Grumpitude & Grace

We’ve entered the season of snark with Jane. And, dear God, it is wearing me down.

The morning light hadn’t quite made its way into my daughter’s room yet. Instead, her green bug nightlight cast a soft glow across her pink fuzzy rug. I stepped carefully, to avoid being impaled by a stray Lego or a doll earring that had escaped her tidying up efforts. I crept closer to her loft and whispered up to her. “Jane.” Only soft snores in reply. She lay hidden somewhere underneath her unicorn dream tent and her fluffy comforter. “Jane!” I stage whispered, gently touching what was likely her foot. Could have been a stuffed bunny, though. These things become difficult to decipher from 2 feet below the edge of her bed.

Finally, she stirred. A little groan escaped from underneath the covers. “Good morning,” I chirped, and immediately regretted my overt chiperness. Nobody needs to be bowled down by cheer on a Monday morning before they’ve even opened their eyes. I toned it down and tried again. “Morning, bear. It’s 6:30. Want to get up and make your lunch?”

My uncannily self-sufficient seven year old makes her own lunch every day. I’ve ceased being amazed by this (although I didn’t make my own lunch until high school). It’s just who she is. She enjoys independence. And she’s proven herself responsible enough that I don’t need to hover over her. Sure, occasionally she’s headed off to school without a fruit or a vegetable gracing her lunchbox. But that’s not the norm. Typically, she at least attempts nutritional balance. Her hatred of the cafeteria’s food fuels her motivation. But, if she doesn’t get up early enough to make lunch, well it’s cafeteria mystery food for her.

When I didn’t hear a response from the top of the loft, I started backing slowly out of her room. Typically, Jane pops out of bed. She loves mornings. She’s one of those kids that wakes up at 6 a.m. even on the weekend. But not the past week or so. Twice last week, she ran into school just as the tardy bell rang. Being late makes her grumpy. In this way, and so many others if I’m honest, she’s just like me. This child is incapable of being rushed. Truly, the faster I try to coax her to move, the more I swear time begins to move backward. It was an effort to avoid this unpleasantness that drove me into her room at 6:30 in the morning in the first place. But when she didn’t exclaim, “Mommy! Good morning!” first thing, I knew my morning was about to go really wrong.

I made it back out to the dining room table, sat down with my book, and was sipping coffee before Captain Gloom appeared in the doorway. My face almost melted off from the heat of her scowl.

“Hey, buddy. What’s up?”

More scowling. “WHY did someone turn off my white noise?”

I looked at my kid, hair looking like something might still be nesting in it, eyes narrowed to slits in a combination of sleepiness and grumpiness, and I knew I needed to tread lightly. In my most neutral, yet comforting voice—well, the best one I could muster before I’d even finished my first cup of coffee—I tried reason, “I don’t think anyone turned it off love, I think…”

Apparently, thinking was a big mistake. Because my thinking made her stomp past me and into the kitchen. Now it was my turn to practice some deep breathing. I looked down at my book, willing myself to concentrate. But all the yelling that I wanted to do about her bad attitude was bouncing around in my head, crowding out the words on the page.

We’ve entered the season of snark with Jane. And, dear God, it is wearing me down.

Jane usually feels things intensely and lets them go. She can be happy, sad, then happy again in the time it takes me to finish a latte. But lately she’s been broodier. She rolls her eyes so hard that I feel sure they’re going to get stuck somewhere up in her head. She stomps off. And she holds on to these moods for a while, picking at her feelings, crying about things that are over and done—or at least they would’ve been over and done a few weeks ago. But now, we brood.

As I tried to maintain my composure in the dining room, I heard muffled sobs coming from the kitchen. I walked over, accompanied by the dog who looked confused, too. “Buddy, what is wrong?” Through tears, she shared her exquisite agony over awaking to the absence of white noise.

Seriously?

Look, I try to be understanding. And I’m sure that her tears were not actually about white noise. Maybe she felt disrespected because she thought we’d touched her things. Maybe she felt out-of-control because her morning didn’t start precisely the way she thought it would. Kids are super-complex little beings. I totally get that. But I get that a lot more once I’ve had enough caffeine to function.

“Jane, you’re going to have to let go of the white noise thing. Okay?”

“Can I have a hug?” she responded, her voice small and muffled through tears and all that hair that was still a wild mess atop her head.

I pulled her into a hug. I felt her relax a little. “Can you come in here with me while I make my lunch?” she asked.

I felt my heart catch a little. “No,” I said, quietly. “I got up early to take care of some things. I’m going to do those things now.”

Even as I was claiming my right to my own personhood, to be able to control the outcome of my morning even in the face of her meltdown, I felt guilty. Maybe I should drop everything to be there for whatever it was she was struggling through. But that isn’t really love. That’s servitude. There are times my world stops for her. But part of my job as her mother is to teach her what she can reasonably expect from people she loves. She can expect grace. We’ve been known to completely call a do-over on our morning and start again from scratch. She can expect understanding. Everyone has a bad day. Everyone gets grumpy. But she can’t expect people she loves to be her emotional punching bag. Being Jane’s mom uniquely qualifies me to be her safe space. But for that to work, like any relationship, we have to have boundaries. By not rearranging my morning for her grumpitude, I set my boundaries. Clearly.

And the world did not end. She dried her tears. She made her lunch, just like always. She even found time to snuggle with the dog (in the dog’s crate—but that’s another story for another day). By the time we left to walk to school, Jane was talking and laughing, anticipating her day ahead.

Parenting is about love, boundaries, messy hair, and redeemed mornings. And about a helluva lot of grace.

 

 

Back Together Again

Breaking up and getting back together—all within a 48-hour span—well, it’s not for the faint of heart.

When Simon & I woke up the next morning, it was like being on an incredibly awkward first date. In my pajamas. With someone I’d known for over a decade.

I had no idea what to do or say.

I made coffee, like usual. That seemed right. We probably still needed caffeine to function.

We sat down in the living room—which miraculously was still OUR living room—and I chattered on in a way that managed to be simultaneously overly-chipper and politely reserved. Which translated into rather happy, equally meaningless, small talk. (I despise small talk.)

Beneath my frantic efforts appear normal(ish), I felt completely unmoored. I was thrilled to have Simon back. But I was terrified if I did or said the wrong thing, he’d decide all over again that we were done. But for real this time.

The problem was that I both knew—and did not know—exactly what had gone wrong. When I could focus long enough to sort my thoughts, I knew that Simon had left only because he believed I didn’t want to be with him anymore. He thought he was doing me a favor. He thought he was fixing things. But the why was buried under my fear, which just kept shouting: He left you! He doesn’t love you! He left you!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fear is a bastard.

In yet another bizarre twist, on this awkward, small talk filled Saturday morning, we also needed to go rent a U-Haul to fetch the remainder of the furniture we’d stored at our best friends’ house. Moving furniture together is an admittedly odd reconciliation activity. (Note: I do not recommend). But we dropped the kid off with said friends and headed out for a day of furniture relocation.

Odd task aside, sitting in a U-Haul truck next to Simon (without the kid anywhere in earshot) allowed us to talk openly and honestly for the first time in probably over a year. The stark reality that Simon could leave (and would, if he didn’t feel like the relationship was serving both of us well) knocked the anger and resentment right out of me. And not in the way that fear robs people of their fight. I wasn’t angry or resentful anymore because I’d been presented with a real, viable exit strategy. For the first time since Simon told me he wanted to/needed to transition, I felt like I had a choice. And I made my choice. I chose to stay. Because that’s what I wanted.

It was amazing to look at Simon (probably for the first time ever) and feel completely awash in love. I mean I was smitten. I was all hand-holdy and lovey. And I was driving him batshit. Because these ways, they are not his ways. But he understood. And he held my hand. And told me he loved me, too (for the 400th time).

We talked about difficult things. We talked about how to start over. We acknowledged that we needed to bring our best selves to this reconciliation—whatever that looked like for each of us. I asked questions I was scared to ask. He trusted me enough to answer me honestly. It felt real. Like communication. Things felt possible again.

It was in the middle of this hard but good conversation that we pulled up to a red light at Memorial Drive. I didn’t see them at first, because I was looking at Simon. But his eyes got wide. He looked excited. Like, kid picking out a puppy excited. And he said, “Are those LLAMAS?!?” And sure as shit, I looked across Memorial, and there were 15 or so llamas being led around a small enclosure. Outside a bar. In intown Atlanta.

Some people find signs in rainbows or floating feathers. Ours came in llamas. Because the pure joy that those llamas brought Simon wouldn’t have even been possible a day or two before—not with all that baggage we’d been carrying around. But now, he could be as exuberant about those llamas as he needed to be. Unfettered. Because now we’d both made a choice we could live (happily) with.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Viator.com (image has been altered)

Revelations

After the yelling, the tears, the panicked confusion, I was left with only the stark reality: Simon & I were unraveling. This family I’d poured my heart and soul into was disintegrating—and I couldn’t do or say anything to stop it.

I was in a whirlwind of rage and pain by the time my best friend swooped in to rescue me for a few hours. I needed desperately to get out of the house. Simon & I had tried being quasi-normal for Jane. But being around Simon felt like the most exquisite agony. I loved AND hated him. I wanted to be near him AND to cast him to the outer realms of space. I wanted to reconcile AND move on with my life—alone.

Bets pulled up in front of my house, and I jumped in. I really didn’t care where she took me. All I wanted was to get away from the nagging, gnawing pain. But, really, what was I going to do to escape it? I’ve been sober for years. And that means I don’t drink. Even when my marriage falls apart. Even if the world explodes. I. Do. Not. Drink. But a best friend, one that’s known you for over twenty years, offers her own kind of comfort. And it’s a damn good kind. So, I felt safe and loved while I sipped a latte and my world fell apart.

She let me rage on and on. I said ugly things. I cussed. I developed new uses for cuss words. And then, I’d spin on a dime and talk about how much I loved him. How I’d always known we were right for each other. And I cried when I told her that the thing I’d been most sure of in my life was Simon’s unending love for me. But, really, what I’d been sure of all those years was that Amy loved me. Simon and I had been on pretty rocky terms. And, truly, what had I given Simon to love about me? Sure, I’d stuck around. But I’d been resentful; I’d constantly harped on my attraction to women; I was supportive enough—I supposed. But, who wants to build a life on something that’s just barely “enough”? I heard myself telling Betsy how much I wanted a life with Simon, how much I loved him… and, yes, how desirable I found him… and I wondered if he knew any of that. Things were, I realized, completely fucked to hell.

As Betsy dropped me off at my house, she left me with only one set of instructions: Do not beg him to take you back. In 2001, Bets had born witness to my alarming downward spiral after a particularly bad break-up. She was doing her level best to ensure I didn’t head right back down that path. I assured her that I would not beg. That I was done begging, pleading, and negotiating.

I walked slowly through the house—the house that was ours, that would no longer be ours, because there was no more us–got in my bed and laid down. I turned on Melissa Etheridge’s Skin (which, incidentally, is a pretty solid break-up album) and tried to sleep. I dozed off, and when I woke I felt incredibly calm. For about five seconds. But even during the calm, I knew something was wrong. Something I should be upset about. And then I remembered. And it was like breaking up all over again. I couldn’t take it. I absolutely could not sit with the pain for one second longer.

So, I did exactly what Betsy told me not to do: I went out to the living room and sat down on the edge of the couch. Simon sat up immediately to ask what was wrong. Like he’d been waiting for me.

“I don’t understand,” I sobbed. “How can it just be over? I love you so much. Why don’t you love me?”

“I do. I do love you,” he said. He pulled me close to him and held me while I cried. “I don’t want it to be over either.” I cried on him a little while longer, afraid to move. Afraid to breathe. Afraid to break the spell.

Finally, I wiped tears off my face and looked at him. “Then why did you leave?”

He sighed. And for the very first time since things had started to fall apart, I could see that maybe this wasn’t as easy for him as I’d thought. He was hurt. “I thought you and Jane would be better off without me. That you’d be able to move on and be happy. That I was just weighing you down. I don’t want to just be just some concession you are making. That isn’t good enough for either one of us.”

Oh my God. No. Was that what he thought? Of course, that’s what he thought. Really, he would have been a fool to think anything else. But I’d been wrong—wrong that I could take or leave our relationship, wrong that I wanted to date other people (read: women), wrong, wrong, wrong. And now I knew it. I laid my head on his chest and cried. “No. No. I’m not better off without you. I love you. I want you. I want to be with you.”

“I want that, too.”

All my life, I’ve craved that one moment where life plays out perfectly, just like in the movies. Where love prevails despite the odds. Where what seems impossibly broken magically mends. Where love wins.

Truthfully, I’d given up on those moments. Believing in them had caused me lots of heartache, had held me back so many times when I should have cut my losses and moved on.

But this time, oh this time…

I finally got my moment. The moment where I got everything I dreamed of. Just like that, he loved me, and we were us again.

 

(But nothing’s ever really that easy, is it?)

 

Flux

Life is constant flux. Knowing is transitory. Grasping destroys even the most beautiful things.

When Simon transitioned, I knew—knew down in my bones—that this would be better. For him. For our family. For Jane. But that knowing clashed against my belief about who I was—defined largely by being a lesbian. I couldn’t conceptualize how I could be gay and be with Simon. People often rail about being put into a box—they don’t want to be labeled. But I did want to be labeled. I’d worn this particular label (lesbian) for over 20 years. And I was pissed that someone would try to snatch that away from me. I felt betrayed by Simon’s need to be himself. Because that self wasn’t what I’d signed up for.

Everything I wrote about that summer—two years ago now—was true. We did reconnect in meaningful ways. Our physical spark returned. We fell in love again.

But all the while, I felt off-kilter. Like I was lying to myself. I didn’t know if I could be married to a man. Because I didn’t want to be. I’d married the person I wanted. Now she was gone. And in her place was this guy—who looked like her, who both was but was not the person I fell in love with. My everyday life was a total mindfuck.

Angry. Sad. Betrayed. Lonely. Scared. All of this I felt with varying intensity, all the while cheering Simon on through his transition. Which was never about us (it couldn’t have been; it shouldn’t have been). Simon transitioned so he could live, really live, his own life. Which left me to figure out how my lesbian self—fit into this new life of his. And how he fit into mine.

More and more, I was convinced that he didn’t.

I crafted the life I wanted to live. I built it up brick by brick, carefully constructed to fortify me in case of disaster. Because disaster loomed large any time paused long enough to evaluate our situation. Which wasn’t often. Emotional survival became the ultimate goal.

When shit went wrong (like, really, really wrong), my fortification didn’t do jack to protect me. I felt vulnerable. Crushed. And searingly lonely. Everything I’d believed to be true for more than 13 years suddenly felt like a lie. A complete fabrication. I couldn’t breathe.

But I could see clearly.

I saw that grasping at a label—even one that served me so well for so many years—was destroying me. I finally saw the person standing in front of me—and he had real needs, fears, desires. Those had both everything and nothing to do with me. When I could just see us standing there—me and him, stripped of labels, and free to choose—then I knew that I wanted him. Not in that sure, we’ll stay together way. But in an I choose you way. Not you are good enough, but you are ALL that is ever going to be good enough.

So I chose him. And in the choosing I found freedom.

Resilience

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“We are going to move away from the only home you’ve ever really known,” we said.

“Okay,” she said.

“We know that you’re leaving behind friends and family. It’s okay to miss them, and its okay to cry.”

“But I will get to live in the same place as my best friends. And their moms. And we love them so much. So, it’ll be okay,” she said.

We said goodbye. To the house. To family. To friends. To our house.

“I am sometimes sad saying goodbye,” she said. Then she cried broken sobs that shattered my heart. I held her until she was done. She dried her eyes, looked up at me and said, “But it’ll be okay.”

We made the long trek from Tampa to Atlanta and arrived in our new (temporary) home after 11p.m. Nothing of hers had made it here yet, except a few favorite toys.

“I love sleeping in my sleeping bag next to you, Mommy. It’ll be okay,” she said.

The next morning we got up bright and early; the three of us walked to one of the most stellar breakfast spots in Atlanta. She ate a pancake, which she declared the best she’d ever had.

We set out to walk home and she burst into tears. “I miss everyone,” she sobbed. Her Bobby held her until she was done. “It’ll be okay,” she said, “as long as I can ride on your shoulders home.” So she did.

We sent her off to spend time with her best friends and their moms, the ones she loves so very much. She declared that definitely much better than okay.

We explored this big, beautiful city, and her eyes grew wide with wonder. “This isn’t like Tampa,” she said. “But I think I like it okay.”

We found our new YMCA, and I signed her up for camp. She cried before we left he apartment on her first day—something she has never, ever done. She didn’t want to go. I sympathized. I cajoled. And then I finally insisted she go. She looked so small when I dropped her off, there in this new place with new people she didn’t know. When I picked her up, she got in the car and yelled, “Today was the best day ever!” So, I guess that means it’s okay.

She is 5. She’s full of enthusiasm, optimism and a flair for the dramatic. And she’s not afraid to feel things. Not sadness. Not joy. Not even fear. She names her feelings for what they are, feels them, and then lets them go. She is amazing. Adaptable. Resilient.

She is making Atlanta her home, day by day. She has friends at camp. She can’t wait for Kindergarten (just another week and a half!). And she loves the friends she already had here. She is joyous and aglow when she is with them. And I am so grateful to have a child that does not shrink from living her life.

And she is definitely okay.

 

 

Grace, Unexpected

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On Tuesday morning, Jane and I barely made it out of the house on time for school. Getting ready in the mornings involves some pretty stellar teamwork—and when I say teamwork, I mean that Jane is responsible for getting her own self dressed & ready to walk out the door. It each girl for herself before 9 a.m. in this house.

Jane spent a large portion of her morning obsessing about the princess ring that she’d gotten out of the treasure box at school. She couldn’t find it. She thought perhaps I might know where it was—and apparently she thought my answer might change on the 101st time she asked me. I did not know where her ring was, not the first time or the 101st time. But she was undeterred. She needed to find that ring.

Galloping Gumdrops! Her ring was right where she’d left it: in her booster seat. (No, I don’t really say Galloping Gumdrops. But we’ve been reading a lot of early reader chapter books, one of which was rife with exclamations like “Salamanders & Salutations!” and “Peonies & Princesses!” I suffered greatly. Thank you for sharing my burden.)

I was distracted on the way to school, making travel plans, finding the perfect song on the radio. The usual. We got to school; I turned around to look at my precious 5 year-old singing along with the radio in the backseat.

And suddenly, shit got real: “Jane, WHERE is your backpack?” “Uh oh. We must have left it at home. “WE must have left it at home?! No, WE didn’t leave it anywhere. YOU left it at home. Your backpack, your responsibility.” I sighed loudly, for added emphasis. Because 5 year olds are especially susceptible to exasperated sighs.

Then I looked down at her. She looked crestfallen. And I realized that I could teach her about natural consequences and personal responsibility, or I could offer her a little bit of grace. Grace won. I squatted down so I was eye level with her, and I said, “You did something that was irresponsible. But YOU are not irresponsible. You made a bad choice. But YOU are not bad. You’re a great kid; I totes love you.” She threw her arms around me and whispered in my ear, “You’re a good mommy. And I’m very sorry about my backpack. I won’t leave it again.” And then she grabbed by hand and pulled me inside the preschool, like she does every morning.

I could recount the boring conversation we had about consequences for the next time (which I’m sure sounded pretty much like the teacher from the Peanuts to her); but most important was that she seemed to understand that we all make mistakes. And our mistakes don’t define who we are.

Fast-forward to Tuesday night: I made (pretend) BLTs for us. Simon was out of town, so Jane & I were enjoying just paling around. We were cutting up about something silly, when I heard a popping. I kind of ignored it. But then I heard it again. It was coming from the kitchen. The intrepid adventurer that I am, I went to investigate.

HOLY SHIT, BATMAN!

Instead of turning off the grease that I’d cooked the (pretend) bacon in, I’d turned it on high. The stove was glowing red & radiating heat. The grease was just pre-flashpoint. It was already smoking. I almost panicked (What do I do for a grease fire? OH MY GOD, I AM GOING TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.) I grabbed the pan off the stove & stood there for a minute indecisively. I wanted to get it far away from the heat source.

Amid all this, Jane is staring at me, looking perplexed and a little concerned. “What is it, Mommy? What’s happening?” Honestly, these aren’t usually my best moments of parenting. If I feel that hot sting of shame, like I’ve really fucked up… well, I usually get snappy, dismissive or mean. But I didn’t. Because I just finished reading Daring Greatly, where Brené Brown talks about Minding the Gap (between our aspirational values and our practiced values). I tell Jane all the time that people are not their mistakes, that we can all use a bit of grace… but that means nothing unless I practice it with the person I am least likely to offer grace: myself.

So, I chose vulnerability. I put the pan in the sink (no, I didn’t put any water on it. I at least remembered that much from Home Ec. And I remember how to sew a stuffed unicorn. I can’t wait to see when that comes in handy). I looked at my worried kid and said, “Mommy made a mistake. I wasn’t paying enough attention, and I did something that could have put us in danger. I am sorry about my mistake. I feel bad about it. But we are both okay.”

Immediately, she walked over, hugged me and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. We all make mistakes. You just made a bad choice. You are a good mommy. I love you.”

Well Caterpillars and Catshit, she DOES listen to me. And this is wonderful, and frightening, and a bit overwhelming: she watches me. She waits to see how I act, because that shows her what I really value. That morning she received grace, and that evening she freely returned it. She knew I didn’t expect perfection from her; when I was vulnerable enough to admit to my mistakes, she let me know that she valued my honesty and vulnerability over perfection. Kind of amazing, really.

And, grace aside, we are both pretty happy I didn’t ACTUALLY burn the house down.