That First Cup of Coffee

I love mornings: the sun’s slow, upward climb; the quiet; the COFFEE. But I don’t wake up perky. It’s a little fuzzy in my brain first thing in the morning. And I’m real sleepy until that first cup of coffee.

I love mornings: the sun’s slow, upward climb; the quiet; the COFFEE. But I don’t wake up perky. It’s a little fuzzy in my brain first thing in the morning. And I’m real sleepy until that first cup of coffee. Here’s a visual representation of my mental state first thing in the morning:

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But that’s fine. Because Simon sleeps later than I do. And after a cup of coffee (and a quick browse through social media), I’m all like this:

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But there’s one wild card in this morning situation: JANE. Jane wakes up like a shooting star every morning. She hops out of bed and greets the world with all the sunshine, rainbows, and sparkles she can muster. It’s A LOT of perk. Trust me.

And she gets up early. Really early. 6 a.m. early. Even on the weekends. I know. I know. I’ve tried to reason with her. She just can’t help herself. She’s SO EXCITED TO BE ALIVE.

So, when it comes to forging a bit of quiet time for myself in the morning–and believe this: I am a MUCH better mother after that first cup of coffee–I have to get up early. 5:30 a.m. to be exact. That gives me half an hour to wake up in the relative quiet (the dog snores, so there’s that) before facing the day (and other people).

Years ago, this was my everyday practice: up before the kid so I could have coffee and be charming and whatnot. But Jane & I, we know each other well. So well that sometimes it’s uncanny. (Like I really think sometimes she can read my mind. I wish I was joking. SO not joking).

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Jane can sense when I get up (the squeaky hardwood floors probably clue her in, too). When she was young, and not yet as familiar with the ways of the world (and the moods of her mother), she used to come in and climb on me when I was trying to have quiet time–which by it’s very nature is child-free time.

But this morning, I heard her get up. And slam her bedroom door shut. And slam the bathroom door shut. (She means nothing by all this slamming. It’s just her way). Then I heard her stomp into the kitchen like a baby buffalo, where she commenced slamming cabinets making her lunch.

And never, not once, did she venture into the living room where quiet time had commenced. She did not bother, pester, or annoy. She did not ask to cuddle, tell a story, or launch into a million questions about the day ahead. She just let me be.

When I wandered into the kitchen to greet her, I was all full of sunshine, happiness, and good-mother-vibes. Because coffee. And love.

All of this is apropos of pretty much nothing–except to say that the children, they are trainable. Don’t give up. Just keep loving them, redirecting them, and drinking just as much coffee as it takes.

 

This is My Life, Right Now.

This is my life, RIGHT NOW. Because, good or bad… it’s fleeting. I’ll just stay where my feet are & take it as it comes.

On Tuesday after school (and immediately following a two hour long playdate with one of her besties), I scurried Jane in the door to change clothes so we could head to a dine-out fundraiser for her school. A bunch of her friends & their parents planned to go. So, even though I wasn’t going to eat there (I had plans with my own bestie later on), I was going to earn my Gold Star for selfless motherhood by taking her into an incredibly chaotic dining situation.

Apparently, martyrdom doesn’t look good on me. Because, when Jane emerged from her room and declared herself ready, I turned around to find her wearing chickens.

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No. Not that kind of chicken.

You see, what had happened was… sometime during the summer (when it is in the mid 90s and humid as hell everyday because THE SOUTH), Jane bounded out of her room dressed for camp in leggings. As if it were Fall.

WHA???

Now, usually I can get down with the Natural Consequences of (stupid) behavior. But when one of the Natural Consequences might be heat stroke, then that’s just a hard NO from me.

I told her to change. She freaked the fuck out had a different opinion. As we were discussing this, Jane’s Bobby came flying out of our room (where he’d been sleeping because it was only 6:30 a.m.) and asked what the tussle was about. He was planning to rescue me by a) listening to Jane, then b) telling her to pull herself together and do as her mother says. (Because he’s an excellent co-parent).

Except that Jane was all worked up and Bobby was still half-asleep, so she’s explaining herself and he interrupts and says, “You want to wear CHICKENS to camp?!”

I died. Right there. CHICKENS!!

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Since then, we’ve had approximately 1 TRILLION battles about wearing chickens at the tail end of summer. And I know we’re supposed to pick our battles. But hell if I didn’t pick this one. So when she rolled out in chickens AGAIN, it was the last straw.

“Oh, no,” I said slowly, sizing her up. “You did NOT.”

“This is what I’m wearing,” she said, staring back at me in her defiant 7 year old way.

Aw, naw… now its a CHICKEN THROWDOWN.

“Bring me all the chickens. Every last pair. And I swear, if you somehow find a chicken I didn’t collect and you put that chicken on, I SWEAR I will make you take it off and I will march out of this house and find another kid to give that chicken to. DO YOU HEAR ME?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she mumbled. Because even when she’s acting like an asshat, she remembers to say “yes ma’m.” (Because THE SOUTH)

So, now I have a pile of chickens leggings in my closet, awaiting October 15th (when Jane may once again take possession of her chickens).

THIS is my life, right now.


On Sunday morning, Jane asked me if I would take her running on the Beltline. Sunday morning was cool and beautiful, and I loved that she asked… so I took her.

I let her set her own running goals. I ran beside her, cheering her along. She smashed every goal she set. And she sprinted at the end of each run–so fast I couldn’t keep up with her. We made folks on the Beltline giggle, with my cussing under my breath trying to catch up with my lightening quick 7 year old, and her absolute glee at beating me on every sprint. (I did get close once, though. I swear.)

We stopped to take pictures a couple times. I wanted to preserve everything about that unexpectedly amazing Sunday morning. I was just so proud of her. And she was all sunlight and happiness. It was the best, most purely wonderful time with my sweet kid.

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THIS is my life, right now.

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.

 

 

7 Reasons to Love Seven

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

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

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

 

What more could I have asked for?

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

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

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

7 Reasons I Love Seven:

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

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

She’s seven. And seven is magic.

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.

 

 

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.