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.

Namaste, y’all.

I started a 31 day yoga practice. It’s going nothing at all like I expected.

I’ve always been kind of flummoxed about how to shift my spiritual practice from it’s designated quiet, morning time out into my larger life. Because Lord knows I need some peace in the chaos of an average day. But–and this was the case until very recently–all the connectivity to my inner peace & the greater love of the Universe had gone all to shit by about 2pm.

And that felt BAD. It feels kinda defeating (and a little whiplash inducing) to be all namaste in the morning and all look-at-me-again-and-I’ll-cut-you in the afternoon. But my centering and balance seemed to wear off. I mean, is that even a thing?!?

When I got into A Course in Miracles, the daily lessons helped. Because you don’t get to just read them in the morning, dwell on them a bit, and let them go. You have to keep reviewing them at multiple points throughout the day. It’s like they want the ideas to stick or something.

Now, ideally, I was supposed to find a quiet time to reflect by myself with my eyes closed. But the book did make it clear that I should use whatever time I could find. I discovered that trying to find a quiet minute meant that it would never happen. So, I started meditating on the lesson wherever I was, amid whatever was going on, with my eyes open. In the car? Yep. Walking the dog? Yep. Staring at (but not seeing) my computer screen? Yep. To be sure, this kind of come-as-you-are meditation doesn’t always allow me to feel the deep & abiding presence of the Universe. But I am also not losing my proverbial shit by 2pm anymore. And I am more grounded and connected to the world around me.

Part of my January commitment to myself was doing yoga daily for 31 days. When I made this commitment, I imagined a still, quiet practice centered on my breath, on connecting with the divine, on bliss…

Yeah.

Not once in the past week have I experienced an uninterrupted practice. It’s like Jane has a sixth sense. As soon as I get on the mat, she has some question that she will spontaneously combust if she doesn’t ask me. Or she just wants to look at me. Or she wants to be near me, so suddenly she’s standing 1mm from me in mountain pose.

So, I did what the past 10 years of sobriety have taught me so well: I dropped all my expectations. And I invited Jane to grab a mat and join me.

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Doing yoga next to Jane is the equivalent of doing yoga next to a squirrel with a meth problem. I’m in downward dog. She’s laying on her back with her feet straight up in the air. I’m in boat pose, and she’s in tree pose next to me. It’s nutty.

But I’ve learned to tune into her presence (which is all love and light) and tune out her antics (which are real, real extra). I’m beginning to cherish the time we spend side by side on our mats, even though it certainly wasn’t what I envisioned for my January yoga practice.

But when were sitting cross-legged, breathing deeply, and she reaches over to hold my hand… that’s all the connection to the Universe I could possibly ask for.

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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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.

Holiday Hangover (No Booze Required)

Ever had a emotional hangover? Like from all the ups and downs of the holidays? Yeah, they’re real. And they’re hella tough. So, this Monday, take it easy on yourself. You’re worth it.

When I quit drinking, the first miracle was that long string of hangover-free mornings. If that doesn’t seem in any way miraculous to you… well, you’ve probably never spent half an hour deciding if an egg sandwich sounded delicious or like something you might immediately upchuck, while anxiety zips through your body like a high-speed train.

Just saying.

Sometimes, even a decade later, I wake up marvel over the fact that I feel GOOD first thing in the morning. It’s glorious.

I wish I was immune to ALL kinds of hangovers. But I’m not. I’ve had a sugar hangover. And a caffeine hangover. (I know. Cute, right? But, trust me, dehydrated & fuzzy headed is not a good look on me) But the worst is the emotional hangover. And there’s nothing like the holidays to bring on a killer emotional hangover.

For lots of us, the holidays can be fraught. It’s like life gears up for these made-up days that we’re supposed to be full of joy & gratitude and love for our families. And that’s great. Except when it’s not.

Like when Uncle Bob thinks tear gassing refugees is the way to protect ‘Merica.

Or when Cousin Sally wants to know if you’re still living in sin with your boyfriend.

Or when half your family is racist (sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, fill in any other thing that makes your stomach clench as you’re trying to digest your cranberry sauce).

Or when you’re just trying to work up the nerve to come out to your family through the entire holiday meal, but all you can imagine is your mom running away from the table in tears and your dad disowning you.

Or when you just don’t measure up to anything your family wants you to be. And you just wonder why they can’t accept you.

Or maybe you suffered a loss this year, and nothing is the same. And it won’t be. And you have to navigate that hard truth as you walk through the emotional landmines of the holidays.

Here’s the thing, some version of one (or a fun mix-and-match set) of these things goes on in most families I know.

So what does that mean?

Maybe that you love your family but that they drive you batshit crazy. Or maybe that you have to fight falling into old patterns just to emerge from the holidays virtually unscathed. Or that the holidays leave your wrecked and depleted, instead of joyous and renewed. Or that you call out bigotry in the middle of the Thanksgiving meal & let the chips fall where they may.

All these BIG (and conflicting) feelings can add up to a massive holiday hangover.

Holiday hangovers leave me feeling especially stuck. And vulnerable. It takes me days to get over them. My inclination is always to muscle through, to woman-up and show them.

This NOT a good plan.

If I’m a frazzled mess (hypothetically speaking, of course), the last thing I need is to start trying to prove something. Because no one is watching. And there’s no one to prove anything to but ME.

So, I’ve tried to talk myself into being less black and white. Holidays are not good or bad. There are good & bad parts to everything (which really helps me delve into the moments of joy without wondering when the other shoe is going to drop).

And I try to remember that everyone’s got their own shit going on. And sometimes I don’t  now anything about it. So a little grace is required. Sometimes, a lot of grace.

But most importantly, I remind myself–frequently, consistently, insistently–that I write my own narrative. No one can take that power from me. I do not have to play a part in someone else’s drama. I can throw out the whole script and start over. And that knowledge shines bright when things get tough. It helps me hold on to who I am, instead of being called back into who I used to be. And who I am now is a helluva lot better than who I used to be–and it’s worth writing a whole new script for.

On this Monday after Thanksgiving, be gentle with yourself. Especially if your holiday didn’t look anything like you wanted it to. Your worth isn’t determined by how much you accomplish today. You ARE important. And worthy. Connect with someone that makes you feel that way. Do something special for yourself. And don’t let anyone else write your narrative. Not ever.

Parenting is Hard AF

This beautiful, little human is trying to kill me. I mean, not with anything as overt as knives and such. But with eye rolls and sighs, ingratitude and accusations. And if you tell me it will only get worse as she gets older, I will jump through this screen and kick your ass. 

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This beautiful, little human is trying to kill me. I mean, not with anything as overt as knives and such. But with eye rolls and sighs, ingratitude and accusations. And if you tell me it will only get worse as she gets older, I will jump through this screen and kick your ass.

This weekend unfolded in amazing family time and sullen attitudes, in turn. By the time we inched our way toward bedtime last night, I was done. Done being artfully insulted, accused of unfairness, and in general not appreciated. Also, done with a 7 year old acting like I couldn’t possibly, ever know as much as she does.

It’s exhausting as hell, this mothering thing. Trying to act magnanimous, when my feelings are hurt and I just want to cry. Feeling thwarted at every turn. Wondering if, perhaps, I’m a terrific failure at parenting after all.

Lately, I’ve been wanting to spend more structured, thoughtful time with Jane, and I’ve been turning over questions of spiritual principles and practices, so on our epic tour of bookstores in Atlanta, I picked out a Buddhist book of bedtime stories that we could read together. If you’re a parent, you probably know where this is going. Because there is a direct correlation between how much a parent wants something to work (to be special or really to matter in any significant way) and how much the child DOES NOT WANT ANY PART OF IT.

As she was headed to bed, I told her I’d like to read her a story.

So far, so good.

Then she saw me turn a few pages. “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO START AT THE BEGINNING,” she instructed, haughtily.

Ahem.

I kept my shit together pretty well. “Yes, usually, But you’re going to have to trust that I know how to read this book.” I swear, I was speaking in melodic tones while trying not to lose my mind.

“Now, close your eyes. And take a…”

“I DON’T WANT TO CLOSE MY EYES.”

“Jane. For real, dude. Just chill. You’re going to like this. It’s like when you meditate…”

“I DON’T MEDITATE.”

Now, I needed to take deep breaths. “OKAY. But you do yoga. So it’s like that. Now, point your toes down, then up…”

“How long do I have to DO THIS. JUST READ ME A STORY.”

I closed the book, said good night, and walked out of her room. I did not yell (on the outside). I did not make her responsible for my emotions. But my feelings were hurt, for sure. And I was frustrated as hell by her general crappiness and her snotty attitude.

The irony: I got the book so she could learn to manage her emotions when she doesn’t get her way. Or when things don’t go 100% as expected. (I guess we could all use some instruction on that realm). Her go-to lately is just to spin wildly out of control. Not cool. Not cool at all.

I mean, at least she showed me that I wasn’t WRONG about her needing a way to create some balance in her inner world.

Then, this morning, after I’d worked pretty damn hard to shake off the night before, I asked her if she’d like a hug. “Nah,” she said, walking away and tossing her hair over her shoulder.

My 7 year old blew me off.

I spent the whole ride to school chanting (in my head, mostly): She is not responsible for my emotions. She is not responsible for my emotions.

But, GOD, I felt like she stabbed a tiny knife in my heart and the wound might take an eternity to heal. I’m not sure why it smarted so much. I know she’s just trying to prove that she doesn’t need me all the time. She’s separating from me in ways that are normal and age-apporpriate. But, I guess lately I’ve just felt like she doesn’t respect me. And that is where I feel like I’ve gone horribly wrong. Because I deserve respect, for no other reason than that I am a human sharing this world with her. And somehow she’s come to believe that respecting me is an optional endeavor.

None of this is a plea for affirmation or sympathy. I share a lot of the joyous moments in parenthood. And I focus on redemption a lot–because so many of the beautiful parts of life revolve around that them. But this is a real, honest assessment that parenting is hard as fuck. It’s brutal and exhausting. And sometimes, it just feels soul-sucking.

And that’s why Facebook invented the Memories feature. So, when I’m contemplating moving into a yurt in the middle of the Montana wilderness just to get away from my ungrateful, disrespectful offspring, I can be taken completely unawares by a picture of her when she was just two years old and thought I hung the moon. Then I can remember that, despite what a little shit she’s been, I love her more than anything else in this world.

And then I can saddle up for another day.