Just Do You. Brilliantly.

I sort of threw Jane in dance so I’d have an extra day to work past 2:30 pm. She seemed to like it. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if Jane likes an activity or just likes hanging with her friends. I don’t begrudge her that. I like to hang with my friends, too. And if she’s hanging while she’s doing pirouettes or what-the-hell-ever, so much the better.

My kid loves to perform. Singing? Oh, the girl sings. It’s like living in a musical in our house. Acting? She recreates scenes from movies, shows, the play they performed at school—all the time. Playing the piano? She practices without being asked. She’s seven. WHO IS THIS CHILD?!?

Dance, though. Dance is one of those after school activities that I sort of threw her in so I’d have an extra day to work past 2:30 pm. You know, more like a normal person. She seemed to like it. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if Jane likes an activity or just likes hanging with her friends. I don’t begrudge her that. I like to hang with my friends, too. And if she’s hanging while she’s doing pirouettes or what-the-hell-ever, so much the better.

Yesterday, Jane had her big dance recital—in front of the whole school. Let me stop right here. I would have lost my shit if, at 7 years old, anyone had asked me to do anything in front of the entire school. Hell, I’m 42 years old, and the idea of standing up in front of almost 600 elementary aged kids makes me want to puke. But Jane, she was excited. So excited she thought she might EXPLODE, she informed me later.

I love and am fascinated by this child in equal measure.

Jane knew every single move to the tap dance. Of course. She knew every move, but something seemed off. She was doing it right. But she didn’t seem to be feeling it. The little girl next to her was living this dance.

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Jane, not so much. She was doing it right. But it looked like it was taking every bit of her concentration. She was not one with the dance.

My first instinct: “Well, we can cut this out of the rotation next year.” I mean, we can only do so many activities. Dancing isn’t her strongest showing, so I thought… eh, we’ll try something different next year.

On the way to the car, I ran into the owner of the dance company. We chatted about how much Jane enjoyed the class. Then I mentioned that Jane seemed to be struggling to connect the moves, that dancing didn’t seem to come easily to her. The woman’s expression softened: “How wonderful that she embraces something that pushes her out of her comfort zone. She keeps pushing, even though it’s hard for her.”

Oh.

Right here is why other loving, supportive adults are crucial in child-rearing. Because obviously having Jane do something she doesn’t excel at is a great idea. It teaches perseverance and empathy (not everyone can be good at everything, after all). And the experience itself far outweighs the importance of tap dancing like Shirley Temple.

I’d gotten schooled about my own kid. It was humbling.

But this lesson about experience over performance is one I’ve already had to learn. Jane’s experience in dance mirrors my experience in running. I am not a great runner. I will never qualify for Boston. I rarely place in my age group. I might place third in my age group—if only three people my age run the race. I have friends that I’d love to run with. But I can’t. I’m not fast enough. Can’t keep up.

Nevertheless, I love to run.

For a brief moment, I almost let the fact that I’m not very good at running push me out of the sport. I got real caught up in times and placing in races and PRs. And it stopped being fun. Because I was trying to be a runner that I’m not. That sucks.

So why should Jane be a dancer she’s not?

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I tell Jane all the time that exactly who she is is enough. It’s perfect, in fact. Whether she’s the best dancer on the stage matters not a whit. I want her to do what she loves–to do her best, soak up experiences, and just be herself.

I run.

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She dances.

And we’re both brilliant at enjoying the experience.

The Riddle of Motherhood

Mothering is sacred work. I pour every ounce of goodness & light I have into this child. But what about the broken parts of me that need mothering, too?

Mothering is sacred work. I pour every ounce of goodness and light I have into this child:

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And she deserves it all. Every bit of it.

But so do I.

Inside me, there are broken bits that still need a good deal of mothering. I am in recovery, after all—and I certainly didn’t end up in recovery because of my stellar coping skills or my superb choices. I ended up there because my spirit was crushed, and I was trying to hide that pain from the world, but mostly from myself.

I’ve committed a good deal of this past decade to mending my broken spirit, to making amends—to myself and to other people–and to moving past regret into whole-hearted living. And, for the most part, it’s been a brilliant success, this thing called living my life. I’ve been lifted out of that dark place into some dazzlingly sunshiney place makes me feel hella grateful every day.

But still.

Sometimes I am hit by a memory of something I did or said that lands like a gut-punch. And I’m engulfed in regret. Or sometimes I’ll make a mistake—an honest one, born of nothing but good intentions with maybe a mix of a little carelessness—and the questioning of my worth will commence. Sometimes I still brush up against the parts of me that remain fractured, that threaten to break under the strain of life, memory, hurt.

And I do the same thing with myself that I would do with Jane. I embark on the sacred task of mothering. It really is the only way out. I turn all that kindness, compassion, and love back onto myself. I’m gentle with myself when prodding the parts that hurt. I give myself the grace to make mistakes, because I am learning. I reassure myself that my worth isn’t born out of my deeds, but out of the sheer fact of my existence. I was created from the divine, remain a part of it, and am inherently worthy of love.

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I tell myself the very things I tell Jane.

I say them because they are true. True for her. True for me. True for everyone.

The sacred work of mothering doesn’t always have to do with birthing or raising children. It is about helping the world heal a little bit at a time, starting with yourself. It’s nurturing. And loving. It’s seeing in other people something beautiful, special, divine—and knowing the same magic exists in you. It’s giving love freely–and learning to finally, finally accept it in return.

 

 

Just Breathing Out Lovingkindness Over Here

So I told her to make her own damn sandwich. (Note: I did not actually say damn out loud. But I said it real, real loud in my head. I think she could probably hear it) She huffed and puffed while she made her sandwich. I took my coffee and my English muffin to the other side of the kitchen, where her huffing was muted by the snorting of the dog.

This morning was a shit show.

There. I said it. It has now been said. Shit show.

It’s not really Jane’s fault. Not entirely.

I mean, she was glaring at me like she’d gone and lost all her good sense. My mistake? Offering to make her sandwich and put it in the green container.

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL. NOT THE GREEN CONTAINER.

Apparently, she preferred the pink container. Which she let me know by stomping on the floor. And glaring over her shoulder.

So I told her to make her own damn sandwich. (Note: I did not actually say damn out loud. But I said it real, real loud in my head. I think she could probably hear it) She huffed and puffed while she made her sandwich. I took my coffee and my English muffin to the other side of the kitchen, where her huffing was muted by the snorting of the dog. (She’s a boxer. Short snout. Sometimes breathing = snorting)

My kid’s stomping, glaring, and huffing. My dog is snorting and banging into me trying to chase her toy. Me? I’m serene. Breathing out lovingkindness.

Okay, really, I’m ignoring the hell out of everyone around me, focusing on my coffee, and trying my best not to lose my shit.

But here’s proof miracles happen: I did not yell. Not once.

Miracle before 8 a.m.? Check.

And now, annoyingly, I feel like I need to be thankful, because even though this morning was 60% sucky, by the time I dropped Jane at school we were laughing & singing “Armadillo by Morning.” (It’s not a typo… we really do sing “armadillo” instead of “Amarillo.” Whatever. we think it’s hysterical.)

Yesterday morning did not go nearly as well.

What the hell’s going on over here? Yeah. Simon flew the coop this week…something about a work trip, yada-yada-yada. What I heard: “I’ll be gone for almost a week. Good luck managing our kid who becomes a complete asshat when I leave town because she misses me so much. Huzzah!” That’s just a paraphrase, though.

Jane & I are managing. But I’m adding this to my ever-growing list of reasons I’m glad that Simon & I stuck out this marriage thing: He’s a kick-ass Bobby. And Jane loves him so much.

So do I. (But seriously, if I hear one inkling about a work trip any time soon…)

3 Lessons from Loss

I don’t think about her often, this baby that would’ve been my second child. But sometimes the missing of her will sneak up, unexpectedly. Sometimes.

I knew, when I lay back on the table, that they wouldn’t find a heartbeat. Even though I still felt sick all day, every day, I knew it was over.

I physically ache when I remember that moment, the silence that filled the room where the whoosh-whoosh of the heartbeat should have been. I don’t think about her often, this baby that would’ve been my second child. But sometimes the missing of her will sneak up, unexpectedly. Sometimes.

I wanted this baby. I’d planned for her ever since Jane was born. And when she was gone, this wanted, planned for, and (already) loved baby, I got smacked not only with overwhelming sorrow but also with the isolation that so often accompanies miscarriage.

And holy shit was I mad.

I was mad that other people seemed to get pregnant so easily. Unplanned pregnancies? Those really pissed me off. And God? Oh, he was in deep shit with me.

I gave myself permission to feel all these things. And, oh, I felt them.

Then, slowly, some other (less rage-y) things began to emerge:

  1. I understood my grandmother more deeply. She lost a child in 1955. A stillbirth. And she grieved that baby. Flowers made their way into my grandmother’s house every year on March 16th, Neva Jane’s birthday. She kept the only pictures of Neva Jane in a little box in her closet. She showed them to me one ordinary afternoon when I’d come to visit from college. In that exchange, I finally saw how much she loved that baby that she didn’t get to raise. It shocked me, the magnitude of her love. And it changed me. So much so that when my little girl was born, I named her Jane.IMG_6014
  2. I realized what a gift my sweet Jane is. It took us two years to get pregnant with Jane. In total, I’ve been pregnant 4 times. I believe Jane fought mightily to get here to be with us. She is my against-the-odds child. And I have been blessed by her and taught by her since our very first interaction (But good Lord, don’t tell her that… she’s bossy enough already). Instead of losing myself in anger about what could have been, Jane led me toward celebrating what IS. And what IS is amazing.14782989940_937a33caa9_o
  3. I saw how shitty our culture is at dealing with loss. I had one friend, who I’d been in daily contact with, ghost me when she found out I miscarried. Apparently, my loss was too painful for her to process. Also, platitudes? They suck. Things do NOT always happen for a reason. It was not God’s plan for me to lose a child. I think God’s plan was more like crisis management… like he was collecting guardian angels to try haul me through this loss. Not planning the death of my child. Because, uh, what kind of God does that? Not one I’m interested in. We can do better than ghosting and platitudes. But it takes opening ourselves up to sitting with people as they grieve, to holding space for their grief. It is emotional work. But it is balm for those who are suffering. The folks who did that for me gave me a place to start healing. And for that, I am very grateful.

When I went to my grandfather’s funeral in south Georgia this weekend, I went to see Neva Jane’s grave. I stood there for a minute, honoring her brief presence in this life. And thinking of my grandmother, who taught me that it’s possible grieve and live a beautiful life–at the exact same time.

Saying Goodbye to My Grandfather

Sometimes grief feels more like empty space. A vague longing for what used to be. It’s a nagging sort of sadness, one that I keep trying to reason away. But reason and grief have never been particularly compatible. So it goes.

My grandmother used to get up before the morning light got strong and bright to make my grandfather’s lunch. He worked at a paper mill, full of chemicals that would eventually make him sick. But back then, my Granddaddy was full of life. Boisterous. Hair combed back neatly. Brut aftershave lingering after he hugged me. I loved him. Very much. It always felt so complete, his love for me. Never lacking in anything. Completely devoid of expectation. Just love, the way love really ought to be.

When I was small, probably about 6 or 7, my grandmother would take my little sister and I to play on the playground just outside the paper mill. It felt special somehow, to be close to granddaddy’s work. Like we were doing our part to support him while he worked hard. Even if he didn’t know we were there. Or maybe he did. Maybe he could always be sure I was close by, loving him real strong. Maybe he could feel that love even inside that big paper mill.

It’s been a long time since I was a little girl. My relationship with my grandfather changed over the years, for complicated reasons. But when I found out he died, the first thing I thought of was that he’d returned again to love—to the man who went to the kitchen each morning to grab his lunch pail, kiss my grandmother goodbye, and tell me he’d see me just a little later on.

See you a little later on, Granddaddy.

 

*The photo is of my mother & my grandparents, who had the absolute best nicknames for each other: Butch & Snoot.

Living with What Is (in Pugs & in Life)

I’ve finally, finally learned that, if I’m struggling, it’s likely because I’m trying to deal with what I wish was, instead of dealing with reality. If strapless dress had been dealing in reality yesterday, I wouldn’t have gotten chased down by a pug.

I set out for my run late yesterday afternoon. It took some convincing—some internal bargaining—but I finally won the argument with myself, laced up my shoes, and bounded down my driveway and up the street. I made it three blocks before I was accosted by a pug. That’s right. A pug.

“Stella*! Stella!” I heard someone yelling. Not frantically. Just as if Stella, whoever Stella was, might need some help refocusing her attention.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a wiggling, snorting black blur headed right for me. I heard tags jingling and quickly surmised that Stella wasn’t a wayward child. She was a dog. A dog with a keen interest in me.

I kept going as Stella ran as fast as she could (which really wasn’t all that fast) after me. By now, her person, who’d been sitting placidly on a blanket on her front lawn, was trailing Stella. I stopped. Because I am full of mercy.

The woman jogged up wearing a long strapless dress with a shabby chic floral pattern. Her hair was swept up in a bun. She was apologizing profusely. With as much good-will as I could muster, I assured her that it was fine. She tried to scoop up her dog, who by now had actually gotten distracted and was headed in the opposite direction in a sort-of-speedy mosey, if you will. Honestly, the way pugs move kind of defies description.

About this time, the male significant other of the woman in the floral, strapless dress walked out on the porch. He immediately started fussing: “Bring her back inside. She’s going to run right into traffic. Why do you have her out here anyway?”

I immediately got it: this woman wanted a lazy afternoon, laying on a blanket in the beautiful Atlanta spring weather, with her dog snoozing beside her. But this dog wasn’t the snoozing kind. By the guy’s reaction, I’m not sure the dog had been outside—like maybe ever. Certainly not to while away the day on a blanket in the sun.

Girl, I thought, you’ve got to learn to live with the pug you’ve got.

Oh. My. Lord. YES.

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we all learned to live with the pug we’ve got? You think you don’t have a pug? Hold up.

Maybe your pug isn’t ACTUALLY a pug. I’ve had lots of pugs:

 

My personality: Probably about the 100th time I got scolded for being overly-sensitive as a kid, I started to wish I was different. Not so sensitive. I saw my sensitivity as a character flaw. My feelings always seemed so outsized. As I got older, I tried to take the edge off my BIG feelings with alcohol. Yeah. That worked brilliantly. (Not really.) But, after I got sober and sorted some things out, I began to embrace my sensitivity instead of fighting to change it. Now, I can see that it’s my sensitivity that allows me to connect with people and form relationships quickly. I got to reap the benefits of this oft-denigrated personality trait when I learned to live with the pug I’ve got (instead of numbing, or fighting, or denying).

My relationship: Do not tell Simon I called him a pug. But, for real, I increased my suffering exponentially when Simon transitioned by pining for what was instead of embracing what our relationship had become. I wanted to be married to a girl. I mean, I had been. Kind of. Not really. It was confusing. But I liked being a lesbian. It was a label I felt comfortable with, one that had described my reality for two decades. Now, suddenly, I was married to a guy. A real cute guy. But I just kept wishing for something different. I couldn’t even see Simon, for all my wishing for something different. Know what, though? When you don’t face the reality of what you’ve got, you risk your pug running out of your front lawn and right into traffic. Fortunately, I learned to live with the pug I’ve got (and embrace the hell out of that pug) before things fell apart. It was a close call, though.

My kid: I know, I know. I write about my kid’s utter amazingness all the time. But when Jane was in preschool, I wrung my hands constantly over her being a follower instead of a leader. She had this frenemy that seemed to have complete sway over her. Jane and this frenemy would gang up on the other little girl in their dysfunctional triad. Then, later on in the week, the frenemy and the other girl would be mean to Jane. I was in a tizzy. Was I raising a mean girl? Why couldn’t Jane take control of this situation? But, in order to address the frenemy situation in a meaningful way, I had to learn to live the pug I got. So, I started addressing Jane just as she was, at 4 years old, instead of addressing the 17 year old I hoped she’d grow into one day. I looked at the ways she was hurting. I saw her confusion and frustration. Once I clearly saw reality (the places she needed to be built up, the character traits that needed positive reinforcement), I could deal with Jane as she was. And you know what? She still talks about the lessons she learned from that first frenemy relationship.

I’ve finally, finally learned that, if I’m struggling, it’s likely because I’m trying to deal with what I wish was, instead of dealing with reality. If strapless dress had been dealing in reality yesterday, I wouldn’t have gotten chased down by a pug.

Maybe we could just all agree to try a little harder to learn to live with the pugs we’ve got.

 

*Name changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

 

Photo Credit: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

How Reading Fuels the Resistance

The Temple of My Familiar is my favorite Alice Walker novel. I’ve read it several times. I’ll read it several more, as you do with the pieces that really speak to your soul. I find a bit more of myself every time I pick up that novel. The discovery is never painless, by the way. Just like it isn’t painless for her characters. But the work is worth the truth & liberation it offers.

Last night, Alice Walker and I hung out. Okay, so there were some other folks there, too–approximately 300 of them. But, unsurprisingly, Alice Walker made me feel as though she was speaking directly to me. So, like I said, Alice Walker and I hung out last night. She talked. I listened.

“The work you do in the world is your legacy.”
–Alice Walker, Agnes Scott College, April 22, 2018

I occupy a place of privilege, as a white person on the United States. That privilege is one that I didn’t understand until relatively recently. But now, navigating that privilege–and ultimately dismantling it–seems inherently tied to the work I do & the legacy I will leave.

Raised up (well, in college at least) on works by primarily white feminists, I quickly identified my own oppression at the hand of the sexism and misogyny that runs rampant in the United States. But I didn’t grasp the ways in which women of color deal with layers of oppression–sexism, yes… but also racism, sometimes classism. I didn’t understand the ways that white feminism often leaves women of color behind, failing to address their issues–sometimes failing to even include them in the conversation at all.

Enter Alice Walker.

The Temple of My Familiar is my favorite Alice Walker novel. I’ve read it several times. I’ll read it several more, as you do with the pieces that really speak to your soul. I find a bit more of myself every time I pick up that novel. The discovery is never painless, by the way. Just like it isn’t painless for her characters. But the work is worth the truth & liberation it offers.

The very first truth I took from The Temple of My Familiar was that, as a woman, I had to consider all women in the struggle for equality. In fact, that novel pushed me to see that I needed to fight for the liberation of all people (men included).

As one does with truths they aren’t quite ready to reckon with, I filed that knowledge away to be applied later.

Fast forward 20 years…

I do believe that the work that you do in the world is your legacy. 

And I am ready to work.

I didn’t just get ready on my own. I had a push. On a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in 2016, I sat and listened as Andrew Joseph’s father shared the story of his son’s death at the hands of negligent law enforcement. A black child dead. And no one held accountable.

That afternoon, something shifted for me. Before that, my responsibility–as I understood it–was simply to raise my child to know right from wrong, to be a good and decent person. But, coming face to face with another parent’s pain introduced me to a greater responsibility: to raise my child with an awareness of the joy and pain in the world and to give her tools and a voice to fight injustice and to demand equality–for everyone.

Living in Southeast Atlanta puts me in close proximity to both the beauty and struggle of being black in America. I’ve discovered–through experience–that living in community with people who are not all just like you cultivates empathy and understanding. Creating community takes more than just saying hey as you pass each other on the street. It’s working side by side on community issues. It’s navigating hard conversations. And (if you’re white like I am) it’s knowing when to listen (instead of speak).

I have come to understand how much our liberation is bound up in each other. And that I must fight for an end to systemic racism (and homophobia, and transphobia, and anti-semitism, and islamophobia, and xenophobia, and toxic masculinity), just as I must continue to speak out against the sexism that plagues American culture.

Recently, at a friend’s house for dinner, we heard our kids chanting something from the next room. “Where do they learn to do that?” I wondered. My friend laughed: “It’s all those marches you take your kid to!” Huh. Maybe it is. But, really, it’s Alice Walker’s fault.

Alice Walker’s work, her words, her activism have changed the way I think and move through the world. She challenges me to see the world beyond my own little sphere–to fight for the humanity and dignity of all people. All while celebrating who I am.

Pretty heady stuff. But it’s also the making of a legacy.