So long, farewell…

Sunset over Grand Traverse Bay.

Dear My Sweet Hat Trick,

I am writing to inform you that you are being let go.

You were so good to me. I learned so much from you. You gave me a very safe space to practice sharing my story…and releasing it! Poof, into cyberspace my words went and I hardly ever knew what came of them. But, they are out there.

You came to me at a time when I really needed you. I needed a place to reflect on what it meant to lose someone I loved so very much and miss so madly. My dad. With each holiday and anniversary and birthday and little league game where he once stood, behind the dugout, waiting for just the right opportunity to give James an encouraging nod or ask Dan what happened in that last play, my heart breaks.

I can put the pieces back together now though. Funny thing about the heart – it regenerates. I’m sure of it. In the spaces left dark and cold by life and loss, love enters, settles in, and multiplies there. Hearts are really big. Much bigger than any of us can imagine. Hearts are resilient. They (literally!) take a beating day after day. Hearts are strong and tough, like warriors. At night, hearts restore themselves. If not at night, then in the daytime, or anytime when we are not looking. Our great big hearts bounce back from pain, fear, and hatred, and they make more room for love. And then, filled with love and forgiveness and gratitude, to ease the pain of all that hurts us, our hearts wait for our minds to catch up to them.

A heart’s love is abundant. A bounty, really. Believe me, I know. I tried protecting the open spaces in my heart, thinking there is not enough love for me, and sometimes even thinking that I was not enough – that I was not worthy of the love. Then, when I least expected it, when I thought I had it all figured out, the space filled with love again. Love doesn’t overflow from our hearts to the space that surrounds them. No, our hearts expand. It is true. For example, the longer I know Dan and watch the ways in which he gives of himself so generously and graciously, the bigger my heart gets. And, then there are the little hearts that came in to prove my theory. Three little, tiny, beautiful beating hearts – my original hat trick – filled the empty spaces right up and taught me that life is way too fragile, way too short, and way too fun to hold back. Even a little.

Thank you. I will never forget you. And thanks in part to my knowing just enough, but not too much, I think you may always have a special spot in cyberspace. You might have a new friend soon, like a blog sister or something. I’m not sure yet. There is something new coming, from me to the world, and while I don’t know exactly what shape it will take, I guarantee you that it will be about living and loving really super-duper to the moon and back BIG.

Take care my friend.
xoxo
Love, Anna

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!!!

A Different Kind of Love Letter

Dear Dad,
You’re still a jerk for dying. Every once in a while I can be okay with it, but for the most part, the way I feel about you for dying hasn’t changed.

As the second anniversary of your death approaches, I am thinking a lot about what has changed since March 11, 2010.

At your funeral and afterward, a lot of people said to me, it will get easier with an emphasis on the IT. I don’t think IT really gets easier, Dad. I think I just get better at IT. I live and love and laugh a lot and I cry a lot too. I sometimes question my sanity. When that happens, I wonder if maybe I really should be all better now. There is no “all better” in the world of lost loved ones though, Dad. I know that you know that. And, I know that you know, better than anyone, that the pain – the sadness, the anger, the desperation – we feel when we lose someone we love needs to be expressed because if it’s not expressed, bad things can happen. Unexpressed grief festers inside us like an infection. It might manifest itself in another way, like as an illness. So, I don’t need to explain to you why two years after your death, I’m still writing about it and thinking about it…and crying about it.

I still miss you so much, Dad. I miss you the most when I am putting Sophia to bed and we are laying side by side with our faces so close that our noses are almost touching. She stares at me intently and whispers the sweetest things like, “your eyes are like JEWELS!” As if she is so surprised, but also as if she is telling me a secret about the meaning of life, something that only she knows because she is still so fresh in her human body. I wish you were here to tell me what you think of all the things she says and the ways she twirls around the room, dancing and singing, and the ways she taunts her brothers. I loved hearing your James stories. Then, I loved hearing your Alexander stories. I long to hear your Sophia stories.

When Sophia and I meet new people or stop to talk to strangers in the store, it isn’t too long before someone says, “I love her little voice.” Nobody knows as well as Sophia just how lovable she is. She tilts her head and smiles. One day, Alexander was FURIOUS at her. She talks a lot, Dad. Her little voice never stops. She wouldn’t stop talking and Alexander screamed, “I HATE HER LITTLE VOICE!” It was hilarious. I laughed out loud. Really, what else could I have done in that situation?

I parent differently now than I did before you died, Dad. I used to get really stressed out, almost panicky, in situations like that. I wanted to be the perfect mother. I wanted to respond with the most meaningful, profound, and powerful words. I wanted to say the right thing, without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Oh Dad, that just isn’t real. You know? My kids need to see me lose it. They need to see me make mistakes and say I’m sorry afterward. They need to see me cry, Dad. Nothing is real anymore. Between TV and movies and video games, kids just don’t see what’s real. I want to be real for them. They need me to be real for them. When they’re upset, they don’t need me to spout off something I read in a book, they just need me to listen. At the end of the day, if they can go to sleep knowing that they are loved and that they are heard and seen, I think they will be okay. Sometimes I screw it all up, but mostly I think we’re all going to be okay.

I think that is true for most people, Dad. They just need to be heard. So I’ve stopped trying to come up with the perfect response altogether. I’ve stopped beating myself up for falling short of perfection…because I do fall short of perfection. Way short. I listen a lot and think less about how to respond when the person I’m listening to is finished talking. When people ask me what I would do – I try to answer from the heart. But, honestly Dad, we all know that nobody really knows how they will respond to something until they are actually faced with that situation. Oh, the time I wasted IMAGINING how I would respond to a hypothetical situation! I try not to do that anymore. It’s a waste of time.

I also try not to obsess so much. I used to obsess over every little detail of every little thing that I did. Do you remember that? I was so busy obsessing that I was missing what was most important – just BEING. Kids don’t care if their birthday parties have a theme, Dad. For the love of God! But themes are fun. So that’s different. I don’t pretend that implementing every aspect of the perfectly themed birthday party is for them, an essential part of the perfect childhood. I’m honest now, Dad. They may pick the theme, but all the other coordinating and matching and gathering and putting together – that’s for me. They really just want cake and presents.

I guess you could say I’m following my intuition more now. I’m listening to myself more. The funny thing about that, Dad, is years ago – before kids and marriage and a job and all that, I LISTENED to my intuition! Somehow I lost touch with that ability. Or, I lost faith in that ability. I began to look outside myself for answers to questions. I read books. Lots and lots of books. Before I made any significant decision, I checked to see what Dr. Sears would do. I turned to my friends and anyone really, to see what they were doing. Then, I judged myself against all those inputs – the books, the people, the kids’ teachers and our pediatrician… I never measured up, Dad, because that wasn’t me. That wasn’t real. And the other funny thing about that is I’m actually really smart. I have some pretty great answers. But, I still love books.

I still think a lot about God too, Dad. That hasn’t changed. It is an obsession. I really wished I had some solid ground to stand on after you died. I desperately wanted to be able to say with confidence, “THIS is what I believe…” I have some ideas, but I’m still open to possibilities, Dad. I stopped thinking that maybe some people were wrong and some were right about God though. Maybe we’re all right, Dad. Maybe we all just need to figure out what works for us and do that. Maybe we can change our minds as we go. Twice this week already I’ve read stories about how God wants us to treat others as we would treat ourselves AND, here’s the important part, that implies that we actually treat ourselves well. Right? I never got that part. I just assumed I was treating myself well and that is how I would treat others. In actuality, I wasn’t treating myself well. At all. So, I’m trying to treat myself well because I want to be able to treat other people well. Skipping meals and not making time for exercise? Um, no. Not anymore. But Dad, I’m always the first to go when things get rough. I take full responsibility for that. I’m not whining about it. I’m just saying that I’ve still got work to do.

I’m writing all of this as if you have no idea what’s going on down here on Earth. When really, in my heart, I know that you already know all of it. I know you are there in the night with Sophia and me, and maybe it is you whispering in her ear, telling me my eyes are like jewels (although, even you wouldn’t be quite so dramatic about it). I know you still follow James and Alexander and maybe you’ve got some buddies up there who listen to your funny stories now. I know you are here with me, leaving pennies and feathers and messing with the frames on my walls. I know you are guiding me to listen to my intuition…again. I know you are helping me to see what is real and what isn’t and what matters and what doesn’t. This is what you did on Earth. You were flawed, like all of us, but you were real and the way you lived your life was an invitation for all of us to be real too. You believed that the power was inside us, in the people, NOT in politicians or priests or other people like politicians and priests – people we turn to when we feel powerless. As I continue to miss you and live on without you here, I think I also feel closer to you. Closer to what you were and what you stood for. For living and laughing and loving and singing and playing and thinking with all your heart – not so much with your mind. You got it. You knew that nothing but love mattered. You sang about that. You knew that all the power we ever needed was right there inside us. You had it all figured out.

It’s hard to be real, Dad. To be honest and true. To let it all hang out. To be vulnerable. It’s all so very hard. But you did it with such grace and with such a great sense of humor too. So, I’m not giving up. I’m open and listening. I will keep at it as a tribute to you. In my mind’s eye, I can see you smiling now. I see the signs that you give me, and I will continue to follow them right back home – to myself, to my own heart, where you live, always, inside me and all around me.

I love you Dad!
xoxo love, Anna

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!

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.