tired he must’ve been from his trip. Jane was over the moon with excitement. She’d been looking forward to his visit all the way home from Florida (for all SEVEN excruciating hours in the car).

This Christmas Season was looking all kinds of promising.

Then the little bastard didn’t move during the night. So when Jane woke up the next morning, he was in EXACTLY the same spot he’d been the day before.

And she was CRUSHED.

Did someone accidentally touch him? she fretted. What if LiLi sniffed him and he lost his magic? What if he was NEVER GOING TO MOVE AGAIN?!?!

If I were to begin to describe to you exactly how awful I felt, what a failure I felt like as a parent, because this damn elf hadn’t moved, you’d think I was exaggerating. But, for real, y’all… holidays are kind of hard for me. But this elf is pure magic. Joy. I love him so. AND HE HADN’T MOVED. And now our whole house was in mourning.

Fortunately, because he’s magic, Sam I Am pulled his shit together, broke ALL the elf rules, and moved during the day, while Jane was playing in her fort outside. He left a note, which I didn’t photograph because I don’t keep tangible evidence of my worst parenting moments, but it went something like this:

Jane, 

Sorree I made yoo askared. I wuz tired.

<3, Sam I Am

Jane found him on our bookshelves with a cup on his head and various other stackable cups strewn about around him. She forgave him right away. Because she’s good like that. I’m a little slower to forgive, but I’m coming around.

Then he went and put his butt in our cereal:

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Thanksgiving Convo Fail

Let’s just say that, after our Thanksgiving convo mishap this morning, I am VERY thankful that successful parenting doesn’t hinge on ONE conversation. Especially if it takes place in carline before I’ve had enough coffee.

Jane & I talk a lot. I mean that in the sense that we’re both superbly loquacious AND that we have lots of pretty cool conversations.

This morning, on the way to school, we were chatting about Dress for Success Day. She’s dressed as a teacher, although her first choice was scientist. Her Bobby & I failed her on that one–her lab coat and goggles are still languishing somewhere in storage. (We’re like 85% moved in, but both Simon & I are avoiding the storage unit like the plague. I’ve suggested just burning it to the ground instead of trying to weed through all that random/extraneous stuff, but Simon seemed to think that was a little extreme. Whatevs.) So, Jane opted to be a teacher, complete with a bun, glasses, an apple, and a name tag. Super cute.

Mornings are Jane’s best time of day. She’s optimistic, energetic, loving, and kind. Definitely a morning person (x 1billion). She had just finished listing things she was excited about (they are numerous), when I decided to jump in with, “Let’s chat about Thanksgiving for a sec.”

Now, by the time she’d paused for a breath and I got around to this topic, we’d just pulled into the morning carline. I rushed on, “You know, that stuff about the pilgrims and the Native Americans… it’s not really true. They weren’t friends.”

Puzzled silence. 

At this point, I’m not sure if she doesn’t remember this conversation from last year. Or if she doesn’t want a lecture about human rights first thing in the morning. Or if she just wonders why they lie about pilgrims at school. But something is amiss. Because she’s just kind of looking at me (I’ve turned my head around to have this conversation, because carline in a weird time warp in which time actually stands still).

Instead of realizing this is not the right time, or that I’m running up against disinterest, or any of the other things I could’ve realized, I pressed on. (It was early, y’all. I’d only had one cup of coffee)

“White settlers weren’t friends of the Native Americans. They wanted to take their land and send them away, not live in peace with them.”

Then… Wait for it….

“It would’ve been better if instead of helping the settlers, the Native Americans had just let them die.”

What the FUCK?!? Who says that???? Me, apparently. Me, first thing in the morning in carline.

Good Lord.

But, problems with my hasty/half-ass narrative aside, her response was perfect. She looked at me, sighed, and said, “Mommy, I’m going to get out of the car now, okay?”

How she kept from rolling her eyes all the way back into her head at me, I’ll never know. But she did. And, fortunately for me, talks about social. issues, race, and representation are ongoing in our house. And usually my timing isn’t completely sucktastic. So, I’ll get another stab at this in which I don’t suggest letting anyone die.

I’d always wondered, though, if I’d know if she was completely uninterested in what I was sharing with her. Turns out, yes. She knows how to be crystal clear.

Good on her.

 

Here’s a New York Times piece on the myth vs. reality of Thanksgiving. I’ll probably read this & a few other resources before embarking on this conversation again. And I’ll have another cup of coffee. Couldn’t hurt. Might help.

Getting Unstuck

I’ve working on getting myself unstuck from a pretty significant rut. But good news… I found 5 relatively simple things I could do to reconnect with myself & the world around me.

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I’ve spent the past few weeks re-examining my life a bit. I guess that’s to be expected since I’m (ahem) . . . middle aged. (WTactualF?!?)

I first realized there was a problem when I caused a online scuffle on Facebook with some other folks, and I was completely unable to let it go. Like hella unable. As in not-gonna-let-that-shit-ride. As in personal interior devastation and destruction.

Holy shit. Hello, outsized response to criticism. (Let’s be clear: I’m talking about my own outsized response here. I’m not trying to take other people’s inventories.) So, yeah, something was WAY wrong with my internal balance. And upon further examination, I realized my personal growth had kind of stagnated. And I just didn’t feel the same muppet-like enthusiasm for life as usual.

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(Actual footage of me on an average day)

How’d I get out of my rut? So glad you asked. Segues are SO hard.

5 (Relatively) Quick & Easy Ways I Got Emotionally Unstuck

  1. I got me a therapist. I am 100% on board for therapy. We’d all be much happier (and more well adjusted) if we ALL had a therapist. Sure, they require an investment of time, money, and emotional energy. But (and I think as women we sometimes forget this) I am worthy of that investment. So are you. Yes, it’s hard work sifting through some of the past events and current hangups that landed me in emotional quicksand in the first place. But you know what happens if you stay in quicksand too long… (I mean, as an adult I haven’t really encountered quicksand as much as I thought I would. But as a kid, I knew all about the hazards of quicksand. So, I’m always prepared for a quick escape)

2. I delved into my spiritual practice. Over the years, my spirituality has looked wildly different–depending on where I was in my journey. Right now, it looks a whole lot like reading a lesson from A Course in Miracles each morning, practicing the exercises throughout the day, and finding a crystal that resonates with me (I them to set intentions and to return to as a touchstone so I don’t wander during the day). I’ve had to learn about 100 billion times that a spiritual practice is crucial for me. Like, I absolutely cannot exists happily without it. And, you know it’s kind of the whole foundation of my recovery:

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.

So, yeah, NBD… spirituality is just the key to EVERYTHING.

3. I started striving toward being fully present. During those two days when I was so in my head about a conflict going on in the ether, I couldn’t even participate in conversations happening right in front of me. This undercurrent of ugly self-talk, picking arguments with ghosts, and just general bullshit that my brain pulls sometimes had me miles away from where my feet were. It sucked. So, I made a conscious choice to be more curious about my immediate surroundings. What did I hear, see, smell, feel? What made this moment unique? Where could I find joy, or love, or hope, or connection? The pictures at the top of the post, they’re where I’ve been the past 2 days: physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are real. They are here. The present matters. It’s all I’ve really got. So, I sure as hell am going to make an effort to embrace it.

4. I put down my damn phone. Well, I put it down MORE than I had in any recent memory. Suddenly, it seemed foolish that some flat rectangular object could have that much pull over me. Instead of enhancing my life, it was really bringing me down. So, I cut it loose(ish). And I created some hard and fast rules for myself about engaging on social media. It turns out that it’s MUCH easier to be present if my nose isn’t always pressed up against my phone. Who knew?!?

5. I made it a point to connect. I love people. Which is why I love social media. But nothing beats looking someone in the eye and really connecting with them. Small connections, seemingly inconsequential interactions… they make up so much of our lives. The way we move together in the world and develop empathy and understanding can be truly beautiful. So, I committed to letting more of that beauty into my life–to really see people, to interact with them in ways that are kind and compassionate, and to laugh. In real life.

And these 5 things, well they’ve got me feeling a lot more like this these days:

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So, when you find yourself in an emotional rut, what do you do to get unstuck?

Books! Books! Books!

So many books! Why? Because literacy is everything. Think I’m exaggerating? Nope. Wait ’til you see the statistics. Oh, and also, because bookstores require A LOT of books.

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Jane seems to have inherited my book nerdiness.

I’ve had this crazy love affair with books since I was a kid. I like being around them, holding them, scouring the back cover for my next adventure. I get sucked in by real outstanding cover art. And, yeah, I’ll totally pass on a book with a lackluster cover. Because I want the whole experience. I want to catch a glimpse of the book laying on the table and not be able to resist picking it up—just for a minute—just to read a page or two.

I’ve been lucky with reading. It came easily to me, and right away I was able to find books I adored, ones where I saw myself in the characters. They made me dream bigger than my suburban reality. They made me want to know more, be more, do more. I had constant accrsss to books. I had books that were given to me, books I bought at the Scholastic Book Fair with quarters scraped together from my allowance, and a precariously leaning pile of books I’d dragged home from the library.

Not all kids are as lucky. 

Representation is still a big hurdle in literature, although publishers—especially publishers of children’s books—are making a concerted effort to include more diverse protagonists (children of color, protagonists from various ethnicities, differently abled children, LGBTQ protagonists).  But for those books to make a difference, children have to be able to access them. The need to appear in abundance on booksellers shelves, in Little Free Libraries across the land, in traditional and school libraries, and in used bookstores.

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And books, all kinds of books, need to make there way into the homes of kids. And not based along class lines. ALL kids. All kids need to have a go-to library of books they love that they can read over and over again. Why? Check out the findings of a study done by the Australian National University: “Growing up with few books in the home resulted in below average literacy levels. Being surrounded by 80 books boosted the levels to average, and literacy continued to improve until libraries reached about 350 books, at which point the literacy rates leveled off.” 

80 books. Kids need 80 books in their homes, in order to achieve average literacy levels. And what happens to kids who don’t reach average literacy levels? 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. So, yeah, I was lucky. But it shouldn’t come down to luck.

As I was checking out of Value Village today with an entire cart of books, the rad young man boxing the books up for me said, “Man. You REALLY like books.” I laughed. As he loaded them into the box, he kept pausing at the kids’ titles: “Hey! I read the Boxcar Children when I was in school. I loved those books.” After he’d done this multiple times, he said, “Does your kid like to read?” I affirmed that she is pretty hyped about books right now. “Good” he nodded. “Tell her to keep it up. Reading is important.” Indeed.

“I’m thinking of opening a bookstore,” I blurted in his general direction. He gave the box of books a bit of side-eye. “Okay, okay. I’m guess I’m a little more committed to the idea than just ‘thinking about it.’”

“It’s a good idea,” he said. “Get people things to read.”

Yep. That’s it right there: I want to get people things to read. Books they are passionate about. If people believe they don’t like to read, maybe it’s just that no one has ever put a book in their hands that opened up some part of the world for them. A book that exploded their imagination. A book that spoke to them. And that’s crucial because reading makes us see outside our own small worlds. Makes us more empathetic. Reading just flat out makes us better. 

Everyone should have access to books. In their home. Books they can afford. Books of their very own. 

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That’s my dream: to open up a used book store that has something that will spark (or reignite) a love of reading in every single customer that walks through the door. I believe it’s possible. 

Besides. what else am I going to do with all these books?!

Be part of the building of the dream: What is the very first book you’d look for if you walked into a used bookstore?

Want to know more about literacy? Check out these resources:

We Need Diverse Books

Empowered Readers

Reading is Fundamental

Welcome to Remotely Intellectual!

Welcome to Remotely Intellectual! Grab a cup of coffee & let’s discuss life. Parenting? Oh, yeah. I’ll write about that in all it’s messy glory. Recovery? Yup. It’s the basis of everything good in my life. So it comes up quite a bit. Spirituality? Oof. I’m a hot mess on that one. But you can watch my explorations unfold right here! Atlanta? Love it! And coffee.

 

Hey, y’all!

Welcome to Remotely Intellectual! Grab a cup of coffee & let’s discuss life. Parenting? Oh, yeah. I’ll write about that in all it’s messy glory. Recovery? Yup. It’s the basis of everything good in my life. So it comes up quite a bit. Spirituality? Oof. I’m a hot mess on that one. But you can watch my explorations unfold right here! Atlanta? Love it! And coffee. And social justice type stuff–like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia. We’re going to talk about it all.

Oh! And I’m reading 43 books during my 43rd year & reviewing them all for you–in 250 words or less. It’s currently one of my favorite projects. Check it out:

I’m super excited about this new space. For those of you coming over from Rocket Fuel, you’ll find the same content but under a much more apt name. Because really, what am I if not remotely intellectual?

Detours

I run to explore and discover. Sometimes I get lost. And sometimes I take a detour (which which turns out to be more like a metaphor for life than you might think)

I’ve been exploring my new neighborhood on foot. While running. As I do.

Before I carried my iPhone everywhere, running a spontaneous route presented a challenge for me. Because I was likely to get lost. Very likely. But now I’ve got a handy map, right in the palm of my hand.

Sometimes I consult it. Sometimes I don’t. (And then sometimes I totally misread the damn thing, but that’s a conversation for another time). Right now, I’m in a non-consulting phase–because I’m learning to navigate, and sightseeing, and meeting folks… you know, just getting the lay of the land.

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How I feel about running (and living) in East Atlanta.

Today, I ran up to a fork in the road, hesitated for a minute, then went straight ahead. But I immediately knew I’d chosen wrong, that straight ahead wasn’t the way I wanted to be going at all. So, I u-turned & reversed course. I ran through a lovely part of the neighborhood, quiet with lots of trees. And–miracle of miracles–I knew exactly where I was the whole time. (We’d considered buying a house in this part of East Atlanta and had driven through this neighborhood at least half a dozen times (likely more) in our deliberations.)

I came out of the neighborhood exactly where I expected to (if this doesn’t seem like a revelation, then you must not know me IRL). But what I didn’t expect is how far off the original road (the one where I’d decided not to run straight ahead) I’d actually be. It was further than I’d thought, and the whole right-at-the-fork-instead-of-straight detour added over a mile to my run.

That’s the thing about detours–they take you off your planned track. Sometimes you’re better for it–better run, better marriage, better life. And sometimes, you just don’t realize how far from your original route the detour (that seemed so small) will take you. Or how long it will take you to get back to where you want to be.

My life has excelled at detours. I’m practically valedictorian of detours. But, when life tosses me a detour, there’s really no choice involved. I just have to take the path, look for new things to appreciate along the way, and learn the lessons life’s about to hurtle at me.

But when I get to choose my path, I’m a deliberator. Because I want to know that the detour is worth the extra mile, the unexpected hills, all the challenges of an unfamiliar terrain. I like the life path I’m on. And I respect the shifts that even small choices can bring in my life. So, in the face of a detour, I try like hell to get quiet enough to hear my. inner voice (God… the Universe… whatever) guiding me. And Good LORD am I a talker, so listening is a cultivated skill. But still, I’m learning that the more I listen, the more I know.

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There’s no rule against being cool in my Run ATL shades WHILE I listen.