Whoa.

Oh my gosh! I am so excited right now. I have been waiting for this moment for two days. Thoughts, words, and ideas have been swimming in my mind, begging to be called forth into my blog (insert big smile). And now, it is time.

So, I’m taking another online class through the Brave Girls Club – this one is called SOUL RESTORATION. I’m really really behind in the class. Like, I’m on week 6 (of 8 weeks) and I think it ended a month or so ago. That doesn’t really matter. At all. BUT, I had to mention it because the lesson for week 6 – No Shame, No Blame – came at the perfect time for me, during this week in my life. I love it when that happens. Incidentally, the project assignment was to create a timeline. A timeline of my life!

I love timelines.

I took this picture to give you an idea of what the timeline looks like.

The Accordion Book Timeline of my life!

The timeline takes shape over the span of an accordion book. I wouldn’t have had a clue how to make an accordion book on Tuesday, but now I know.

Before I tell you more, like why I am so excited, I need to make a confession. I am IN LOVE with the Brave Girls Club. This is how the Brave Girls describe themselves “Brave Girls Club is a worldwide community of women who want to live the best, happiest, most productive and fabulously brave life they can possibly live…and that means something different to every single one of us.

First of all, I LOVE places and people who recognize that being ANY ONE THING means something different to every single one of us. It’s one of those things that makes me go “DUH” but really, let’s be honest, not very many entities are all about honoring that one singular word can mean a whole lot of different things to different people. Right? I love it when I find a place or a person that does, because it makes me feel very warm inside. Sometimes living a brave life means getting out of bed in the morning. That can be very brave. And sometimes, it means saying a final good-bye to someone we love. That requires a hell of a lot of bravery. Trust me. I love that no matter how I define brave on any given day, I can still be a brave girl. It takes me back to the days I pretended to be Pippi Longstocking in my backyard. Oh, how I loved Pippi!

Second of all (is that a legitimate phrase?), The Brave Girls Club has given me the HUGEST gift ever. I had forgotten how much I love to be covered in glue and paint. I forgot how much I love to cut things out of one thing and create something new on another thing. The online classes are all about doing all that and so much more, meaning I am in Soul Searching Mod Podge Scissor Paper Acrylic Paint Heaven. I never thought I’d have time for something like this, you know, since having children, but I find the time in secret places. Like when I’m supposed to be doing laundry. It’s all good.

So this is why I am excited… in the process of creating my timeline, I came in contact with one of the great truths of life. This is big. As is typical for me, this is not the first time I have encountered this particular truth, but seeing it come alive in the form of my LIFE packs a lot of power. The truth hit me in the face this time.

Here it is: The truth of who you are does not change.

This comes compliments of Melody Ross, my class instructor, who I also adore even though I have never met her. Weird, but true.

Closer-up of the beginning of my timeline.

Closer-up of the middle of my timeline.

Closer-up of the end.

This is my favorite part, I think. I made a little book on the timeline! I included a picture of me with each of my children on the day they were born. Love.

As I glued the bottom part of the timeline, my dates and ages, to the book, I started thinking about all the different things that have happened in my life. It’s a lot. What I found is that my darkest of dark days took place over the course of about four years. Four? FOUR! Four of (almost) FORTY?! That is nothing. What is it? 1/10 of my life? I couldn’t believe it. From those years, which were very formative years in their defense, I created a whole story about who I was from then until the end of time, and I went back to that story in times of trouble. The sad thing is, it wasn’t really a true story. See, I’m not really, truly a drunken school-skipper just because I’ve been drunk. And skipped school. I assigned all kinds of meaning to what kinds of people do the things I did and they were really bad people. Therefore, according to my logic, I was a really bad person. Yikes. I know.

So then, when my second son was born very ill and he survived and thrived and we all moved on, life got hard for me to handle. Looking back, I know I didn’t deal with the trauma of his birth and his recovery from his illness properly. I didn’t recover from childbirth properly. I stuffed all my grief and fear and pain and sadness. I didn’t fully address the questions I had running through my mind – like, “did I somehow cause my baby to suffer…?” because I thought I really was responsible and I didn’t want anyone to find out (in case you are wondering, I was not at all responsible for my son’s illness…). I was so incredibly elated to bring him home from the hospital that I had to believe all is well that ends well.

And, secretly, I was so afraid that someone might try to take him back. It is unnatural to give birth to a baby and not be able to hold him, to cuddle him, to nurse him, to examine his little body parts, and to get to know him and fall deeply in love with every inch of him on the day he is born. It is unsettling to have someone tell you that you cannot touch your baby while he is hooked up to machines and looking so helpless, like he needs to be touched. After experiencing all that, and finally getting Alexander home where he belonged, I didn’t want to risk losing him again. When I made mistakes, like all parents do, I was SO HARD on myself. I drew from those four dark, formative years and said things to myself like, “of course you can’t handle a child, you couldn’t even make it to class on time in college…” Things like that. And other mean things I don’t even want to mention.

Two quick years later, my daughter was born! It all happened so fast. It took everything I had to make it look like I was keeping it all together – three kids, a home, a husband, etc. I didn’t come up for air. I looked really happy on the outside, but on the inside I was torturing myself with the same awful messages I had come to know as the truth about me.

Then, my dad died. It all came out. Every little bit of grief, pain, guilt, shame, and fear that I had been stuffing in neat little packages and storing in my soul. It bubbled up and out of me. Fortunately, I had graduated with a Master’s degree in Social Work and read enough self-help books to know that when all those old scripts surfaced, something wasn’t right. To feel the love that I felt from the people I knew and loved and respected and admired, I knew I had to be worth something. Since then, I learned that I have been the same bundle of love and light that I was on the day I was born ALL ALONG. I am not my mistakes or even my victories, none of those things that I do define me. The truth of who I am does not change.

Likewise, the truth of who you are doesn’t change. That’s why I was so excited. I just couldn’t wait to tell you that, just in case you didn’t know, or you forgot, or you knew but would like a reminder. As sweet Melody says, “no matter what mistakes you made, no matter how others have hurt you, no matter what happens, the truth of who you are does not change.”

It was a huge realization for me to see that I let those four little years of being lost and a bit broken define me into adulthood. Ugh! But that’s okay because I like me now and I wouldn’t be who I am had I not taken that journey.

You don’t need Mod Podge or acrylics, but do make a timeline. Or, at least consider the possibility that you are giving all your power to one little blip in time. You are not that blip. The truth of who you are, which is all the good stuff, does not change.

YAY!!!

Rockabye Sweet Baby James

Ten years ago today at 6:39 a.m. a new baby boy, James Hodges Oginsky, was born. At the very same time, a new mother was born. That was me.

There are few things as precious as holding your newborn baby for the very first time.

That afternoon my husband – Dan returned to our little bubble of newborn euphoria after going home to take a shower. He burst into the room and said, “Our son must be a poet!”

Why? I asked.

“Because everything is in full bloom!” he responded.

I imagined the tightly closed tulip buds in front of our house. It was our first Spring there. I had no doubt that the tulips bloomed just for James. I would not be at all surprised if his first act on earth was to make the tulips bloom. I can still picture the bright yellow tulips welcoming us home from the hospital a couple days later. We listened to Sweet Baby James by James Taylor as we pulled into our neighborhood. We were so excited. As brand new parents, we had no idea what we were doing and I don’t think we cared.

So, I have been a mother for just about 25% of my life. This is the longest I’ve stayed at any job.

Motherhood thrust me into the fullest expansions and contractions I’d ever known. Before James was born I buried a lot of emotions deep inside my soul. I tucked all that was unpleasant neatly away. I learned that some things were better left unsaid. I decided that some feelings were meant to be kept to myself. That approach to life didn’t serve me well in motherhood. Suddenly, my emotions knew no bounds. Once our sweet and healthy Baby James arrived complete with all working parts, I could not contain my joy. At each and every one of his milestones, I beamed with pride. I soaked up everything he did in pure delight. I lived more fully and I felt more deeply. I expanded. And, I also contracted. I remember sitting at home with James, just the two of us. I was exhausted. I had never been so tired in my entire life. My bones were tired. I felt depleted. I was spit upon, sucked upon, and pooped upon. Dan and I were in a competition to see who was doing the most with the littlest amount of rest. Neither of us seemed to be winning. I had heard about motherhood from my friends. They said it was AMAZING. That told me that becoming a mom was the best thing they ever did. I wondered why my friends lied to me. It was hard. I was tired. Sometimes I wondered what I had gotten myself into. I shrunk into myself whenever I could, trying. Desperately. To conserve. Energy. I think being a mother is a lot like breathing. Sometimes I take deep, deliberate breaths, expanding my lungs to their fullest capacity. Sometimes I hold my breath, waiting, wondering what is yet to come. Sometimes I am out of breath. Most of the time, breathing just happens. I eventually learned that my friends didn’t lie to me about motherhood. It was everything they said it was. But, it is hard too.

About a month after I found out I was pregnant, the Twin Towers crumbled to the ground. In as much as I was overcome with joy when I learned that I was growing a baby in my belly, I was paralyzed with fear on September 11, 2001. I remember lying in bed with Dan the night of 9/11, wondering how I could bring a baby into such a violent, hate-filled world. I was mortified.

A lot happened in ten years. First, of course, Sweet Baby James was born. Dan worked a lot. James and I stayed home playing with trains and watching Oprah. I had a miscarriage. Dan took a new job and the three of us moved into a new home, closer to that new job. Another baby was born. And then another. My dad passed away. I fell apart. We got a dog. I put myself back together. We moved again. Over the last ten years Dan and I built our family. We were happy for the most part. We laughed. A LOT. We cried a lot too. The first day that James was to ride the school bus to kindergarten, Dan and I walked him to the bus stop. James walked up the steps to the bus and he didn’t even look back. Dan and I went home and cried together on our loveseat. Dan cries at most movies. I cry all the time. Our kids cry. Even the dog cries.

The last ten years seem so full to me. Then I think about other people and what they have experienced…getting married, getting divorced, fighting illness, beating illness, running big companies, starting small businesses, leaving jobs and finding new ones. Moving across the country. Moving overseas. Losing loved ones. Giving birth and adopting babies. It is all happening at once. We are all expanding and contracting in our own ways.

I have vivid memories of my labor with James. That could be because I’ve heard Dan retell HIS version of the story so many times. In his version, I slept through labor and POOF! The baby was born. In my version, he slept through my labor. Truth be told, he snored through my labor. When it was time to push, I woke him up. I put on some deodorant. We may have even brushed our teeth. I pushed.

The doctor asked if I wanted to feel the baby’s head.

I screamed, “I CAN FEEL THE BABY’S HEAD!” (this is true in both versions) and then POOF! James was born.

I remember how scared I was when we learned that James was jaundice. I had no idea what that meant, but it didn’t sound good. He had a little box in my hospital room where he bathed in fake sunlight. He wore infant sized sunglasses. Having to put him in a box instead of holding him seemed like the end of the world to me. Then, when our second son, Alexander, was born, he had his own little box too. In the NICU. He was in a medically induced coma for days. Then, that seemed like the end of the world to me. We didn’t hold Alexander until several days after his birth. We left him in his little box when we went back to our room at the hospital hotel each night. It didn’t feel right. All the images I had preconceived about the happy days after Alexander’s birth were blown to bits. James welcomed his baby brother enthusiastically. He stroked Alexander’s little head and whispered brotherly wisdom into his ears. And then there was Sophia. I don’t think anyone will ever dare to put our little Sophia in a box. The fact that the two very same people can have three very different children will never cease to amaze me. It happens ALL THE TIME, but still, how does that happen?

One thing that all three labors and deliveries have in common is Dan repeating to me, “Don’t push back. Let it flow through you…” That relaxed me. Well, you know, as much as one can relax when she is trying to give birth to a baby. Because I have to hear something several times before it finally settles in, he had to say that a lot. He keeps saying it, in fact. Of all the words of wisdom I’ve ever read or heard (and if you know me, you know that this would amount to many, many, MANY words of wisdom), I think this simple mantra is one of the most powerful. Don’t push back. Let it flow through you.

I never really imagined myself as a mother. Sure, I was a nice girl, but I’m not sure I was all that nurturing. I didn’t babysit a lot of kids. I wasn’t a camp counselor. Mothering didn’t come naturally to me. I distinctly remember the first time I ever helped a baby to fall asleep. It was during one of my volunteer shifts at a shelter for battered women and their children in D.C. The baby was crying. I waited for someone to make him stop. It didn’t happen. I picked him up and held him close and bounced a little, like I had seen the moms at the shelter do. I even patted his little diaper coated bottom. He stopped crying right away. After awhile I looked down and saw that he was sleeping and I thought for sure a miracle had taken place. I think that was one of my proudest moments ever. Soothing someone to sleep may seem like a small task, especially if you do it every day, but I still believe it is one of the most magical, miraculous acts of humankind.

It is almost unimaginable to think that the tiny infant I held for the first time ten years ago today was the James I now know. He reads before bed each night. He usually turns off his own light. Could this be the same child who didn’t sleep through the night until he was 18 months old? He doesn’t always order from the Kids Menu at restaurants anymore. He makes his own breakfast. It really does go by so fast.

It is a profound privilege to grow a person. It is simply astonishing to listen as a small child, my child, assembles sounds, then words, then sentences, and then stories. It is remarkable to watch as a baby takes command of his body. He reaches. He discovers his hands. He marvels at these hands as he learns to grasp things. He sticks his fingers in his nose. He learns to crawl, walk, run, and eventually round the bases and do a high-kick in karate.

It is a huge responsibility to grow a person too. Huge. I remember taking James to his well-baby exams. Eagerly waiting to receive professional validation of how he had grown. Hoping I gave accurate answers to the stream of routine questions. When the stats were in and all looked as it should, the pediatrician smiled and said, “Good job, Mama.” I blushed.

I don’t hear a lot of “Good job Mama”s anymore. Not that expect to. I understand that the outcomes are much harder to measure. And, really, most importantly, it’s James who is doing a good job now. He is an incredible kid. He is so sensitive. He defends bugs. He always has. Once when I swatted a bee away from Alexander’s head, and it died, James cried. We had a funeral. He has his dad’s short temper. He is freaky smart. He has a GREAT sense of humor. He believes in fairness and justice (unless it involves his Legos and his little brother). He is a lot like my dad. He even looks like my dad. When he was born Dan said, “I think you just gave birth to your dad.” My dad adored James. Tomorrow would have been my dad’s 65th birthday. It is still strange to celebrate James’s birthday and not my dad’s birthday too.

My mom sat in front of me weeping this week. She was remembering the day James was born. She said the forsythia bloomed at her house that day. She said, “do you remember that little box he was in?” I laughed. I told her I was writing about all of that. She said that she and my dad went home that morning and made a pot of coffee. Then they swapped stories about the early morning hours, when they became grandparents. I never thought I would find an adequate “thank you” for my parents, for all that they had done to support me and nurture me and help me along my path through life. But when I saw the way their faces lit up around their grandchildren, I felt like I had repaid them in a way by making them grandparents. As my mom and I talked and cried, it felt a lot like my dad was here too. He would have been crying with us, remembering the day he met Sweet Baby James.

I just thought of something. In ten years, James will be TWENTY.

And I will have been a parent for almost 2/5 of my life.

Now, THAT is unimaginable.

I thought feeding my kids was a huge responsibility. Um, how about getting a kid through puberty? And teaching him to DRIVE?

I thought sending James off to kindergarten was heartbreaking. What about COLLEGE?

Despite the fact that I’ve been a mother for ten big years, I am clearly still a rookie! I’m not real sure I am qualified to parent a tween, much less a teenager! But, then again, a lot of what I’ve done so far is to help prepare James for his journey through life. My Sweet Baby James is his own person now. If you don’t believe me, ask him. One of our favorite James stories involves Dan pleading with James, who refused to choose a favorite between rivals Michigan State University and the University of Michigan. Dan suggested that since the people who “breathed life into” James are Michigan State Spartans, James might take that into account before making a decision. Wouldn’t that be grounds enough to at least consider declaring an alliance to the Spartans too?

Not really.

James said, “But I breathe life into me now, Dad.”

Thankfully, it only took one amazing basketball season to convert James to a full blown Spartan. He rode piggyback on Dan and they jumped around the house cheering for the Spartans through the season. I loved watching James gain enthusiasm for the Spartans. Maybe it meant even more to me because it was something he chose to do. Eventually.

Perhaps the very best I can do is to be here for James, to stand by his side, and to again embrace the opportunity I have to bear witness to his growth and discovery. To give him the facts and help him to make his own interpretations. To help him with his homework. To help him get along with Alexander and Sophia. To make him laugh. To snuggle with him. To listen to him. To guide him. To protect him. To fight for him. To love him. To expand, to contract, and to make myself available, for the times when I am needed to rockabye my sweet Baby James.

James and me last night - the night before he hit double digits.

Happy 10th Birthday Buddy! I can only imagine what you’ve got in store for this world. I look forward to seeing how your story unfolds. Love, Mom

Please stop being so hard on yourself.

They eat chicken McNuggets sometimes and that doesn't make me a bad mom.

You know what’s funny? I was just sitting here thinking about how cool I am because I can honestly say that my percentage of time spent comparing myself to other people has dropped dramatically in the last year. I used to spend a lot of time thinking I was a bad mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend, volunteer, niece and so on because other women seemed to be so much better at all of it than me. Now, I don’t do that as much. Like, hardly ever. But I still feel like I’m falling short in a lot of ways. So here is what is funny: I now compare myself to an IMAGINARY Anna.

IMAGINARY Anna is a lot like me, but not so rough around the edges. All of her laundry is caught up and she makes nutritious, delicious dinners for her family every night, even on the weekends. AND, all three of her kids eat every last bite of these meals WITHOUT COMPLAINING. In fact, they tell her she is an excellent cook and make her promise to write down all her recipes so that someday they can replicate her delectable meals for their own children. She is fashion forward and she doesn’t have bad hair days. She wears high heels a lot and they don’t hurt her feet. AT ALL. She can do a yoga head stand. She never yells at her children or loses her patience. Ever. She weighs… well, let’s not talk about how much she weighs because it’s been so long since I weighed as much as she does. I can’t relate to her on that level, but I do envy her and the ease with which she buys clothing (especially bras). She ALWAYS adores her husband and jumps up to kiss and hug him and thank him every night when he walks through the door, even when it is WAY later than she expected him. She doesn’t even blink an eye when he leaves his dirty socks in random places, like the kitchen counter. She doesn’t nag. She is a saint, really. Everybody loves her. She has lots of friends. She is the President of her Book Club and she volunteers every day in each of her three angelic children’s classrooms. In her spare time, she knits blankets for cold people. She has coffee every afternoon with her mother, who is a widow like my mom, and never once gets distracted as her mother shares what is on her mind. She never says things like, “Mom, I can’t even follow you – you are ALL over the place right now!” She follows everything. She does it all. I know she is completely unreal, but I STILL compare myself to her. I think I might have been better off comparing myself to other women because occasionally I actually saw the human side of THEM and didn’t feel like such a loser.

What I’m trying to say here is, women are SO HARD on themselves!

Maybe men are too. Okay, I know they are. Sometimes. But I am not a man and most of my friends are not men so I am not as concerned about them and their well-being right this minute. I don’t hear how guilty men feel when they have to make a choice between showing up for one of their children at one event or another of their children at another event because both their children want them to show up at the very same time, but they can only be in one place at once. Did you follow that? I may have a future in writing story problems. I don’t hear how worried they are when their children are sick or sad or being treated poorly by someone at school. I don’t hear how conflicted they feel when a dear friend needs them desperately and their family needs them too. I don’t hear how sad it makes them to leave their children every morning and pick them up late at night. How they wished they could be there for every single big and little milestone their children reach. But they can’t because they have to work. And, I have never ever heard a man say he feels bad for doing something special for himself rather than spending quality time with his family.

To be clear, I am not saying, nor implying, that men don’t have the very same heartfelt concerns as women. I just don’t hear about it because, like I said, most of my close friends are other women and other moms and they are the people I hear from most often. Women are the people I most worry about.

I am putting out a desperate plea here to any woman (or man for that matter) who is reading this. PLEASE, pretty please with a cherry on the top, let yourself off the hook.

See, here’s the not so funny thing. If any one of my friends, or even a complete stranger, came to me and said, “Anna, I feel so bad for going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s last night to get dinner for my kids…”

I would NEVER say, “Wow, you’re a shitty mom. You’re so lazy. You totally should have cooked for your children!”

I would probably say, “Please. Your kids are fine. You’re fine. Let it go.” But do I ever say that to myself? Not so much. Imaginary Anna always cooks for her children. As long as I compare myself to her, I will keep feeling like a crappy, lazy mother. That is not funny. That is really sad.

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to say it again. As long as we compare ourselves to others or continue to have unrealistic expectations of ourselves, we will never measure up, and we will always feel bad about ourselves.

I am getting better at quieting the voice in my head – my inner critic – when she tells me that So and So is a way better mother than I am. Some of us are still working on that. Some of us aren’t even aware that she has no place in our heads. She is unwelcome. Kick her OUT. You work on that and I’ll work on kicking out my new inner critic who tells me all the crap that she tells me.

I know we all have moments where we feel guilty or ashamed or incapable of doing what we think we’re supposed to be doing. That is natural and normal because we are humans and humans have feelings. We need our feelings to help us move through life. Our feelings are like little street signs, letting us know what lies ahead or which way to turn. We have every right to feel guilty. But let’s not wallow in it. Let’s not live there. Let’s not let ourselves stay feeling guilty.

Let’s just notice our guilt, like a little sign saying Guilt Lies Ahead and move on, in a different direction, knowing that we are doing the very best that we can.

Then, let’s let ourselves off the hook because we are in fact doing our BEST. And guess what? Our best changes every day. Today my best is not as fantastic as it was yesterday. You know what Inner Critic, that’s OKAY. I’m OKAY. My kids are OKAY. I’m letting it go…!

I worry about each of the beautiful women I hear say, “I feel so bad about…” I worry that they will stay feeling bad and not see their very own radiance – the radiance that I see when their eyes light up when they see their kids after school each day. The radiance I see when I know they are doing the very best that they can in every possible way. I admire the way women try so hard. We do hard work. I trust it is worth it. I also trust that with as hard as it is, we don’t need to make it any harder. We can let ourselves off the hook. xoxo

Keeping it Real on Valentine’s Day

Here we are – it’s Valentine’s Day. For some it’s all about love sweet love and for others, it’s just another day. When my daughter was born on Valentine’s Day four years ago, February 14 became a permanent LOVE day for me. I’m a sucker for romance. I love chocolate. Love it! I love roses and sparkly things, and I of course love my husband, but more than anything I love this day because it is Sophia’s birthday.

That said, I’m still thinking about love today. I have been trying to imagine what love looks like? I have a few ideas…

This is a picture of Dan and me on our wedding day (August 16, 1997). This was after the ceremony in the backseat of our getaway car – the 1969 Chevelle SuperSport that he and his dad built together. His brother, Max, was getting ready to drive and my sister, Sarah, was riding shotgun. I love this picture. When I look at it, it reminds me of what it felt like to have our whole lives in front of us and all the people we loved most in the world around us. It felt like we could handle anything as long as we had each other. I was probably being goofy when the picture was snapped, but I think I look like I adore him. And he looks like he adores me. Love looks like this, I think.

Love also looks like this:

Oh my gosh, I love this picture! My sister took it last year after my niece’s birthday party. Maybe my mom took it? Anyway, I love that this moment was captured to enjoy for the rest of time. Or however long it lasts. No matter how I’m feeling, I can’t help but to smile when I see this picture. Look at it – my three kids laughing together in my arms and me holding them tightly as if nothing else matters. We are in our own little blissful mother and child utopia at that moment. It’s like a commercial for motherhood. All smiles, all laughter, all hugs!

I think love looks like this too:

Yes, I’m sure of it. This is from Thanksgiving, 2009. The last Thanksgiving we had with my dad. This picture captures the complete chaos that ensues wherever children go. We try to contain them, but they cannot be contained. Kids embody life in all of its glory, with their goofy smiles and random poses. Kids don’t worry what people think about them or whether they have food on their faces. If they don’t feel like smiling or looking at the camera, they don’t. No matter how you try to bribe them. They are impulsive and uninhibited and I love that about kids. They LIVE.

I think love looks like fun. In these pictures, love is about laughter and living and sharing and feeling connected to others. Love has its hair done, mostly, and it is dressed well and it probably smells good too. I just remembered my dad’s friend, Andy. At my dad’s funeral Andy shared that during their gigs (my dad played the guitar and Andy was the drummer), my dad would say, “We may not be good lookin’ but we’re sure looking good…!” Love looks good here.

We are BOMBARDED with images in our lives. Most of these images make love look good. In commercials and television shows and in movies we may see a glimpse or two of heartache, but mostly love looks good. And then there is Facebook! Love always looks good on Facebook. Okay, maybe not always, but for the most part, let’s be honest, with the exception of the picture I saw today of a cupid laid out flat with an arrow – presumably his own arrow – sticking up out of him and blood all around him (seriously People, why the face?), love looks good.

This is where my mama bear springs into action today, on Valentine’s Day, on Love Day. I know there are people out there, and you may be one of them, who see these images and think that what they see looks so good, beyond good, to the point where what they have in their own lives looks bad. Really bad.

So, we don’t typically post pictures of the moments, right before a wedding, when a bride might be acting a little bridezilla-ish in the dressing room, perhaps. I don’t post pictures of myself on days like today where I look like I have two black eyes because I stayed up way too late last night doing God only knows what because I hate going to bed when Dan is out of town. Concealer’s got nothing on these dark circles. I NEVER post pictures of the look on my face, every afternoon, when I am about to sit down for a cup of coffee, and the coffee is actually hot, and Sophia screams out from the bathroom, “MOM! WILL YOU WIPE MY BUTT?” And I think I might just go the opposite way, out the door, and away… To someplace warm, maybe? But far, where nobody ever asks me to wipe his or her butt. And, thankfully, I have not yet posted a picture of Sophia’s butt. And there are no pictures of less lovely grandparental moments, like when my son used to kick my dad under the table at restaurants and after about the six thousandth kick, my dad would look like he was about to blow. My son kicks me now. It’s karma for wondering how my dad could possibly lose patience with my perfect little son, while knowing full well that little kids kick hard. And, all those people on TV, well, we know by now that they are not even REAL anymore with all the millions of ways they are made-up and digitally “perfected,” so while their love looks good, it’s not REAL either.

I think this is so important to remember, as sweet spiritual beings, in our human bodies, surrounded by images that make love and life look so good and words (i.e,. “status updates”) that make it all sound SO GOOD, that what we see isn’t always real. There is a place where we can celebrate along with our friends and family members and even strangers, and that is a nice, happy place. There is another place where we begin to feel badly when we see people looking really good and hear that things are going well for them. We might feel like we don’t measure up, or wonder if there is something wrong with us because we aren’t looking or sounding so good – because while they are on a beach in Hawaii we are wiping butts in snowy Michigan. We might ask, “Why can’t I have that (that love, that family, that child, that spouse, that body, that house, that job, that vacation…whatever that is)?” That place is a little darker, a little sadder, and it doesn’t really feel good. Not at all. Sometimes we get stuck there. We might think it is our destiny to stay in that dark, sad, uncomfortable place forever.

I know now, like I have never known before, that each of us, all of us, each and every single one of us, is worthy. We all measure up. We are all lovable. I want you to trust me on this one. I may have dark circles under my eyes and I don’t love wiping butts, but I am trustworthy. I can say with all the confidence in the world that you measure up. You absolutely, positively measure up. That dark place? You can go there if you must, but please don’t stay there.

We all hurt. We all have bad hair days. We all make mistakes. We are all learning. Please tell me we all have bags under our eyes? Sometimes? We all have not so picture perfect moments. Even if we don’t share them. Even if we pretend they don’t exist. Oh, they do. Some of us lie. Some of us are fake. Some of us aren’t keeping it real. All things considered, it’s not fair to compare our worst with someone else’s best, or someone else’s attempt to look their best. You know what? It’s not fair to compare. At all. When you compare yourself to someone else, for better or for worse, your own light dims. We need bright, shining lights on this planet.

On this day, this LOVE DAY, I would like to invite you NOT to compare your love or your life or your light to anybody else’s love, life, or light. If you are wondering what love looks like, like I was. Look in the mirror! What you see there is love. Don’t look online or in magazines or in books or on television, look at yourself. YOU are LOVE. You are worthy. You measure up! You have talents and dreams and a beautiful mind that can make them all come true. You are lovable. You are a knock-out and an AMAZING soul. Love yourself on Valentine’s Day. Be your own very best Valentine. YOU are what love looks like. Take my word for it.

Me and Sophia Pearl, my little love girl.

It’s the little things

My mom and sister and I do this thing. One of us comes up with an idea. Like, let’s say we’re taking a road trip and someone says, “Let’s start a road trip journal!”

Then someone says, “If we’re in a bad mood, we’ll write in blue and if we’re in a good mood we’ll write in greeeen…and we’ll include pictures!”

And someone else says, “We have to take it on all our road trips!”

And then, “And if we forget it, we have to pay a fine!”

And then, “We’ll pool all the fine money and start a foundation!”

And then, eventually, I think to myself, “If you want to start a journal, just start the fucking journal, for crying out loud!” Because we do that too. We swear in our family. We really like the f-word.

Within minutes, we’ve taken a simple idea and turned it into something BIGGER. One might say we complicate things. It’s certainly not a bad thing to expand and expound and think BIG. But sometimes, I just want a simple journal. Sometimes, the smallest things end up being not so small after all. I’ve been thinking a lot the last few days (okay, I think a lot almost every day) and I realized that I do this thing a lot. I think of something simple that I want to try, and over time, I make it really complicated. I make rules. I develop guidelines. And eventually, I choke. My little thing has become so mired in details that it’s just too much work so I stop and I file it away with the rest of my uncompleted projects. Then I feel bad about myself for never following through. It’s an ugly cycle. I think I might be headed down that road with My Hat Trick. In the beginning, I just wanted a place to write freely, like I would write in a journal. I decided not to edit what I write. I get it all out and then I click Publish and then I go on with my life. Over time, though, I’ve come to a place where I wait and I wait and I wait because if I’m going to write something, it better be good. It should be divinely inspired! It should be life altering! And it should all be written in green!

The fact that the forthcoming declaration is more for me than for you is not lost on me. I am making it anyway. I’m done thinking. I just want to play! From now on, I will come to the keyboard like a kid being let out the doors at recess. All in, with reckless abandon. I will jump in puddles! And I won’t even think about spending the rest of the day in wet shoes. I may write nonsense. Who knows? I’m not going to think about it. Fair warning: my blog is my playground.

I attended a funeral on Thursday morning. I am tearing up just thinking about it. It was a sad day. I had a horrible headache when I got home and I went right to bed. Our amazing angel of a babysitter was with my daughter, Sophia. Sophia, who will be four on Valentine’s Day. Amazing angel had to leave to pick up the boys from school and Sophia wanted to stay with me. She crawled into bed with me. She wanted to cuddle. I was sitting up by then. She sat on my lap facing me and buried her head in my chest. Then she turned around and leaned back into my chest. Then she laid down next to me with her head on my lap. Then she fell asleep. When I looked down at her sweet sleeping face, I remembered nursing her as a baby. She looked just as she did then (she even had a huge boob looming over her head). She looked like she had been nursing and then she just fell asleep – fell off my breast, drunk with mama’s milk, to rest her sweet head. I stared at her. I played with her hair and stroked her cheek. I traced her eyebrows. I even took a picture and posted it on Facebook. It was a gift. It’s rather unusual for her to fall asleep on me these days. It’s hard to get her to sleep anywhere, actually. I can’t remember the last time she fell asleep in my arms. I felt so lucky, like a new mom, with permission to just sit and stare at my sleeping baby.

Sophia was born ten days after her due date. Yes, that’s right, TEN. Those ten days were tenuous. I had excess fluid in my amniotic sac and there was concern that if my water broke, Sophia might be in danger. Dan, my husband, took me to work with him. He was on high alert! Of course now, it all seems very funny, but we were concerned. She wasn’t even Sophia yet. We called her Lola. We had a long list of potential names for our baby girl, but I couldn’t commit to any of them. I had to see her. I wanted to meet her before I gave her her name. Three inductions were planned for Sophia. The first time: nothing. By the way, I didn’t know that could happen. I arrived at the hospital. I had pitocin, I knitted, I bounced on the birthing ball, I had a few contractions, and hours later I left with my baby in my belly. The second time I went to the hospital and Sophia was breech (since she had lots of extra fluid to flip around in) and I wasn’t really dilated and it didn’t seem worth the trouble to proceed. Sophia was born about 20 minutes before we were scheduled to arrive for our third induction appointment. I went into labor the night before and we went to the hospital. She came on her own. That is how I knew Sophia was the perfect name for her. Sophia means wisdom. Following her own wisdom, she came when she was ready. At the same time, she reminded me to trust in my body’s wisdom. Sophia’s birth was a beautiful lesson in trust and I was so grateful that the health care providers working with us believed in letting the birthing process unfold, rather than intervening when an intervention wasn’t really necessary.

Valentine’s Day is the perfect birthday for Sophia because she is a love if there ever was one. She hugs tightly, smiles hugely, and laughs from the depths of her little belly. She sings songs about whatever is on her mind. She twirls and jumps and plays with her whole heart. She embodies love and all of its beauty. She came on her day, a love day.

My sweet, sleeping Sophia.

As I look again and again at this picture, representing what was for me a magical mother’s moment with my sweet Sophia, I remember that these tender little moments are often far more life altering than anything else that might happen to me. When I saw Sophia asleep in my lap, my heart blossomed from the darkness where it hid, back into the light. I may still mourn what was lost and what will never be in my life and in the lives of my friends, but I must also be grateful for what IS and what is yet to come. Sometimes those messages seem so trite to me. I think yeah, yeah be grateful for what IS. I get it. Maybe that is why I was waiting for something bigger to share? In as much as I get it, I often forget it. I think it is the simplest messages that bear repeating. That could be why, no matter how many times we’ve said it before, we say “I love you” often in our family.

A Royal Epiphany

To be completely honest, I didn’t care much about Kate or William or their wedding. I was a little turned off by it all. I didn’t have anything against Kate or William, it was the hype. The couple, their plans, their pasts, their futures, their choices, and then all the “controversies”…the guest list, the dress, the hairdo, the speculation about all of it and what it meant. And then the speculation about the speculation. I haven’t even watched a lot of TV or paid much attention to current events lately, but somehow I knew all these things were brewing, and I decided I just didn’t care. So, I didn’t plan a Royal Wedding Viewing Party. I didn’t set the DVR to record the wedding. I didn’t set my alarm to wake up to watch the wedding. I didn’t plan on regretting my lack of interest. Worst case scenario, I’d watch highlights on YouTube.

When I returned home from the morning drop-off routine yesterday, I had a very rare opportunity to enjoy a cup of hot coffee in front of the TV (alone). I turned on the TV and sat down with my coffee and within seconds, despite my best efforts to avoid the hype, I was watching Royal Wedding highlights. Before too long, I was sobbing.

I am laughing right now because it all seems so ridiculous. So there I was crying, and of course I couldn’t just cry, I had to stop and analyze it. Why was I crying? I decided that there were two possibilities: 1) in a past life I had my own royal wedding and seeing William and Kate in HD triggered those cell memories; or, 2) I was uncontrollably, undeniably, and very unsurprisingly moved to tears. It was all very beautiful. That goes without saying, but what struck me, as I tried to figure out what was so moving, was the connection. Here were hundreds of thousands of people gathered outside Buckingham Palace to catch a glimpse of the Prince and his new Princess, maybe millions of viewers watching on TV, and then the actual couple and their true friends and family who were very clearly celebrating love and a new beginning for all involved. In every replay of each lovely moment of that day, we are connected. We are united. We are one in love.

So then I tuned in to the commentators…some British woman sharing her predictions for a dark, lonely, and difficult transformation from commoner to Princess for poor Kate. Sure William loves her, but her life is forever changed and it could get really ugly. She will need to surround herself with friends. Let’s all hope she asks Pippa to serve as a Lady in Waiting… (I’m paraphrasing). This woman was turning a breathtaking moment into mush right before my eyes. And then something clicked.

I have had the privilege of working with a fantastic life coach for the past month or so (grief therapy was great, but a girl has to move on at some point). One of the references he has made over and over is to the question of whether I will stand in choice. I have heard it and theoretically, I get it. In fact, I constantly talk to my kids about choices. “It’s okay to be angry, it’s not okay to punch your brother in the gut when you are angry, what are some other ways to deal with your anger? You have a choice… Your choices have consequences… Nobody can hurt you without your permission (Eleanor Roosevelt)” and so on. I even knew at the beginning of this journey, that at some point, I would need to make a choice about whether or not I would spend the rest of my life wallowing in grief over the loss of my dad. I would always miss him, I might often be sad, but then what? Would I be bitter? Choices would need to be made.

It sounds very simple at first, but in that moment I had a choice too. I could either allow myself to get sucked in to Lady Buzzkill’s analysis of all that laid ahead for the Royal couple, or continue to bask in the glow of the Radiant Kate and William on their wedding day. Simple. I went to the light. My epiphany though, was that this choice mirrored all the others I can make in every matter big and small. The jerk who cuts me off on the highway. Do I let him get me down? In the past I have. There have been days in my life where that careless jerk sent me on a downward spiral and I was stuck there for the rest of the day. I might have even gone as far as to blame him for everything else that wasn’t going right in my life. And then I’d have to order pizza for dinner that night because nobody could really expect me to cook in my fragile state. I was shaken up and it was all the jerk’s fault.

The jerk is just the beginning. Choices get complicated. I could go on for hours about all the injustices in the world. I am not a Saint, but I don’t get hate. I get acceptance. That is who I am. We don’t have to agree with each other, in fact it would be boring if we did, but because of that connection, that oneness that I feel with humanity, I do believe we need to treat each other kindly. And we don’t. And that hurts. I often take it personally. I don’t need to though. I can choose to let the hurt flow through me, or to be transformed by the hurt, and I can choose whether that transformation will be for better or for worse. Kate and I have at least one thing in common.

So often we allow ourselves to get caught up in the hype. Most of it isn’t even real, by the way. I am fighting the urge to run in several different directions here. There is so much to say about injustice, the media, the hype, and so on. I don’t see that as part of this journey. Not now. This journey is about creating a sense of balance in my life. Thank you William and Kate for sharing your extraordinary day with the world. We all need a little more love and light in our lives. I completely understand now, thanks to a few highlights from the Royal Wedding and Ken the Angel Life Coach, that the love and light is always available. Truly. The choice is ours about whether or not to access it. Whether or not to spread it.

Nothin’ But Love

Valentine’s Day has me thinking about love. I have always been a fan of letters and words, whether reading them or writing them, I find them fascinating. I even enjoy the sounds associated with writing words, the scratch of my pencil against paper, the flow of a wonderful pen, or my fingers tapping the keyboard.

My sister Sarah was born when I was six years-old. I was so upset when I found out that my parents gave her more letters in her name than I had. I couldn’t believe the injustice. I wanted to change my name to Elizabeth. I was desperate for more letters. So, the fact that you can say so much with one simple word – love, comprised of four little letters, l-o-v-e, is like magic to me.

I thought it would be worth consulting Wikipedia, to see what it has to say about the word love.

Love From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Love is the emotion of strong affection and personal attachment.[1] In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. In some religious contexts, love is not just a virtue, but the basis for all being, as in the Christian phrase, “God is love” or Agape in the Canonical gospels.[2] Love may also be described as actions towards others (or oneself) based on compassion.[3] Or as actions towards others based on affection.[4]

The word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure (“I loved that meal”) to intense interpersonal attraction (“I love my partner”). “Love” can also refer specifically to the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love, to the sexual love of eros (cf. Greek words for love), to the emotional closeness of familial love, or to the platonic love that defines friendship,[5] to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. [6] This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even compared to other emotional states.

My heart is all a flutter! One little word can mean so many different things! And, I can say I love Colin Firth, lattes, and my husband without minmizing my love for either one (specifically my husband). Love has no bounds. There are no restrictions on what I love or how much I love it.

In the days after my dad’s death, the thing we kept coming back to was love. I felt surrounded by love in ways that I had never experienced. My dad was a blues muscian and songwriter. In 1998 he wrote the song, Nothin’ But Love. I have heard him perform that song many times. I always thought of it as a love song in the romantic, passionate love sense. As we planned his funeral, gathering pictures and selecting music, we listened to Nothin’ But Love quite a bit and after a few days we were nodding our heads thinking “Wow, Dad is right…there is nothing but love.”
This is how the song goes:

If you’ve never had the blues, you’ve got some blues coming,
If you’ve never had the blues, you’ve got some blues coming,
You might not be singing ’em, but you’ll be hummin’ em…

Ain’t nothin’ but love, can take your blues away, ain’t nothin’ but love can take your blues away, you might not live to see tomorrow, better make some love today…

You’ve got some blues coming, you know it will be hard…
You’ve got some blues coming, you know it will be hard…
It don’t matter where you live people, the blues’ll come in your backyard…

Ain’t nothin’ but love can take your blues away, ain’t nothin but love can take your blues away, you might not live to see tomorrow, better make some love today.

My dad was right on. We will all face some type of hardship in our lives and it will be hard. And, nothing but love will help us to overcome that hardship. Love will strengthen us and carry us through whatever life brings us. Our love for others, their love for us, our love for God, God’s love for us, no matter what form it takes, love lifts us up in times of need. Even love for our pets, for travel, for reading, for writing, for music… Whatever we love, that love has the power to take our blues away.

On a side note, in an ironic twist of fate, my dad slipped away in his workshop in my parents’ backyard. He wasn’t kidding when he said the blues will come in our backyard.

My dad’s wisdom from beyond is a treasured gift for all of us who loved him. He has reminded me through his music that love will carry me through. I know, it’s easy for me to say, I live with a loving husband, three little cuddlebugs, and a gigantic yellow dog. It’s easy for me to scoop up someone in my house and hold them close when I need some love. Although, even that comes at a cost as I discovered yesterday when my daughter whacked me in the face with a plastic Spiderman.

So, what do we do when there is no physical presence to love? No body to hug? Life can be lonely at times. When there is nobody around and I feel detached from other sources of love, I sometimes feel a little lost. Even in a crowd, it is easy to feel lost, alone.

This is where I’m learning to turn inward. Who can love me better than I love myself? If I love myself.

This is one of my soapbox moments… Practicing self-love is not selfish. Say it with me, practicing self-love is not selfish. This is not my opinion, it is not a belief I hold dear to my heart, or an abstract social construct, it is the truth. It is a fact. I would never tell my son James that he is selfish to take time out of his busy 8 year-old life to play baseball so why do I feel selfish when I carve time into my schedule to practice yoga or go for a walk? Somewhere along the way I learned that my job is to take care of others. At some point, I learned that I can only succeed at that job, or any job, if I neglect myself. Maybe you can relate. It’s hard to turn inward for love when the self-love well has run dry. What I find when I do take good care of myself and when I do make time to fill that well with love, is that I love everybody else much more deeply and fully.

Even alone, we can know love. In the words of my dear old dad, “you might not live to see tomorrow, better make some love today.” It’s all about love, so love a little! One simple little word with multiple meanings makes the world go round. Nothin’ but love…

1.^ Oxford Illustrated American Dictionary (1998) + Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (2000)
2.^ Deus Caritas Est, Roman Catholic encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI
3.^ Fromm, Eric; “The Art of Loving”, Harper Perennial (1956), Original English Version, ISBN-10: 0060958286 ISBN-13: 978-0060958282
4.^ Fromm, Eric; “The Art of Loving”, Harper Perennial (1956), Original English Version, ISBN-10: 0060958286 ISBN-13: 978-0060958282
5.^ Kristeller, Paul Oskar (1980). Renaissance Thought and the Arts: Collected Essays. Princeton University. ISBN 0-691-02010-8.
6.^ Mascaró, Juan (2003). The Bhagavad Gita. Penguin Classics. ISBN 0-140-44918-3. (J. Mascaró, translator)