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 liveā€¦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.

Don’t Be Afraid to Sparkle

It was never my intention to be preachy or sanctimonious while blogging. My only intention was to share some of the highlights from my journey toward a deeper connection between my mind, my body, and my spirit. To be clear, this is an ongoing journey. I have wondered if sharing my thoughts is a worthy pursuit and I have decided that it is only my job to share because sharing is what I do best. Determining the worth of what I share is your job. Today, it may be worth nothing to you. Another time, maybe I made you laugh, or think, or cry. It might be different every time. Once, when I shared my doubts with a very sweet friend of mine, she said, “If you can touch just one person with your words, isn’t that worth it?” To touch just one person would mean a lot to me, so I will continue sharing. But this time, I’m putting on my preacher’s robe so please forgive me if I sound sanctimonious.

Here is my sermon: Don’t be afraid to sparkle. I stole that from the Brave Girls at http://bravegirlsclub.com/. A lot of different people have said it in a lot of different ways. One of my favorite ways comes from a print that hung in Your Heart’s Home, a place I stayed while visiting Sedona, Arizona in January. It is attributed to Nelson Mandela and it goes like this:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest the Glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us, it is in everyone.
And as we let our own Light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, Our Presence automatically liberates others.

www.bravegirlsclub.com

When I first read this, from the print, it sort-of took my breath away. I had spent most of my life feeling as if I didn’t measure up and that I wasn’t good enough. The idea that my deepest fear was not that I actually was inadequate, but rather, that I might be powerful beyond measure startled me. Could it be true? Well, the print said it was true and according to everything I had been taught, prints, books, authors, teachers, parents, coaches, talking heads on television, and any and all “experts” don’t lie. I, like just about everyone else I know, was trained to look outward – beyond myself, to look to other people and to look to other things to see if I measured up. What I have learned is that if I look outward, I am sure to find that I am inadequate. There is always someone who appears to be better, smarter, stronger, faster, thinner, prettier, and more clever than I.

So there I was, looking outward, at the print, and all I saw was “…who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” And I thought, “Right. Exactly.” Then I saw, “Actually, who are you not to be?” And the first thought that came to me was, “Fuck yeah! Who am I not to be?”

And a new Anna was born. Well, really, that little Anna, that little seven year-old Anna as Ken the Angel Life Coach calls her, came into her own. She was there all along, but over time, her light grew dim and eventually went out altogether. Instead of skipping down aisles in the grocery store like my little Sophia does now, singing her own songs, and twirling to her own tune, instead of sparkling, little Anna went still. She was silent. I grew so comfortable waiting for other people to speak and listening to what they said, that I lost the ability to hear my own voice.

But here’s the twist: my light was shining all along, I just didn’t know it. I couldn’t see what everyone else saw. I saw a big gray blob where others saw kindness and warmth and well, light. If I did see the light, or even had a little glimmer of hope that it was still there, I squelched it immediately. When I heard a compliment, I blew it off. I said things like, “Oh no, that messed up pumpkin cheesecake with the crack down the middle? It didn’t turn out right (even though it took the extreme skills of a domestic goddess like myself to extract it from the special spring form cheesecake baking pan).” Or “No, no, my house isn’t spotless (because I got up before the sun to clean it), it’s a mess.” Or, “Oh yeah, thanks, but you must be losing your eyesight because I look fat (despite the fact that I did just receive the “I LOST TEN POUNDS” ribbon at Weight Watchers and I had to work like hell to do that).

I wonder, when you give someone a compliment, like “Oh my God! This cheesecake is to die for! Did you make it? Can I have the recipe?” and her response is “Uh, yeah, well, you can, and hopefully yours won’t have a crack down the middle…” how do you feel? When that happens to me, I feel a little like shit. On the other hand, when I give a compliment to someone and she accepts it graciously with a smile and a thank you, it warms my heart. This is a small example of what I think it means for this person to let her light shine, thereby giving me permission to do the same.

Try it.

Oddly, giving compliments isn’t nearly as hard as accepting them. So try both. In this time of giving thanks and getting ready for all the winter holidays and traditions that come with them, try both. In this time of what sometimes seems to be never ending to-do lists and no matter how hard you try or how late you stay up, you still feel like you’ll never finish all there is to do (both imagined and real), try both. In this time of minimizing Herculean efforts to make magic and memories that will last a lifetime, try both. Give compliments and accept them. Play around a little. See what feels good. Try it because if you close your eyes for a minute and imagine a world where we all let our lights shine, where each of us was liberated from our darkest fears, and where we celebrated and honored one another’s grace, wit, and charm, I think you would see an incredibly beautiful, colorful, wonderful, super sparkly place. Complete with picture perfect cheesecake.

I will meet you there.

I Want My Mommy

My mom and I held each other, crying, when she looked at me and said, You girls think I’m so strong. I’m not strong. I got all my strength from your dad. I couldn’t believe my ears. It was the night my dad died and we were understandably shocked. I wondered when I would wake up from the horrible nightmare I was having. We were both terrified as the coroner did his thing with my dad and we waited for someone to tell us what to do next. We hoped someone could tell us what to do next. I panicked, briefly, but I knew she was wrong. I knew she was strong. Maybe she did draw some, maybe even a lot of strength from my dad, but I also knew that deep inside her lived a wellspring of strength that pumped up and through her veins like blood. Strength is in her nature.

During my grandmother’s funeral (this was my mom’s mom or Mumma, as my mom and her siblings called her), I remember noticing something similar in each of my cousins. I’m not sure exactly what to call it, but it basically says, “Don’t fuck with me.” It’s not a total tough guy kind of thing, but more of a strong and silent confidence. I watched my cousins closely for a while as I considered the fact that each of us had my grandmother’s blood pumping through our veins. I was so proud of all of us. We came from a long line of strength and we carried it with us, we kept it going, and now we pass it on to our children.

When my son James was born, nine years ago, my understanding of Mother’s Day shifted. Now, I was the mom. I never abandoned an effort to celebrate my mom and my mother-in-law on Mother’s Day, but I certainly felt the day was really more about me now. Me, my kids, my family, and what I wanted to do on this one day. But today was different. I didn’t even see my mom today – we celebrated together with my sister and her family yesterday – but I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I couldn’t stop thinking about how even if she wasn’t my mom, I would admire her. I would love her. I couldn’t stop thinking about how, at age 38, my need for her presence in my life is more pressing than ever. I need her strength.

My mom is human, let’s be clear about that. I even remember hating her at times when I was a teenager. I remember one time, I was bent over, looking for something in the car, and she was outside the car by my feet. She was on my case about something and I actually, albeit briefly, considered kicking her in the face. We did the typical mother-daughter thing. The thing I dread doing with my daughter.

In addition to being human, my mom is an angel. As I reconnected with girlfriends from the past over Facebook, many of them recalled how sweet my mom was as our Brownie leader. Keep in mind, we are well past old enough to have our own Brownies. When my class, the class of ’91, entered high school none of the teachers would agree to be our class sponsor, as was tradition. My mom did it. She helped us build floats for Homecoming, she planned fundraisers with us, and she connected with a lot of the kids in my class. She still speaks of them fondly, with a smile and usually a funny memory.

She was always there for me. And she has always been there for a lot of people. Until a few years ago she was a school nurse at an alternative school in Flint. She taught childbirth education to pregnant teens. A job fit only for an angel and she did it with strength and grace and respect for those girls like I’m quite sure some of them had never experienced. I loved hearing stories about her students and their babies. They weren’t always happy stories though. There were many, many stories that were tough to hear and many I’m sure I will never hear. I thought those girls were so lucky to have a woman like my mom on their side.

Just like me. I call my mom before I call the pediatrician. God only knows how many times I asked her questions through each of my pregnancies as I anticipated labor and delivery. And when those little bundles of need, and joy like I had never known arrived, my mom was by my side. She gave me the confidence to try new strategies for sleeping, eating, and cleaning up messes. She believed in me. She guided me gently, lovingly, and with compassion. She continues to parent me, even as I parent.

And without skipping a beat, she grandparents. Yesterday she and my two younger children were having a piano concert. Each of them took a turn playing their “piece” and then everyone clapped. The pianist bowed. I’m pretty sure my kids couldn’t have been more into it if they were performing at Carnegie Hall. My mom has this way of engaging children. Somehow she makes it seem that whatever is happening, from cleaning toys up from the floor to picking rocks up from the beach, to looking up at the stars, is the most exciting thing that could be happening in that moment. She makes up songs and stories and my kids laugh and sing and really, simply, bask in her glow.

People love my mom. I love my mom. I am eternally grateful for all she is and all she does. She has been through so much in her life. She lost her husband, the love of her life. That kind of loss can break a person. But no matter what, she never fails to show up. She is always there. She may be late, but mostly she walks through the door with her sparkling blue eyes and a mischievous smile. I say something silly to greet her and she laughs out loud. She is steadfast in her love for her family, her garden, her home, and all her works of art. Like her mother and the many, many mothers before her, my mom is as strong and fierce as she is gentle and kind.

Now that I think I get it a little better, what it truly means to be a mother, and that it doesn’t end, I feel a little dumb for ever thinking that Mother’s Day was more about me in my first months of motherhood. Not that new mothers are not in their own category of angel, but I still had so much to learn…I still have so much to learn. Sitting at dinner today with my mother-in-law and two of her three sons and her grandchildren, I thought about how lucky I am to have such incredible role models. When I stop to think about it, I am blown away by the strength it takes to be a mother. It is a full mind and body experience. My dad may continue to be a source of strength for my mom, like we couldn’t have known he would be on the night we lost him, but at her core, my mom is just as strong, in fact stronger, than her girls ever thought she was. She is the true source of her strength and I am so proud of her. I am honored to share this day with her. Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

A Royal Epiphany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost and Found

When my dad passed away last year, I lost my mom too. I also lost my sister. My husband and my children lost me. Since then, we’ve all resurfaced for the most part. I had forgotten about these losses until today after a difficult conversation with my mom. When we were finished talking, I had a good cry. I thought a lot about what we had said and the way we had said it, and how I felt about all of it. The little girl Anna, who resides deep inside me, wanted so badly to crawl into her mother’s lap. She longed for the safety she found there after a disagreement. She wished she could be comforted by her mom’s hand stroking her little head as she sat there, releasing the hurt with every pass through her hair.

I, grown woman Anna, am slightly jealous of that little girl. It seems like life was so much easier when anything that ailed me could be cured in the arms of my mom or my dad. As I thought about what had transpired, I wondered why resolving conflict seemed so much more tenuous now, why it seemed so hard. And then I remembered that Wednesday is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 64. I can’t help but to think that no matter what we said or thought, in the depths of our hearts, we were feeling the weight of an upcoming birthday void of its birthday boy. First, I wanted my dad back. Then, I wanted my mom back.

I live within 30 minutes of my mom in one direction and my sister and her family in another. My dad, bless his heart, came to my house several times a week in the last year of his life. He helped me with my babies like only a Papaw could. I rewarded him with leftovers. When he died, I lost my number one go-to guy. In a pinch, I always knew I could call my dad and he would do whatever he could to help me get through the day. My husband, my mom, my dad, my sister, and her husband, each of them has talked me off the ledge. Each of them has rescued me from some degree of parenting disaster. They are my village. It took a long time for me to adjust to my dad’s absence. At some point my husband, who was practically a saint from the moment my dad died, had to switch his focus from grieving wife back to his work. My village had disbanded. I wasn’t always sure where to turn. Forget maternal disarray, I was a grieving mess. How could I call my sister to come and scoop me off the floor, when she had her own floor to tend to? It was hard.

Slowly but surely, my mom, my sister, and I came to life again. My husband and my sister’s husband were no longer on their own. My children looked up to see tears in my eyes less frequently. In times of deficient coping, thank God, I was blessed with fabulous in-laws and superstar babysitters who saved the day on numerous occasions. As my mom and my sister and I came to life, we returned to each other. Since then, I had forgotten about those early days after my dad’s death. Outside of simply being together, we didn’t have a lot of energy to do much else for one another. We were in survival mode. When I turned to my mom, her body sat before me, but her mind was often elsewhere. I haven’t mentioned my dad’s birthday to my mom. I’m sure the fact that April 20 is coming this week is already on her mind. I don’t know for sure that heavy hearts were involved in our conversation today, but rather than trying to analyze it, I am thanking the Universe for the gentle reminder that I am not the only hiker on the path.

Each and every human being on the planet is on a journey. Sometimes we travel together and sometimes we travel alone. We often travel together in silence. In the midst of giving voice to our stories, we can’t be sure who is really listening. We are bound to lose each other along the way. I know that even when I lose my mom, when our paths part or our attention gets diverted, she will eventually come back to me. I may not fit in her lap anymore, but I’ll always have a place in her heart. And her in mine.

The Things We Make, Make Us

Today is a big day in my house. My 8 year-old son had his braces removed! When he got them on over a year ago some of his little teeth hadn’t even made their complete descent yet! I was a little choked up when I saw his new smile. He looks so grown up. No matter how many tiny infants I see grow into walking, talking children, I am still completely in awe of the miracle of life. It is absolutely amazing to think that we all started as a little speck and grew from there into the bodies we now inhabit. I sometimes look at my kids and I think, “I made you…” Arguably, I had some help, but I think it is safe to say that I did much of the footwork.

I recently found this quote: “The things we make, make us.” I don’t know to whom to attribute it because I cut it out from a magazine and pasted it onto a collage. It’s actually quite possible that it was never intended to read like that. Maybe I made it up? But anyway, I think of my kids when I see it. “Making” people is an unending process. With each choice I make to nod and say, “Mmmhmm” rather than take the time to answer the streams of questions I hear each day, I continue to make my children. And sometimes it’s okay to just say Mmmhmm because really, who am I to argue that there is anything more (or less) to Anakin Skywalker than meets the eye? I’m so unenlightened in the intricacies of Star Wars that sometimes Mmmhmm is the best I can do. And my 8 year-old is okay with that. Because he makes me too. The things we make, make us. If you took everything I have learned in the last 8 baby making years, and compared it in range, depth, and relevance to everything I had learned in my 30 years before that, I am pretty sure there would be no comparison. I am learning and growing right along with my children.

And, with each of you. We are all connected and we all make each other. Very seldom do we get to hear feedback about the ways in which we touch each other’s lives. From one smile in passing, to a wave on the street, to a great big hug, the choices we make about what to do or say affect the people around us. Again and again, I see proof of how we are connected and how these connections can both help and hurt us.

After my dad passed away I was really surprised to hear about some of the connections he had made with my friends. I’ve heard stories about little inside jokes he shared with some or, with others, in-depth exchanges that I had never known about. I’ve also heard about some of the ways my dad influenced people who I didn’t really know that well while he was alive. I am so touched by people’s stories and that they take the time to share things about their relationships with my dad. Sometimes that can get a little embarrassing too. But we will leave those stories for another day…

It’s one thing to think we’re connected, it’s an entirely different experience to see it in action. To actually feel the connection takes it to an even deeper level. Have you ever hugged someone and you didn’t want to let go? It’s that feeling, that connection, that shared energy that makes us. Or, sometimes, breaks us. It is that connection, the one that occurs between each of us, that feeds us, nurtures us, and helps us grow, even when we don’t realize it.

So there you have it. From gummy smiles to tinsel teeth to an almost full set of pearly whites, my son is growing fast and I am still growing too.