I Love You More Than Littlest Pet Shop

Jane is an easy child to parent.

There. I said it.

By nature, she is kind, warm, independent, curious, and fun. We exchange I love yous like trading cards—each one more fantastic than the last.

“I love you more than peanut butter.”

“Well, I love you more than my new Shopkins backpack.” (that is SO MUCH LOVE right there, y’all).

Sure, we have our tussles (like when she asks me what something is, I tell her, and she says, “No, it’s not.” WTF, kid?? Then why did you ASK me???) And she constantly brings down a torrent of parental wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the chaos that is her bedroom floor. But she’s an easy kid, and I know it.

Here’s what I also know: being a mother is the toughest challenge I’ve ever undertaken. Because you’ve gotta bring your whole self to this mothering gig. Your BEST self. And that’s tough.

She sees me. Really sees me, in a way that almost no one else does. Sometimes I swear she can read my mind. Which means, there is no hiding my reactions from her. So I damn well better be on my mental A-game all the time.

For me, that translates into: no negative self-talk, offering apologies when I’m wrong, radical acceptance of my body, prizing strength (of body & spirit) over beauty, laughing at myself, and being honest about what I know and what I don’t.

I suck at all these things.

BUT… I am approximately one TRILLION times better at them than I was 6 and a half years ago.

I’ve considered all the things I want her to be when she grows up… then I’ve tried to become all those things myself. Because, let’s be honest, I have no control over what she will choose as an adult. All I can control is my influence on her now—how she sees me live my life.

So, I am passionate about social justice. I look for the best in people. I ask questions about the whys of people’s behaviors, instead of just making assumptions. I see great beauty and pain in the world—and try not to shy away from either. I dance for no apparent reason. I sing loudly in church—even though I’m confident that Jesus is the only one who appreciates my singing. And I pursue my passion—even when I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to write—because I want her to one day feel fully justified in pursuing hers.

Jane makes me a better person. Every day.

On the morning of her first day of First Grade, I sighed as I redid her braids three different times. She stood there in her brand new navy uniform dress (the one with the ruffle on the front & the bow in the back) and complained of boredom. I rolled my eyes because the braids wouldn’t stay in right. But we both stuck with it—because Jane has tremendously well-honed sense of self. The braids were an important part of her first day outfit, the way she wanted to present herself in this new chapter of her life. And I want her to live into her vision for herself. I wish I’d known who I was at six years old.

She went to school brimming with excitement, self-confidence, and hope. She will rock First Grade. I’ll cheer her on—through both the super-amazing stuff and the not-so-easy stuff. And I’ll hold on to the hope that, one day, she’ll look up to me as much as I look up to her.

 

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Practically Perfect in Every Way (photo credit: RM Lathan)

 

 

Saying Yes to Sloth Backpacks (& dreams)

On July 1, I embarked on my biggest writing adventure yet: a novel. I’ve wanted to write a novel since I was 8 or 9 years old. This obsession coincided with my newfound love of Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew was my hero: independent, smart, determined. I wanted to write something like that–something that would make a kid not want to put the book down until the very last page.

Then I made a mistake. I let an adult in on this dream of mine. And, as adults sometimes do when they think they’re just being pragmatic, this adult laughed and said, “But what are you going to do to earn money?” For some kids, this nay-saying would’ve only made them more determined. But I was a pleaser. And my self-esteem was shaky at best. So, what I heard is, “You may love writing. But you don’t have what it takes to make it. Go find something attainable. Something that doesn’t require any real talent.”

Even as I got older, when it was clear that I could write–that people enjoyed reading what I wrote–I stuck to academic writing. I can’t do creative writing at all, I’d say as if it were totally no big deal. And then I’d make some offhand quip about how I’d let other people write the stories, and I’d just critique them. Which, you know, denied my own dream, belittled an entire profession, and also managed to be self-deprecating. I was a piece of work.

But this dream wouldn’t let go of me. It was determined, even if I was not. I tried multiple career paths… communications (at least I got to write sometimes), writing instructor (maybe the dream would just shut it if I taught someone else to write. Hundreds of someones. Nope.), children’s ministry director (what the f…?!?). But, on a transAtlantic flight back from Paris, I got real with myself (I mean, hell, I had time… what else was I going to do for 7 hours?). I admitted that I would not be happy, could not be happy, unless I was writing. What that looked like could be negotiated. But the writing, that was non-negotiable.

A few of my friends took a chance on me and hired me to write for them: blog posts, technical papers, web content. I loved every minute of it. Because I was creating something. Something that wouldn’t exist without me pouring my heart & soul into it. I’m so grateful that I get to do client writing all the time now. And I’m so grateful to my friends for believing in me.

But that dream….writing a novel… it wouldn’t stop nagging at me. I found NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a few years ago, through Facebook I think. And I intrepidly started a novel last November. Which I quit in the middle of. Because it was hard. Oh, and that’s right around the time my marriage was falling apart. So, you know, my creative focus was a bit out of whack.

But this July, I found Camp NaNoWriMo. I don’t know if it’s because it’s called “Camp” and that made it sound fun (read: non-intimidating). Or if it’s because I had characters living inside my brain that were dying to get out… But I started a novel. And I’m 6,999 words away from completion. And every minute I’ve spent writing it is like living a dream. A dream I’ve had since I was 8. And any time a voice has tried to tell me I can’t do it, or that it’ll suck, I’ve told it to SHUT THE HELL UP.

I’m doing it. And I’m madly in love with my characters. I even bought the very same backpack that my character, Rowan, has. Because I feel like she’s with me all the time. Might as well be backpack twinsies.  (And, besides, sloths are cool.)

I wish I hadn’t spent years believing a lie about myself. I deserve to live into this dream. At the very least, I deserve to give it a chance. A real chance.

I’m almost there. And it feels really, really good.

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)

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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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.

 

 

You Don’t Like the Buzzer?

IMG_2051When I signed Jane up to play basketball this winter, I had no idea how much I’d learn. And my learning had little to do with the game itself and much more to do with resilience and joy and kicking perfectionism in the ass.

Our family belongs to the YMCA. Consequently, at the tender age of 5, Jane has already played soccer (multiple times) and tee ball. She’s taken swimming lessons, done gymnastics on and off since she was a wee tot. Our theory falls into the try-everything-and-see-what-sticks method of choosing a sport. So, when I signed her up for basketball, it was just something else we could see if she liked.

Oh, sweet baby Jesus, she was awful at it.

The first practice, she had no idea how to dribble. Which I thought would be fine. In the other sports she’d tried, no prior skill was necessary at all. Hell, a decent percentage of the kids ended up playing in the dirt or chasing bugs during the soccer and tee ball games. But what I’d failed to consider is that this wasn’t the “baby league” anymore. This was the 5 & 6 year old league–and they were serious.

She had two practices before her first game, during which she kinda-sorta learned to dribble once or twice before the ball would simply hug the ground. The first game left her completely bewildered. She was supposed to defend (which she’d never heard of before), to dribble (which she couldn’t do), and make a shot on a rebound (what?!?). She basically stood still in the middle of the court, halfheartedly followed her team around, and tried to look like she was part of the action while staying entirely away from the action.

And then it happened–the buzzer went off to signify the end of the period. Sweet girl was lucky she didn’t pee her pants, it scared her so bad.

I was sure she’d want to quit after the first game. Jane is a known perfectionist. If she isn’t sure she can totally rock something, she usually loses all desire to participate. But not so in basketball. In fact, she loved it. She constantly asked to go outside to practice her budding dribbling skills. She loved practice, and stayed more engaged than I thought was possible given her lack of basketball skills.

She loved something she was awful at.

I’d love to say I fully embraced her enthusiasm. But my ego was a bit wounded watching her look constantly confused on the court, seeing her struggle to pick up the skills that seemed to come easily to the other kids. And I was afraid–afraid the other kids would make fun of her, that they wouldn’t want her on the team. I was terrified they’d be mean to her and crush her spirit.

So, instead, I almost beat them to the punch by constantly offering “helpful” suggestions, by insisting she focus, by criticizing her efforts when she was already giving it all she had.

And then one day at practice, I noticed how much fun she was having. How she continued to try, even though she couldn’t execute the drills perfectly. My perfectionist kid wasn’t perfect–and she was okay with it. In fact, she seemed oblivious to it. And I realized I was watching her develop resilience–which is arguably a more important skill than dribbling.

Her basketball picture reminds me of joy and resilience in the face of imperfection. And it gives me so much hope for the woman that she will one day become, a woman who doesn’t have to be perfect to live life wholeheartedly and with great joy.

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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