7 Reasons to Love Seven

When I found out I was (finally) pregnant, I fundamentally misunderstood what was about to happen. I mean, I wanted a KID. What I got was, well, a baby. Turns out, babies aren’t really my thing.

When I found out I was (finally) pregnant, I fundamentally misunderstood what was about to happen. I mean, I wanted a KID. What I got was, well, a baby. Turns out, babies aren’t really my thing.

Let’s be clear: I loved MY baby (don’t ask me to hold yours). She was perfect, very loved, and she made stellar faces.

 

What more could I have asked for?

I took that baby everywhere with me. I ate taco off her head once (the scenario involved a sleeping Jane, a baby Bjorn, and a very hungry me). We did mommy & me swim lessons, storytime at the library, a crafting event here and there… I tried to find something new and fun to do with her every day—even though most days we wound up at Publix for the free cookies (SPRINKLES!).

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Simon swears Jane’s got such a kick-ass vocabulary because I talked to her incessantly for the 3 years I stayed home with her. I don’t know about all that. Her first contextual phrase was “Dude. Seriously?!?” when a guy cut me off in traffic. But, it’s true that from the minute I saw her, I wanted to connect with her, to understand what she saw in the world. I wanted to really know this tiny human—but tiny humans are SO MUCH WORK.

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The other day, as I watched 7 year-old Jane playing with her friends, I realized that this is it! This is the age I daydreamed about when I thought about having kids. Seven is spectacular!

7 Reasons I Love Seven:

    1. Seven tells stories. So many stories. About a kid at school eating his shoe or someone falling down (on purpose, of course) or dancing in class (dancing is VERY amusing). She tells serious stories, too—about kids who had bad days or made bad choices, or kids moving way or having trouble at home … It’s these moments when I can see her compassion at work that I realize what a whole, fascinating little person she’s become.
    2. Seven loves to laugh. Everything is funny. I stumble over a word I’m trying to say. Hysterical. Simon spills water on his shirt. Riotously funny. Sometimes she laughs so hard when she’s telling a story that I can’t understand half of what she’s saying. But I end up laughing right along with her. Because kid giggles = irresistible.28059042_10156099009572889_3214456958509982927_n
    3. Seven’s got playground insults. Yep, we’re full on into “I know you are but what am I?” Also, “Cheater, cheater, lemon-eater” is real big right now. (I thought it was pumpkin-eater, but what do I know?) Also, anything that involves butt or poop is not only a great insult but VERY funny. I kinda think it’s funny, too. But then again, my response to just about everything is “Your mom.” Apple, tree, and all that.
    4. Seven reads books. Jane started reading independently this school year. She reads chapter books now. And each time she opens a book, I know she’s opening an entirely new world… it’s magical. For me and for her. (And, yes, we still read to her. Right now, she and Simon are working their way through the second Harry Potter book).
    5. Seven thinks deep thoughts. Jane and I talk about real world stuff all the time. No topic is off limits: racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, bullying… When we’re in the middle of these conversations, I never know how they’re going. There’s no real litmus test for am I saying something that will inadvertently land my kid in therapy in 10 years, you know? But Jane ponders some of these conversations after the fact and comes back with really good, critical thinking questions that make me so hopeful about how she will navigate her way through the world.29683507_10156191825082889_4802467397519797248_n
    6. Seven embraces being a nerd. Jane loves to learn. She sits in her room and does math problems for fun. She writes books on the side (mostly non-fiction about our boxer, Delilah). She adores her pink glasses. And she freely admits that she’s excited about nerd camp this summer (a camp run by the school district for brainiacs. No, it’s not ACTUALLY called nerd camp. But in this house, we like to call it like we see it).
    7. Seven is incredibly self-confident. Jane feels good about herself. She knows that she’s capable, strong, and kind. She loves to run. She says she’s an expert bike rider (even though she’s been riding for about 3 weeks). She believes that everyone wants to be friends with her. And she embraces the world whole-heartedly.

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I look at this miraculous person, this seven year-old, and I think—oh my Lord. She is so much like me. And so very different. She’s a person. A small complex human, who both needs me and doesn’t.

She’s seven. And seven is magic.

The Same Story

I learned the art of the finely crafted story in Alcoholics Anonymous. 

I know that’s bizarre. But, look, I am a consumer of stories. And, so, while some folks wanted to get down to brass tacks about the steps they needed to take to get out of this mess they’d gotten themselves into, I was completely taken with the vulnerability of each person’s story. The stories are what kept me there. 

I learned the art of the finely crafted story in Alcoholics Anonymous.

I know that’s bizarre. But, look, I am a consumer of stories. And, so, while some folks wanted to get down to brass tacks about the steps they needed to take to get out of this mess they’d gotten themselves into, I was completely taken with the vulnerability of each person’s story. The stories are what kept me there.

I mean, I wasn’t sitting in AA meetings for research. I had some serious work to do. But what made me want to do the work was hearing about the journey, soaking in the personal revelations of people who’d figured out how to do sober. Because I totally had not.

But, the longer I sat there, the more I realized that every person siting in the room had the same story. Or at least the same story arc. The details varied, of course. But, each story had the same components: 1) what it used to be like, 2) what happened, and 3) what it is like now.

But even though the stories followed the same pattern—fall, journey, redemption–each one was relevant, personal. These stories were about death… and rebirth. How could I not be completely blown away?

The storytellers that wowed me the most were the ones that could take AA adages (Live Life on Life’s Terms, for instance. Which I always hated.) and weave a story around them, so that they weren’t cliches anymore. They became completely new insights that opened life-changing possibilities.

That’s the power of the story: connection.

And it doesn’t take high drama to make people connect. Some folks definitely had fantastic tales of weekends, weeks, months gone horribly wrong where they managed to balance themselves precariously between certain death and super-evil villains looking  to do them incredible harm. But I was just as apt to be moved to tears by a young dad weaving a story about his kid, and then tying it back to his own lessons in sobriety.

Because, let’s face it, most of us are on the same journey. As humans, we all want to belong, to be valued, to feel whole. The work we do to get there can look different. But the core nugget remains: to love anyone else, we have to make peace with and love ourselves.

I’m still sober. And part of that is due to the people who so willingly shared their stories, who made the program come to life for me. They bore witness to the miracle at work in their own lives, and they made me want it too. These folks taught me to be grateful, to connect with other people, and to be of service. That’s a pretty solid formula for a kick-ass life.

Everything I have today I owe to my sobriety. That is the honest to God truth. It surprises folks sometimes that I never shy away from telling my story. But I know the truth: for someone else my story could mean the difference between life and death. How could I do  anything but tell it over & over again?

Kindergarten Pandas

IMG_3360Simon & I spent a lot of time planning our family. It took us 2 years to get pregnant, so we had lots of time to choose baby names, to debate how we’d handle hypothetical disciplinary scenarios, to make crazy proclamations like “She’ll never wear pink or play with princesses!” But all that time, I wasn’t imagining a baby. I was imagining a little girl who would bound home from school each day, discard her school stuff haphazardly at the front door, and clamber up to the kitchen table for an after school snack.

So, imagine my surprise when, in late January 2011, I found myself staring down at the face of an adorable, incredibly helpless baby. I was overjoyed and full of “what-the-hell-do-I-do-with-this-tiny-person?”. Fortunately, Jane is a good teacher. We muddled through each baby and toddler stage with varying degrees of success. But always with so much love & forgiveness for each other’s shortcomings.

This week, my baby girl started Kindergarten. And this… this is everything I dreamed it would be.

Jane likes learning (although she does have to fight through always needing to be right, in order to absorb new information. No idea where she gets that). She’s enthused about new adventures. And she adores people. New friends? Loves them! New teachers? Just more folks to love. Jane’s amazing preschool experience at the YMCA in Tampa set her up to completely rock Kindergarten. But there’s always an element of the unknown when dealing with a 5 year-old. So, I eagerly anticipated her first day of school, all the while fretting about how it would go. This is my way. It’s just what I do.

She’d made a specific request that we NOT be late on her first day. I’m not sure why… we aren’t usually late to things… but she was clearly worried. So I promised we’d get there early. But, on the morning of her first day of school, she slept past 6:45. Excuse me, but WHAT THE HELL?!? We’ve been trying to get this kid to sleep past 6:45 forever. And she never does. Not on Saturdays. Not on Sundays. Not on holidays. But on her first day of school? Sleeping like a log. I had to shake her to wake her up. And then she flopped right back in bed like a dead fish. Again, WHAT THE HELL???

She perked up when we wandered into the kitchen for breakfast. But I started eyeing the clock as it passed 7, and she was still munching pensively on her raisin toast. I swear, she was eating it so slowly that it was spontaneously regenerating. I told her to hurry. I wrung my hands. I asked if she was almost done. I bounced my leg anxiously. Nothing would entice her to eat faster.

Then, Bobby… oh, sweet, understanding, perceptive Bobby…stepped in, picked her up and asked if she was scared about her first day. And then there were tears. Yes, it turns out. Eating toast excruciatingly slowly is a symptom of being scared. She shed precisely two tears. Then she wiped them away and began excitedly chattering about her classroom, her Shimmer & Shine backpack (etc, etc, etc).

By the time we got her in her adorable uniform and walked up to the front of the school, she didn’t seem nervous at all anymore. She greeted the Principal and her teacher with her general bubbly good nature. When she saw the art and activity stations in her classroom, she exclaimed, “This will be FUN!” And then she was officially a Kindergartener. No more tears (from her or me).

And having a school-aged kid is just as amazing as I thought it would be. She chatters about her new friends, tells me what they did each day, and professes her love of being a Panda (it’s their mascot). She is growing up so quickly. And I am so grateful to be along for the ride with her.

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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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A Bit About Gratitude (& Buddha & Jesus)

Laughing Buddha

Gratitude comes easier to me now that I am sober. I just didn’t get it before–I didn’t get how much I had, how little of it I’d truly “earned.” I came from a scarcity perspective. There was never enough of anything: money, time, love, contentment. Wherever there was a gap, wherever I found my life lacking, I filled that gap with alcohol. But when the drunk wore off, that nagging lack was always there. Because the lack had nothing to do with my external circumstances, and everything to do with ME.

As part of my Lenten spiritual practice*, I started reading Awakening the Buddha Within by Lama Surya Das. I caught a glimpse of it on my best friend’s bookshelf over Christmas break, and I remembered how much that book meant to me when I first read it. It was the first book I read in its entireity as I emerged from the darkest place my drinking took me. The fact that I could focus long enough to read the book and absorb it now seems like a small miracle. But it was just the balm I needed. It gave me renewed hope that I could find my way and find light and meaning in the world again.

Cracking it open this time gave me so much perspective on where I was all those years ago and on who I am now. This passage, in particular, jumped out at me:

” Perhaps you sometimes feel a homesickness, a sadness, and a sense that something is terribly wrong. You might experience this as a yearning for something that is lost, something that seems so familiar and yet so distant. You might feel hungry and needy and aware that nothing has been able to fully satisfy you–at least not for very long. It’s like drining salt water while floating adrift on the great ocean; it’s a drink that can’t possibly alleviate your thirst.”

I remember sitting outside my apartment, on the rare nights when I would try not to drink, and feeling like something was scratching away at me from the inside. I wanted so desperately to escape my own desperation and despair. I wanted to escape myself. But when I encountered that passage all those years ago, I felt my heart lift because someone understood exactly how I felt. And if someone else understood, then I wasn’t beyond hope, and I wasn’t alone.

When I opened Awakening the Buddha Within on a whim on Ash Wednesday, I had no idea that reading this book would engender so much gratitude. Because I don’t feel a constant yearning anymore. I am not lost. And I no longer dwell under a constant cloud of sadness. And I am so grateful.

I’d be lying if I said the journey to getting sober (and staying that way) was an easy one. Excavating demons in order to slay them comes with its own peril and pain. And once I took away the artificial contentment that alcohol offered, I had to work toward achieving some lasting peace. But I was wise enough to find what really worked for me–not what I thought looked right or what I thought other people wanted. Getting sober brought me back to Jesus, introduced me to Buddha, helped me find my rhythm in running, and helped me rediscover yoga (which was the practice that initially reached me in the darkest night of my soul). My life is rich and full. I am surrounded by a close group of people I love, who understand and accept me. And, even more importantly, I love and accept myself (at least most of the time).

I am grateful for this journey. I’m grateful for the gifts in my life that I did not earn and cannot say I truly deserve. I’m grateful for grace & love, which have brought me peace I couldn’t have dreamed of before. I am simply grateful for this life.

* One of the reasons I warmed so quickly to Awakening the Buddha Within is that Lama Surya Das immediately sets about demonstrating that buddhist principles can mesh quite easily with Christianity (and many other spiritual traditions). Me & Jesus are like peanut butter & jelly. I was pretty happy to know I could keep Jesus in my heart & still incorporate buddhist principles in my life.

Photo Credit: flickr/nightrose

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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