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

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!

One Last Grief Blog (maybe?) Before I Become Whole

Right after my dad died I thought there would be a time where I would need to make a choice. I imagined that I would wake up one day and decide not to be sad anymore. As we approached the first anniversary of my dad’s death, I thought that time would be right around Day 366. Despite my best judgment, what I’ve heard from others, and what I’ve read about grief, I thought I’d come back to My Hat Trick a brand-new, grief free woman.

Well, I was right. Sort-of. Day 367 and I felt lonelier and emptier than I had since the day my dad died (actually, the day after my dad died because I spent most of the day he died blissfully unaware of what that night had in store for me). I had spent the entire year looking ahead to the One Year Mark as a time when things would change and I would be all better. Things did change, but not how I anticipated. I think I spent most of the past year trying to comprehend the shock of my dad’s death because it was completely unexpected and I was, to be perfectly honest, traumatized by what I experienced the night of his death. Once that shock wore off, I still couldn’t believe he was gone. Now, I know that he is gone. I know because I’ve just gone through a year of birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays without him anywhere in sight. And he was never one to miss a good meal. On day 367 it was obvious that there would be no more Dad hanging around, looking for leftovers or making a pot of coffee. And on day 367 it dawned on me that for the foreseeable future, I would need to figure out what it truly means to live my life without my dad. Something I only speculated about in the past. I thought the choice I would be making would involve happiness over sadness, or something like that. This may come as a shock to you, but I can’t control my feelings. Sometimes I feel sad, plain and simple, and other than recognizing my sadness there isn’t much I can do to make it stop. I can choose what to do with that sadness though, so that is my choice.

As I typed away last week, I thought I’d never again focus so much of my writing on my grief. I now think I would be remiss not to share a little bit about the Memorial Service my family and I had for my dad last weekend. Looking back, even to just last week, I can see that all the energy I put into that service was just the beginning of my decision-making process. What could I do with my sadness? Honor the man who made it possible and celebrate those he left behind.

In January my sister, my mom, and I took a trip together to Sedona, Arizona. We were mostly going to celebrate my mom’s 60th birthday, but while we were there we had the opportunity to perform a “Letting Go” ritual with a minister named Yana. We hiked through the red rocks of Sedona to a place where a stream flowed. We prayed, we meditated, we reflected on my dad and our memories, and we scattered some of his ashes. Just thinking about it, my heart skips a beat. It was the most extraordinary spiritual experience I have ever had (okay, to be fair, giving birth to three little beauties ranks pretty high on the extraordinary spiritual experience scale). More than anything though, our letting go ritual helped us to heal mending hearts.

Before we headed back to Michigan, we discussed the possibility of sharing something similar with our children and the rest of our families. As the day approached, we began to make plans, thinking about what we wanted to be sure to include. I even became an ordained minister so that the ceremony would be legit (I’m not kidding!). I took excerpts from a few different books on blessings and rituals, including a book specifically about Living and Dying; I added my own words here and there, and came up with a ceremony where everyone was involved in honoring my dad and, I hoped, in celebrating each other and the lives we have left together. I didn’t realize it when I was in the midst of it all last week, but all of the planning and crafting was very therapeutic for me. I was set with our service, our guests, dinner plans, and even programs. I wanted it to be a celebration. I wanted to honor my dad, as I said, but it was a lot like a birthday for the rest of us. We had made it through our first year, the hardest year according to everyone, and that was something to honor as well. I envisioned a beautiful, sunny, albeit cold, day on the beach at our family cottage in Northern Michigan.

Friday was gorgeous and Sunday was gorgeous. In between sat Saturday, the day of the ceremony, and the snowiest, coldest, most blustery day of the year (of the year might be a slight exaggeration). I kept asking if people wanted to stay inside, but nobody did. We all bundled up and headed outside. The beach was really way too windy, so we set up in sweet little spot under a tree. It was not what I had pictured, but in retrospect, the flying snow was a perfect touch. I couldn’t have planned it better myself. We read our parts and shared memories of my dad. We made an offering of rocks to the land and a cup of coffee in honor of my dad (he was coffeaholic). My mom and my sister and I walked down to the beach, to a large rock that we’ve all come to know as my dad’s rock, and scattered some ashes. This part was really special for me. We had my dad cremated so he doesn’t have a grave site to visit and I have often felt like it would be nice to visit him somewhere specific every once in a while. We laid him to rest in a place where I can visit often. After that, we joined the others who had already gone inside. By the fire, we toasted my dad and each other with champagne and homemade macaroons (his favorite cookie). It was a beautiful service.

I know there are a lot of ways that people honor and remember lost loved ones. I read a story about a family whose mother passed away right before her 70th birthday. They decided to have a “birthday” party for her and invited all her friends to share in a night of remembering and celebrating the woman they lost. I know there are all kinds of memorial services based in religion and in culture that provide a similar sense of honoring the lives of those we loved and lost. As individuals and in small groups, we do many beautiful things in remembrance. As a whole, though, I don’t see a lot of place for grief in our society. It seems like we are more apt to suggest that the grieving “move on” or “get over it.” I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. It’s hard to sit idly by as people we care about suffer. We feel helpless. Of course we want them to move on.

In the year since my dad died, two of my very dear friends also lost parents. Even after losing my own dad and knowing everything I knew, I felt helpless. I hoped these two women could find the strength to keep going. I hated to see them so sad. Sometimes the wisest, most profound action I could take was just to sit there. So, I think I wanted to share this story about the memorial service because I am forever grateful to the people who have just sat there with me this year. And, I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to share last weekend with people I love and who love me. I want everyone to know, that in the absence of abiding by religious or cultural traditions, we can create our very own ceremonies that honor those we’ve lost and that celebrate each other and what is to come. I really didn’t even need to become ordained, but the fact that I did makes me smile so I had to share that with you too. Finally, I just had to write one more losing-my-dad-related-blog-post because it feels so great to be making a choice that is rooted in celebrating the present and moving forward. I’m still sad and I miss my dad now more than ever, but I finally have the strength (at least for now) to choose to do something delightful with my sadness.