A Pledge to My Children

What do you want to do when you grow up?

It only took about 39 years. This includes four years of college, two years of graduate school, several years in the real world, and a little over ten years as an at-home mom to figure out…

I AM ALREADY what I WANT TO BE when I grow up.

That’s all it took.

It takes many of us a lifetime to answer that ever-present question: What do you want to BE when you grow up? I think it is true for everyone…you already are what you’ve always wanted to be.

So, here is my pledge to my children: I will never again ask you what you want to BE when you grow up. I will never again ask any child that question.

It is a really dumb question for one simple reason: Asking someone, especially a child, what they want to BE implies that what they already are is not enough. It is just the beginning of a journey down a very long road through a dark forest of trees that cannot be climbed because one is not strong, smart, tall, short, old, or young enough. As we move through the forest we learn from everyone we meet and all the feedback we get that what we want to be is far more important than what we already are. We get graded, we try-out, we make it, we get cut, we fail, we pass, and we graduate, all the time receiving signs and signals that we are not good enough as-is. We must learn more, eat less, and lift heavier weights to prove our worth. When in fact, all along we are worthy.

While I do have ten years in the field, I am sure that most “experts” wouldn’t call me an expert in parenting. That’s my disclaimer. I understand that it is really fun to ask kids this question. They say really cute things in response. Until just now, I thought it was a great question. Especially when followed with some heartfelt encouragement like “That is awesome! You can be anything you want to be!” There is value in challenging children to try harder, of course. We want everyone to be the best they can be, right? I think the way we say things matters though, so we need to be careful.

So, here is what I might say instead, if I really can’t help myself, which is often likely in my case. I might say, “What do you like to DO?” And I could follow that with “Wow, I know some adults who liked to [play with Legos] when they were kids and now they have jobs as [engineers and architects and math teachers]. Do you know any [engineers or architects or math teachers]?…” Stuff like that.

In many places I have heard the phrase, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I’m sure there is a really smart person I could give credit to for making that statement, but I don’t know exactly who she is (okay, or he). One of my favorite yoga instructors often says, “We are human BE-ings, not human DO-ings.” It’s true. We are human beings, and as human beings we are implicitly given permission to BE. Actually, it’s probably more of a mandate. BEING comes with our territory as humans. It seems to me that us BEING has something to do with the architecture here on earth. I think BEING is part of our mission.

So why do we put so much emphasis on what we DO? It is not with malicious intent that we ask, What do you DO for a living? or What are you DOING right now? or What are you planning to DO? It’s because we are curious and quite often we care about the people to whom we ask these questions. I can tell you from personal experience, however, that if you aren’t too crazy about what you “do” it can be quite awkward, disheartening even, to be asked what you do for a living. I think in generations past, we weren’t so obsessed with what people do. I think we understood that what we do all day doesn’t necessarily define who we are. I also think if we spent less time focused on what we are DOing and more time simply BEing, we would be much happier people.

I think one of my mom’s most lucid moments after my dad’s death was when we were composing his obituary. Someone at the funeral home drafted something for us and we sat around a table reading it. It said something like James Shields Hodges was a Sheet Metal Worker…. My mom looked up and said, “that’s what he did, but that is not who he was.” And then she listed all these really wonderful things that he was, like an artist and an activist and a musician. And yes, you could argue that these are things a person can do, but really, if you know an artist or a musician, you know that what they DO in that case is very much who they ARE too. You are an artist in your soul. You create art because you have no choice, but to create. You feel like you might die if you stop. Creating connects you to all that surrounds you and everything beyond that. I was never an administrative assistant because I thought I couldn’t go on if I stopped filing papers or writing memos. Quite the opposite, actually. But administrative work was something I did because it allowed me to support myself when I graduated from college.

When I was a child I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I also wanted to be a teacher, a nurse, and even a parapsychologist. As I grew up, even though I wrote all the time, I lost touch with my dream to be a writer. When I revisited that dream, I knew I could never be a writer because I didn’t have a degree in writing, I didn’t have a portfolio of beautifully crafted writings, and there were people out there who were much better writers than I ever dreamed of being. I was so programmed to believe that what I did every day defined who I was that I didn’t even realize I was a writer all along.

Some people are really lucky and they have amazing jobs that allow them to express themselves. Some people have jobs that allow them to make a living. I will not stop encouraging my children to dream BIG, but I think we need to be more careful when we talk to children about great big things like THE FUTURE. Notice, I’m roping you into this one. Please consider it an invitation, as I understand you might think I’m full of it. Honestly though, you just never know what a child might hang on to as little he or she continues to travel through the dark forest of life. You never know what dreams will get squashed when he or she hears the message that they can’t do something because they are not qualified in whatever artificial way society has created to qualify them for that particular job. And in the meantime, simply being every once in a while…every day even, has so much more value than doing tons of crap anyway.

Each and every little child, and all of their parents, and every other human out there, is enough. Understanding that and allowing ourselves more time to BE, rather than trying to DO more, will go a long way. There is really no need to ask a child what he or she wants to be. Most of them really just want to be taller. Every other thing they are already, is all that they will ever need to be…a sweet little soul having a human experience.

Let them BE. Let yourself be while you’re at it.

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.

I Choose Love

I Choose Love! I found this at http://www.etsy.com/listing/75578334/whimsical-folk-art-girl-with-butterflies. If you like whimsical folk art, this artist has a beautiful collection of work.

I hope it’s not too late in the game to be thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. I have been thinking a lot about him since we observed his birthday last Monday. If it were up to me, every day would be MLK Day because then I’d have an excuse to search the Internet for the perfect MLK quote to post on Facebook. Last week I posted this one: “We have flown the air like birds and swum the sea like fishes, but have yet to learn the simple act of walking the earth like brothers.” It grabbed me. I didn’t recall having heard it before. It made me think too.

I wondered what Martin Luther King Jr. would say today, about how far we have come since he spoke these words. I think he would say, “We’ve come a long way because no matter how many stories you hear or books you read, you cannot begin to imagine what life was like back then, Anna. We’ve come a long way, and we have a long way to go.” I’ve had quite a few reminders that we do indeed have a long way to go before we can safely say that we have learned the simple act of walking the earth like brothers and sisters. I’m beginning to hold my breath thinking about the upcoming elections. It’s already getting ugly and it’s just Republican candidates fighting against each other. What will happen when the party has selected a candidate to run against President Obama? The thought of that scares me. I vividly remember the election season of 2008. It was rough to watch as people took jabs at Barack Obama. I fully understand not agreeing with his policy, his experience, or whether he was right for the job, of course there will be disagreement. That’s what the election is all about! But a lot of what I saw was downright hateful. People said some really cruel things. I didn’t get it. Why is it so hard to walk the earth like brothers and sisters?

About two weeks ago I was in the parking lot of my daughter’s pre-school helping her get into the car and buckle her seatbelt. Out of nowhere, it seemed, this giant man (okay, about 6’4″) appeared next to me, YELLING AT ME! He yelled that he saw me speeding by his house, that he sees me all the time, that he followed me to the school and that he was sick of it. When I spoke, he waved his hand at me and walked away. Another mom said, “Are you okay?” I said, “I’m okay, but I don’t think he is okay.” By that time he was standing at the entrance of the school yelling at one of the teachers. He waved his arms all over the place yelling things like, “IT’S THE MOMS! THEY ARE CRAZY! IT’S GOING TO TAKE SOMEONE GETTING KILLED!” AND SO ON while pre-schoolers stopped in their tracks to stare at him and mothers tried to usher them into their cars. I said to the mom next to me, “I wasn’t speeding and there is no way he could have been fo—.” She cut me off. She said, “I don’t care if you were going FIFTY miles per hour passed his house, he has no right to yell at you like that. Somebody needs to call the police.” I was in shock. I had places to go. I fumbled with my phone, thinking I’d call the police, but really I needed to get on the road. When I settled into my seat and started the car, my Sophia’s sweet little voice said, “I’m scared. Why was that man yelling at you Mom?”

You can yell at me. I can take it. I am tough. I gave birth to three children and I am raising them (not alone, but you get the picture). They are ruthless. I can take just about anything, but don’t mess with my kids. The yelling man had backed into one of the last parking spots in the lot before speeding off in his big red truck. None of us had a chance to get his license plate number. What he doesn’t know about me is that I watched Charlie’s Angels when I was a little girl. I knew how to find him. Plus, in the course of his yelling he gave us the name of his street. I drove down his street until I saw a red truck. My heart dropped. I couldn’t be positive it was his until I checked out the entire truck so I got out of the car to make a positive identification. I saw him in his garage watching me from the shadows. I didn’t care because I am an Angel. I called the police because it seemed like the most appropriate thing to do. Eventually, a couple of hours later, the Sheriff assured me that he would be paying this guy a visit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this guy too. Part of me wants to do something really obnoxious. Oddly enough, one of the other mamas was able to identify the guy when she found out where he lived. Within minutes, we were looking at his Facebook page on her phone! That’s another thing this guy clearly does not know: don’t mess with mamas. He may watch us, but we are watching him too. So anyway, I’ve had a few ideas about what I could do to torment him. I would love for my husband to beat him up or something. Stuff like that… This guy is pretty scary though so I think it best to keep our distance. I still wonder what kind of man would pull into a pre-school parking lot to scream at the mothers and teachers of small children? A troubled man? A man with some serious mom issues? I don’t need revenge. I think we’re safe. But I’ll be driving through his neighborhood for at least another school year and I would love to think that at some point, we could figure out how to walk the earth like brothers and sisters. I don’t see that happening. And again, why is that so hard?

I like to believe that in our hearts, we all do what we think is best – for the most part. The truth is, even brothers and sisters disagree. In fact, they probably disagree more than anyone else. I see it every day. At the end of the day though, as they say good-night to each other, there is a sea of underlying and unconditional love that swells between them. That is what I would love to see between all of us here on Earth. I know we are in this together. I know, that if we have nothing else in common, it is our humanity that binds us. I think that should be enough to inspire us to choose to walk together, like brothers and sisters, disagreeing by day, and loving each other as we part at night. It is a choice. No matter what occurs between us, we can choose to walk together. One of my favorite things that Martin Luther King Jr. said is this: “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” I am with you, MLK. I choose LOVE. I trust that in the coming months and years and through the end of time, I won’t be alone in this decision. I can’t wait to see who joins me!

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.

Breathe

Breathe. This is what I keep telling myself. In spite of my best efforts not to do crazy this Christmas, the crazy is catching up to me. It actually might have overcome me. I might even be buried in it.

Breathe is what I say when I find a form that was supposed to be filled out and returned last week to school. Oops.

Breathe is what I say when a holidazed woman almost runs over me with her cart in Target.

Breathe is what I say when I almost run over someone else with my cart.

Breathe is what I say when the Alien Conquest Lego set I really wanted to buy for James is sold out. I might have said something else too…something a little less Zen. Thankfully there were other Alien Conquest Lego sets. And, I’m pretty sure he isn’t picky when it comes to aliens and conquests.

Breathe is what I say when two of my three children are sprawled out on the floor of Sears, at the head of a very long line of tired, not so happy looking customers (who could maybe use a little breathing themselves), screaming at me and refusing to stand up to exit the store. Breathe and Santa is watching…

Because every single second of my day seems to be accounted for lately, Breathe is what I say when someone asks me to do something I wasn’t planning to do. I wonder how I’ll fit it in.

Breathe is what I say when I look around a table where my dad should be sitting, but isn’t. I try to catch my breath as the reality of his absence soaks in. Again. I thought that the second Christmas season without my dad wouldn’t be so bad. But it is. I really miss him. The holidays seem even emptier this year. Maybe last year it still felt like he might come walking through the door? This year, there is no question that he is gone. I wonder if he would recognize that three year-old daughter of mine, who had just turned two the month before he died. Would he love her sass? Is he laughing his ass off up in heaven? What would he say when I told him that I was singing Christmas carols with my kids and James stopped us to run upstairs to get his guitar to accompany us? What would he think when I told him that Alexander said, “I think Nature should make an award for our neighborhood because it is just so pretty. This whole town is just so pretty!” last night as we drove home (from Sears!?!) My dad loved strong, spunky girls and women. He loved to share his passion for music and guitar-playing with James. He loved Nature and he loved those who also loved and respected it. He would be loving all of this. Breathe…

A few weeks ago, in the midst of an extremely stressful work week, I yelled to my husband, “Don’t forget to breathe!” as he walked out the door. He told me that was good advice. I think it is too. At the yoga center where I practice, the instructors say that breathing is the only function of the body that is both voluntary and involuntary. I am so thankful for that because sometimes I think I go days without breathing. That must be when the involuntary breathing kicks in. For me, these are quick, shallow breaths, pumping themselves in and out just to keep me alive.

The voluntary breaths are different. These are life-giving breaths. There is a difference, you know – between doing something to stay alive and doing something that makes you feel alive. These voluntary breaths nourish me. Try one. Mouth closed, inhale through your nose. Suck in as much air as you can, and then a little bit more. Now let it out. Slowly. Again, but with your eyes closed this time. And again. Do you feel more alive? Maybe a little tingly? If even for just a moment, these voluntary breaths bring us smack, dab into the present moment. These are the breaths I keep telling myself to take. Before my mind runs off into crazy, or mouth runs off into God only knows where. These breaths keep me right here, right now in the perfection of all these seemingly imperfect moments.

Deep breath. Ahh. For you, in the crazy of your days and even in the calm, I offer this great advice: don’t forget to breathe!

New Beginnings and Miracles All Around!

When I walk into Staples, I am instantly aroused. The pencils, the pens, blank notebooks, sticky notes, whew! I love all of it. So, naturally, going back to school, or now getting my kids ready to return to school, is a very exciting time of year for me. I love making resolutions at the start of the New Year and I am a sucker for the promise of new blooms in Spring, but Autumn rings true as a time of new beginnings for me. I feel most invigorated and most inspired as the leaves begin to show signs of turning colors and the crisp scent of fall wafts through the air. This year, I am wide open, eager to welcome whatever this fresh start brings.

I have also been feeling nostalgic as my son Alexander prepared for kindergarten with great anticipation of joining his older brother, James, at “his” school. We do drop-off, as opposed to riding the bus, and today, when he leaped out of the car, I don’t think he could have been any happier. He was thrilled this morning when I confirmed that he would be going back to school today. So anyway, the other day my mom came over and we listened to some of her saved voice mail messages from the past (please tell me we are not the only saps who do crazy things like save old messages). With her summer tan aglow and her blue eyes sparkling, she said, “oh, this is one of my favorites.” I listened as my very own voice began to speak. I was crying. I said something like, “Hi Mom, this is Anna (sniff). James started kindergarten today. He got on the bus and he didn’t even look back (sniff, sniff)…” So many things came to mind. First, the image of my husband Dan and I coming home from the bus stop that day and literally sobbing together on our love seat. Second, disbelief that that little kindergartner would be entering fourth (say it with me, FOURTH!!!) grade this year. And third, both disbelief and disappointment that my dad wouldn’t be here to share in Alexander’s first day of kindergarten as he was for James. I pictured my mom sharing the message with my dad and both of them reflecting on the fact that their first grandchild was ready for kindergarten. That he got on the bus and didn’t even look back.

I know, I know – my dad is still with me. I do know that, I swear. But even with that knowledge, I yearn to hear the enthusiasm in his voice when I share these bits and pieces of my life with him. I want confirmation of his pride in Alexander, and frankly, in me. He was a great cheerleader, my dad. He would be (is) so proud.

With all my anticipation of a new beginning at the start of the school year – for my kids and for me, I find myself feeling sad too. And as with so many things I’ve experienced since losing my dad, I find that this is a time where bittersweet is about the best we can do. Do I sound like I’m whining?

Enter miracles. Yesterday was the first day of school and the morning was filled with miracles. I got up, showered, and made a delicious, nutritious breakfast for my little ones (as opposed to throwing a granola bar and string cheese at them with five minutes left before we have to run out the door). Then, I marched them outside for a First Day of School photo shoot. Nobody complained (I began to think something strange was afoot, bud didn’t dare question it). Everybody smiled. Everybody posed. I was in Mom Heaven.

We got in the car and Somewhere Over the Rainbow was playing on the radio. This has to be one of my all-time favorite songs. I was a somewhere over the rainbow kind-of girl as a child. The Coffee House version, by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’ has become one of the songs that remind me that my dad is always here with me and it has come on the radio at the most opportune times. As we pulled out of the driveway, we stopped to talk to our new neighbors. They were sweet and smiling and my heart was simply singing with joy. Then I heard my dad’s voice singing. My daughter had found my husband’s iPad on the floor of the car and somehow found her way to my dad’s recordings. AND, he was singing Summertime, which was my lullaby when I was a little girl. Let’s not even get into the fact that I have no idea how the iPad got left in the car, or how Sophia could have possibly found Summertime, especially since she usually goes right for Beyonce’s “I’m a Singlet” video. At that point, I knew my dad was speaking to me.

Sophia said, “This is a Papaw song!” Putting to rest my fears that my little girl, who wasn’t quite two when my dad died, would have no memories of her Papaw. Then she said, “Mama, my butt is shaking and my legs are swinging!” I look back to see her moving to the music, Alexander glowing, and James clapping his hands and swaying his head back and forth. I was in awe. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad was with us. I so much as heard him say, “I’m here. And I’m proud.”

Later, I told Alexander that I wanted to tell him something very special. He looked up at me with his big, blue eyes and I said, “I have been really sad that Papaw isn’t here to see you start kindergarten because I know he would have been so proud of you.” He nodded and I continued, “And today, when we heard his song, I knew he was with us and I know that he is very proud of you.” Heart-melting smile from ear to ear on that kid. God, I love him. There must be so much wisdom in that little five year-old head. And even later, when we got in the car to attend his orientation, These Are Days was on the radio! This was the song that Dan and I danced to at our wedding. And through the years, it too has come on the radio when I’ve needed comfort the most.

So that is my morning of miracles. Later, when I was feeling extremely disgruntled, along with my tired out, over-stimulated children, and trying to get dinner together, a penny from heaven appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the counter. Nope, we didn’t save a life or cure a disease yesterday morning, but we were definitely in the midst of miracles. I spoke out and someone “up there” was listening. This all reminds me that we are always surrounded by miracles. Big or little, there are messages for all of us, everywhere, saying “you are never alone. I am here with you.” And all of that makes me even more excited for this new time of new beginnings…what’s next?!

The Possibilities are Endless!

I’ve never been much of a “Let go, let God” kind of girl. In fact, it seems that as soon as I sense that I have no control in a matter, I bear down, gripping more tightly than ever. I am not one to gracefully release it. I squeeze it, I hold it, I try with all my might to mold it into something I can control. My lack of control transforms into worry, to fear, to anxiety, and even to obsession. I sometimes lose sleep and I drive a lot of people crazy. You might ask, “How is that working out for you?” And, well, to be honest, it’s not.

As I stood in the shower this morning, obsessing over whether or not our recent move to a new home was a good idea, I decided that this obsession was something I needed to release to the Universe. We moved, there is someone living in our previous home, and there is no turning back. I can’t worry about whether my son will make new neighbor friends, or whether I will make new neighbor friends. I can’t worry about anything like that because what is done is done and only time will tell what kind of friends we will make or not make as a result of this move.

So then I started thinking about the move in general (I know I’m not the only one who does her best thinking in the shower). It all happened really fast and it truly wasn’t part of the “plan”. It went something like this: Husband comes home from work and trips over kids’ shoes in the doorway. Husband tries to put his bag down, but can’t because all flat surfaces are covered with laundry (in the doorway). Husband says, “I hate that our laundry room is in the doorway! I can’t wait to get out of this house!” I smile sweetly and agree that someday we might consider moving to a new house. Husband shares other examples of why he hates our home. I smile sweetly, and nod for good measure. Husband decides to “research the market” and begins work with a realtor. I stop smiling. Dan, my husband, isn’t the kind of guy who spends a lot of time doing research. When Dan wants something, he goes for it. Sometimes he moves so fast, it frightens me.

We thought we might move in 2-5 years. We considered buying land and building a home. We looked at land (meaning we all piled in the car, met the realtor at the land and Dan got out and looked at it while I tried to keep the kids from driving off without him). Dan got serious. We actually asked our babysitter to watch our children so we could attend an Open House for a promising new home. It was a wonderful home. All it took was one deep breath with space to do so and I was hooked on the idea of moving. I was ready to make an offer.

Dan hopped online as soon as we got home to look at the house again (he was not ready to make an offer). After weeks (months?) of looking at houses and prioritizing our needs and desires, and coming to terms with the fact that the “perfect” house wasn’t out there and that a compromise or two may be necessary, a new listing appeared on the screen. There was an Open House there that day and it ended one hour from the time we saw the house online. From the virtual tour on the screen before me, it looked as if it was built for us. From the tile work on the back splash to the incredible timber framing on the ceiling. My dad was a timber framer. It felt like he had a hand in this, like maybe he had found the house for us.

I fully expected Dan to come home to tell me he just bought a new house. We all know, in the world of real estate, especially in Michigan, things don’t usually happen that quickly. So began the agonizing process…would it work out? I began to bear down in fear, in anxiety, and then I remembered that I was evolving and the new and improved Anna would recognize that there were many variables that she could not control. So, I took a plunge – I let it go. I waited. And in the end, it did work out and we all love our new home (I especially love the shower).

And the funny thing is, this wasn’t part of “the plan.” We took a detour. I love Emily Dickinson’s gentle invitation to “dwell in possibility” and each time I see this quote (which is often), it is like someone, Emily perhaps, is giving me permission to let go. To step. Away. From the plan. To open right up, throw my head back and my arms in the air, and look out at all the possibilities.

There are dreams buried deep inside me that I have long forgotten or given up on, and why? Because I’m not sure where to fit them in. Because I can’t figure out where they go in the plan. Because I’ve been so busy trying to control every little detail of my life from when I will get pregnant to when my last child will leave home, that I don’t allow space for things to simply unfold. From this moment forward, I am scrapping the plan. Who really knows what the future holds? Since my dad died, seven women I love and care very much about have lost a parent. Death isn’t planned. It sometimes comes when we least expect it. It jolts us. It breaks our hearts. Sometimes we have to start over.

Little by little I am learning to let go in ways that I never would have imagined. I was okay letting go of some little stuff, but now I think it’s time to let go of the big stuff. I’m sure Dan and I will still have to plan, but I’m playing it a little more loosey-goosey from now on. No more obsessing over the things I can’t control. Years ago, when I first heard the Serenity Prayer, it made so much sense to me. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. It sounds so simple, really. But for me, especially as I get older, it’s been really hard.

I think in some way, my tight grip on life is born of love. It comes from good intention. Somewhere along the line, I began to believe that trying harder and holding tighter was a sign of my love, or of my commitment to someone or something. Reflecting on life and death and what it all means, thinking about moving when we had planned to stay, and even seeing so many of my friends suffer through the loss of beloved parents – all of this is teaching me that letting go, even a little, and opening to possibility, isn’t a sign of loving less or caring less. I think letting go may even open a pathway to loving more. When you let go, it’s all out there. Rather than limiting myself by hanging on, I might actually find that I can love more deeply, more richly, and more truly by letting go. I’m still figuring this out. Maybe that in and of itself will take a lifetime. Maybe I’ll never figure it out. But I feel pretty certain that when I do let go, the possibilities are endless.