Detours

I run to explore and discover. Sometimes I get lost. And sometimes I take a detour (which which turns out to be more like a metaphor for life than you might think)

I’ve been exploring my new neighborhood on foot. While running. As I do.

Before I carried my iPhone everywhere, running a spontaneous route presented a challenge for me. Because I was likely to get lost. Very likely. But now I’ve got a handy map, right in the palm of my hand.

Sometimes I consult it. Sometimes I don’t. (And then sometimes I totally misread the damn thing, but that’s a conversation for another time). Right now, I’m in a non-consulting phase–because I’m learning to navigate, and sightseeing, and meeting folks… you know, just getting the lay of the land.

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How I feel about running (and living) in East Atlanta.

Today, I ran up to a fork in the road, hesitated for a minute, then went straight ahead. But I immediately knew I’d chosen wrong, that straight ahead wasn’t the way I wanted to be going at all. So, I u-turned & reversed course. I ran through a lovely part of the neighborhood, quiet with lots of trees. And–miracle of miracles–I knew exactly where I was the whole time. (We’d considered buying a house in this part of East Atlanta and had driven through this neighborhood at least half a dozen times (likely more) in our deliberations.)

I came out of the neighborhood exactly where I expected to (if this doesn’t seem like a revelation, then you must not know me IRL). But what I didn’t expect is how far off the original road (the one where I’d decided not to run straight ahead) I’d actually be. It was further than I’d thought, and the whole right-at-the-fork-instead-of-straight detour added over a mile to my run.

That’s the thing about detours–they take you off your planned track. Sometimes you’re better for it–better run, better marriage, better life. And sometimes, you just don’t realize how far from your original route the detour (that seemed so small) will take you. Or how long it will take you to get back to where you want to be.

My life has excelled at detours. I’m practically valedictorian of detours. But, when life tosses me a detour, there’s really no choice involved. I just have to take the path, look for new things to appreciate along the way, and learn the lessons life’s about to hurtle at me.

But when I get to choose my path, I’m a deliberator. Because I want to know that the detour is worth the extra mile, the unexpected hills, all the challenges of an unfamiliar terrain. I like the life path I’m on. And I respect the shifts that even small choices can bring in my life. So, in the face of a detour, I try like hell to get quiet enough to hear my. inner voice (God… the Universe… whatever) guiding me. And Good LORD am I a talker, so listening is a cultivated skill. But still, I’m learning that the more I listen, the more I know.

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There’s no rule against being cool in my Run ATL shades WHILE I listen. 

Parenting is Hard AF

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

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

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

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

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

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

So far, so good.

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

Ahem.

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

“Now, close your eyes. And take a…”

“I DON’T WANT TO CLOSE MY EYES.”

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

“I DON’T MEDITATE.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

My 7 year old blew me off.

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

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

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

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

And then I can saddle up for another day.

Spiritual Progress (rather than spiritual perfection)

I got sober in AA. And, after a lot of years of kickin’ it on my own in recovery, I returned to AA. Because I’m kind of in love with the seeking that a lot of folks are doing as they work their program. That energy, the drawing closer to a higher power, is where I want to be.

Virgo – Sometimes what saves us becomes toxic if we hold on to it. Thoughts, people, potions, food… get rid of what you’ve had your fill of. Even if it still smells good.                  —@leahtrox

Ooof.

Alright, truth time: I’m struggling hella hard with Christianity right now. Not in a theological sense. Theological stuff fascinates me but doesn’t shake me. No, I’m struggling with the Christian church. It’s a struggle that found its genesis in 1994, when I realized I was queer, and hasn’t let up much since.

So, what does a girl who was raised in the church, who is a big fan of Jesus but feels a bit skeeved by most of the folks who follow him, do? At various points in my journey, I’ve been able to jump whole-heartedly into the church vibe. But now, even with a church I love and admire—that really lives into social justice and mercy, that IS what I believe Jesus wanted his followers to be—I am struggling to fit.

And I’m just not sure I should any more.

I’ve always kind of rolled my eyes at the spriritual not religious folks. But that’s a more accurate descriptor of my current state of being. I’m in recovery, which I talk openly about (because openness saves lives when it comes to addiction). I got sober in AA. And, after a lot of years of kickin’ it on my own in recovery, I returned to AA. Because I’m kind of in love with the seeking that a lot of folks are doing as they work their program. That energy, the drawing closer to a higher power, is where I want to be. It feels like work. But good, honest work. Like meditation. It’s all kinds of hard. But it’s worth it. Managing a spiritual program of recovery iswork. And it’s work I’ve been doing all along (I wouldn’t be sober without it). But now it feels like work I need to do in community to push myself to do better & dig deeper.

And I’m not saying folks aren’t doing that at church (especially at my church, because I KNOW they are). It just isnt’ resonating with me in this place I’m in right now.

So, what’s my hang up? Why don’t I just step back quietly from the whole church business and be done with it? Why am I even still pondering this? Because of my kid.

It’s always been important to me to raise Jane in the church. I want her to have an unshakable foundation—an understanding that God made her, adores her, seeks communion with her without condition. I’ve always felt like, even at my lowest, my belief—deep down—that I was loved by God saved me. Doesn’t she deserve to have that touchstone?

Sometimes what saves us becomes toxic if we hold on to it.

But here’s some deeper truth: I didn’t really have any sort of meaningful relationship with my Higher Power until I got sober. Church didn’t teach me about God in the way that shapes my life now. AA did.

It’s so complicated, this question of how not only to impart something I hold so sacred to my child but also to find my own place of ease. Everything about parenting is complicated & joyful simultaneously… that’s the mystery & magic of it all.

I’d love to hear your (complicated) thoughts on spirituality & religious tradition and how you share that weighty and sacred stuff with your kids. But no hellfire & brimstone bullshit. I grew up with it & have had my fill. Just light & love welcome here.

 

Photo Cred: Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

My Brain Picks Battles for Me

My brain picks battles and wages them solo. And it’s a real crap judge of character. So, I’m taking back the reins.

When something goes wrong (as things tend to do. This is life, after all), I instinctually view the situation as conflict. For instance, if a perfectly lovely handyman didn’t get all the way to the edges in a few spots when he painted the ceiling…well, he must be trying to get away with something. He must be taking advantage of me. He didn’t paint the ceiling properly at me.

I immediately make it a Big Thing in my head. I have imaginary conversations in which I make valiant attempts to stand up for myself. Or I jump to the final dire consequences: small claims court, Judge Judy style.

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All the while I feel victimized. And that sucks. Because victimization = powerlessness.

But, amid the chaos of my thoughts–and it’s hella chaotic up in here–somehow I managed to remember something about vengeance and attack thoughts from A Course in Miracles:

What I see is a form of vengeance.

[This] idea accurately describes the way anyone who holds attack thoughts in his mind must see the world. Having projected his anger onto the world, he sees vengeance about to strike him. His own attack is thus perceived as self defense. This becomes an increasingly vicious circle until he is willing to change how he sees. Otherwise, thoughts of attack and counter-attack will preoccupy him and people his entire world. What peace of mind is possible to him then? 

(Lesson 22, Workbook for Students, ACIM)

The basic theme here: cut that shit out. Because who wants to live their life in constant battle? Not this girl.

So, I tried a different tact (in my own head, of course. All of this is going on in my own head. Apparently, I don’t need other folks to create conflict. My own brain does it for me. Rad.). I assumed best intent. I assumed that, instead of not painting the ceiling well at me the dude just needed to do a little touch-up. And that, instead of trying to get away with something, maybe he just hadn’t noticed because his head had been craned back like an open Pez Dispenser all day long paining my ceiling.

And just like that, all the fight left the situation. Because I wasn’t bringing any fight to the situation. I was just observing a lack of ceiling white paint on the edges of the–ahem–ceiling. But, let me tell you, an observation and a battle are two totally different things.

He knew, by the way. He knew he’d have to touch up the ceiling. And he did. With no complaints. No battle. And no Judge Judy involved.

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Lessons from the Lake

I lived in Florida my whole life (until 2 years ago), and I swear I never experienced Florida the way my kid does. She loves boats, tubing, kayaking. She really embraces lake life, mosquitos and all.

Yesterday, my kid took me tubing for the first time. Which is really just skimming and bouncing on the top of the lake at very high speeds. She’d done it a dozen or so times before. Me… not so much. Okay, okay. Not at all. Not ever.

I lived in Florida my whole life (until 2 years ago), and I swear I never experienced Florida the way my kid does. She loves boats, tubing, kayaking. She really embraces lake life, mosquitos and all. Before I met Simon’s family, I could count on one hand the times I’d been on a boat. Jane’s been on the boat more times that that in the month of June alone. So, yeah… Florida’s real, real different for her than it was for me.

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Back to the tube…

We’re sitting in this contraption that is more cushy lounge chair than tube. Simon assures me that Jane and I are NOT going to fall out. But we take off and suddenly it feels like we are flying across the water. I’m giggling maniacally and at the same time muttering “Shit. Shit. Shit.” under my breath. Jane looks… I don’t know… amused? Terrified? I can’t tell.

She leans closer to me and says, “It’s a little scary sometimes.”

Now I’m all Mama Bear. “Are you scared?” I ask, fully intending to make them slow this shit down so the baby isn’t scared.

“Mommy,” she says sternly. “I’ll worry about me. YOU worry about yourself.”

Well, there’s a life lesson if I ever heard one.

My water-buddha-guru kid eyes me, sizes me up, and says: “Mommy. If you start to fall off, just let go. It’s so much better that way.”

#TruthBomb

When did this kid get so wise? And so grown. She can really handle herself around the boat (and the archery set, for that matter) in a way that impresses the hell out of me. I admire her confidence and her independence.

Later on, Jane told Simon that she doesn’t want to tube with me any more. BUMMER. Bu, apparently, I bring her down with all my worrying. Touché, small person. Touché.

I’m going to work on letting go. It’s so much better that way. 

 

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.

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